Change is hard. Change is really hard. For someone like me, for whom life has always been steady and predictable, change has been the enemy. I am now forcing myself to change through sheer force of will. I am fighting my nature and breaking from everything I used to be. I completely underestimated the difficulty of this endeavor, and I never expected where the difficulty would lie. However, I believe I have a solution.
The last several weeks have been my attempt at starting a new life within an old one. In order to find a more meaningful and fulfilling life, I have altered my course to expand myself and to explore a new perspective on the world. I grew up wanting to join the military and having a myopic obsession with practicality. I went to a military college and studied aerospace engineering. By spending my free time at the library or in the lab instead of going out with friends, I was able to graduate at the top of my class in what most people consider to be the most difficult major. I am proud of my successes, but I recognize that they are extremely limited in scope. In these accomplishments I completely failed in the areas of building meaningful relationships, developing my social skills, and understanding the finer points of art and literature. In my new life, I aim to change my state of mind to embrace those things that I had formerly considered to be superfluous. Although I have taken steps in my intended direction, I cannot say that my efforts have been particularly successful.
My recent anxiety has stemmed from the realization that my biggest obstacle is me. There are no external forces keeping me from reaching out to new friends or working on my language studies. I know that spending too much time by myself is a bad thing, but like a failed New Year’s resolution, the old habit has begun to take over. I promise this won’t be a pity party blog post though. I do have hope, and I’d like to tell you why with a short story.
In early July, I was contemplating my decision to leave flight school before incurring the eight-year commitment of trained aviators. The strongest force pulling me was my unquenchable desire to travel the world while I was still young and free of responsibility. At the time it was little more than a thought experiment, so I needed to go out and sample the life on which I was to embark. I packed an overnight bag, jumped in my car, and headed west with no particular destination in mind. Halfway through Mississippi, I decided I could reach New Orleans by nightfall. As expected, the French Quarter was as lively as ever on a Tuesday night. I wandered the brightly lit streets, enjoyed some great jazz, and got a cheap dinner at small market. I was in the right place, but something was missing. Enjoying the constant party that is Bourbon Street isn’t much fun alone. I needed to make some new friends, but I’m too socially awkward and introverted to simply inject myself into a group of people. After wasting an hour at an outdoor bar, too afraid to strike up a conversation with anyone, I effectively gave up. I found a hostel (part of the experiment was to make the trip on minimal funds), made the miles-long trek out there, and expected to turn in for the night. Much to my surprise, the hostel’s courtyard was still bustling with the energy of young, foreign travelers. I dropped by bag on an empty bunk, and walked out to introduce myself. It took a few seconds of courage to step up and say hello, but those few seconds precipitated one of the greatest nights of my life. After only a few minutes of small talk with a group of Australian college students, a young man bubbling with energy burst out the back door to inform everyone that the tram was arriving and we had better get moving. They asked if I was coming; I had no choice but to oblige. Running out of the front door with juvenile energy and naively adventurous glee, I knew that this night was already a success. After hours of enlightening conversation, legendary jazz bars, and terrible mixed drinks, I fell asleep on my thin bunk mattress with the contented smile of an orphan who had finally found a home.
It was only one night, and I made no lasting relationships, but I proved to myself that I can survive in a foreign environment and that I can enjoy it. Most importantly, I learned how it must be done. The old adage that showing up is eighty percent of life rings incredibly true. I only needed to make one difficult decision that night: step up to a small group of friendly-looking Australians and say, “Hi, I’m Geoff.” Every decision after that was simple, easy, and felt completely natural. To follow this dream of becoming a teacher, a polyglot, and a socially competent individual, I must introduce myself into situations that require me to do those things, not just will myself to be them.
I must accept that I am not a fairytale hero. I am not some superhuman genius. I have the same weaknesses and foils as the rest of humanity. I never had any hope of making such a drastic change in my life while living in the same comfortable routines. Until recently, I had forgotten the lesson I should have learned from New Orleans: it only takes a few seconds of courage in the right moment to set a course toward completely uncharted territory.