The night before I left for my trip to Africa this summer, I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep. I was absolutely terrified that I had no idea what I was getting myself into- what if I got half way across the world and was so homesick that I couldn’t function? What if something happened and I was too far away from my family to get help? All of the thoughts that were racing through my head felt debilitating, but I knew that no matter how afraid I was, I still had to wake up and get on a plane.
When my parents dropped me off at the airport, I met up with a friend that was also going on the trip and we walked through security together. I could tell that she was also nervous, and we both cried when our families left. What we didn’t realize in that moment was that the next 30 days were going to be some of the greatest of our lives- my experience in Africa ended up being the most eye-opening, life-changing thing that I have ever experienced. I stood 50 feet from some of the largest, most beautiful big game species in the world. I witnessed the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen and I hiked up mountains at sunrise. I played with children in a rural village in Botswana and I loved and laughed with some of the greatest friends that I will ever have.
The bottom line is this: the fear that I had about being so far from home ended up being nothing compared the experience that was ahead of me.
The lesson that I learned is one that I feel is important for everybody to learn while they are young. There are many clichés about the benefits of doing things that scare you, but you don’t really understand until you are in the situation. Looking back, some of the greatest choices that I have ever made have required me to overcome a fear. I would have missed out on a lot of joy and a lot of learning experiences if I had always let my reservations make choices for me.
College and the years that shortly follow are filled with hard decisions and fear of the unknown that can be crippling. From the very beginning of our college experience when we choose a school and move from places that we have always considered home, we begin a long journey of uncertainty that leads us through many difficult situations that often don’t have “right” answers. It is easy to let feelings of fear hold you back, but the truth is that some of the greatest experiences are the aftermath of uncertainty.
If I could give young adults one piece of advice to carry with them throughout their lives: do things that scare you and do them with confidence. Take that class that sounds like it will be hard. Go on that trip that makes you nervous to be away from home. Form relationships that intimidate you. Make hard decisions to let people go. Apply to schools that are out of your comfort zone. Apply for jobs that you’re not sure you can get. In the end, you will grow infinitely from stepping outside of your comfort zone.