I’m sorry to steal your tag line, Nike, but it’s a good one.
I’ve struggled quite mightily with blogging about my travel experiences. I struggle with blogging in general. It’s all so much navel-gazing and seems too self important. I don’t have any delusions that what I have to say is that important – it. is. not. I’m probably not even terribly original. People travel. They have incredible experiences. They write, far better than I do. So what if I blog? Who cares? The Internet is choked with ego, blowhards, miscreants, as well as well-meaning people who like to share what they do or who like to participate in conversation, even if it’s from their mom’s basement. Everyone, anyone can do it, no talent necessary.
I have been writing since I was about 12. I have kept journals and travelogues. It’s therapeutic. It helps me make sense of the world and of myself. Words come to me like raindrops from the sky, arranging themselves into sentences as they plop in my head. I don’t, however, have a knack for fiction. It comes as easily as building a spaceship. Oh I’ve tried…this computer is chock full of half-finished stories and ‘novels’ and when I go read them again I mutter in disgust, “This sucks.” I’m not being self-deprecating; they objectively suck. So what do I do with this urge to write?
I decided to start a blog last year as I prepared to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I knew i would be blogging for my job, so I figured it was good practice. I thought perhaps it would be a way to connect with others who were pilgrims on the camino. I thought my family might enjoy keeping up with our journey. I went public.
But here’s the thing: it’s terrifying. It’s one thing to scribble in a journal or share your thoughts with a few people. It’s quite another to hit the ‘publish’ button opening yourself up to criticism from the whole world. When I published my first post I literally trembled and the nail biting began. I waited for the haters. I waited for the grammar police to mock my dangling participles and split infinitives, my interminable misuse of commas. I waited for snark…that never came.
My anxiety was assuaged not only by the lack of readership but also by those few readers themselves. They (and you were probably one of them if you’re reading this post) were kind, supportive, and interested, even if they were faking it. It gave me what I needed – what every one of us needs in any endeavor: just a little bit of confidence.
I’ve been posting more frequently since recent travel experiences have given me a lot to write about. The fear of posting has not abated at all. I’m still terrified every time I post, much in the same way I was terrified to drag my fat ass up a mountain or to make sure 21 students didn’t fall off said mountain. But every time I do something that makes me nervous it feels just a little less scary and a little more rewarding. Action shrinks fear.
Several years ago, I traveled alone to Madrid to take Spanish classes for three weeks. It was my first solo travel experience and I was truly petrified, but it was a rough time in my life and I knew I needed it. (Hello there, Midlife Crisis.) Before my departure, I worried about all manner of things: safety, eating meals alone in restaurants (this made me crazy with fear), boredom, loneliness, and looking like a loser with no friends – which is essentially the fear every one of us has had since 5th grade. My first few meals I came armed with my journal, my pen and a book, ready with a fake story about how I was a travel writer or food critic in case anyone asked why I was dining alone. No one asked, of course, so I felt like an idiot there with my props. It was the first hint of many that some fears are irrational. My other fears? Equally irrational. I was never bored – it was Madrid, my favorite city in the world that I know like I know my children’s faces. I was not lonely. Through my Spanish classes I met a diverse group of people from all over the world (who, by the way, I never would have met had I had a travel companion). We became friends and socialized often, untethering that last fear of looking like a loser. The point is that going through with it and facing my fear gave me one of my top five travel experiences of all time. No one cares as much as you do about your fears. Unless you blather on about it, like I’m doing now, no one even notices that you’re fearful.
My fear of heights was surmounted (kinda) by being high atop that mountain in Peru. My fear of walking 72 miles on the Camino de Santiago was surmounted by walking (almost) 72 miles. My fear of writing for public consumption was surmounted (sorta) by writing for the public. My fear of traveling alone was surmounted (for real) by traveling alone. Each of those actions brought me untold rewards. Because you know what? I ended up on top of a mountain with amazing individuals and witnessed sites few people get to see. I walked into a magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. I published a blog and people’s comments were so kind they made me cry.
So the lesson is not just mine, it’s yours: do the things that scare you. Don’t wait until it’s convenient or until a perceived reason exists to take a leap. I know, such platitudes. This is a version of things that have been said ad nauseum by people more important than I. Perhaps, though, it’s easier to hear from someone like me – an ordinary, middle-aged woman with no more gumption than you. Do the things you want to, even if you don’t think you’re great at them. There is an old Chinese proverb that goes something like this: The woods would be very silent if the only birds who sang there were those who sang best. Indeed. You don’t have to be the best. I am not a mountaineer (by a laughable long shot). I am not an expert solo traveler. I am not the best hiker. I am not the best writer. But I’ve done all of those things anyway and what a difference it’s made.
In moments of quiet I often return to part of a poem I referenced in one of my earliest posts, Summer Day by Mary Oliver.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Yes, pay attention. Death comes too soon. This life is precious. It’s wild. Don’t wait to start your thing. Sing. Dance. Invent. Cook. Travel. Write. Create. Teach. Explore. Try. Fail. Take a leap.
Just do it.