Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death – Earl Wilson
Almost twenty years ago, just before moving abroad, I scrawled this quote on a little scrap of paper, and I’ve been carrying it with me all these years. My travels have taken me to numerous countries, to remote villages in the jungle and minute tropical islands in clear blue waters; I’ve learned about cultures from around the world and eaten foods I would have considered unimaginable before.
Through it all, this quote has reminded me that being courageous isn’t about being especially strong, a sort of super-hero of the traveling sort. It simply means that others can’t see the small child inside of me who’s quivering in fear at every new challenge that comes up.
Life, of course, affords us many opportunities to be courageous. But living abroad these past two decades has produced quite a few unique situations.
International moves. Moving to another country implies working out many things, some scary and others just tedious. Arriving to a new country where I don’t know anyone, military coups and mob violence have been some of the scarier ones. There’s also all the mundane steps to take; passports and visas and foreign identity cards, moving all those belongings, getting the dog on the plane, learning new laws and customs.
Starting over. A bit of a nomad, I’ve learned quite a bit about starting over. Because of job moves, I’ve lived in more than 20 houses in my adult life. It requires courage to arrive in yet another South American city and learn how to get around, open bank accounts, deal with the particular dialect of the region, and learn other survival tactics.
Learning new professions and skills. And of course, each new move brings new professional challenges. I’ve been a school teacher, tutor, language teacher, journalist, baker, park ranger, translator, interpreter, shop clerk, babysitter, magazine editor, and more. I’ve learned three languages and in the process nearly forgot my own. It’s not getting any easier as time goes by, but it’s become a simple process of learning, moving forward, and not giving in to the fear.
Facing loss. There are a lot of things we lose each time we move. The loss of family and friends is one of the most painful. I leave a piece of myself behind in every person whose life I touched, every person that became a part of me for the time I lived near them. We become who we are because of the people whose lives we’ve become a part of. But it’s hard to rip out those roots, planted deep in the heart, and move on to another place.
The amount of people that tell me I’m courageous always amazes me, since in reality I feel scared of anything and everything. When I try to figure out why people think I’m not scared, I guess it comes down to just not showing the fear. I maintain a big smile, stand up straight and move forward, one step after another. And suddenly I’m there: I’ve reached my goal.
So in a way, courage is really about deception. It’s fooling everyone else so much that I fool myself into thinking that I can do something, and then I do it. And in the process the journey has made me grow into someone better, and I become that person I wanted to be.