This is it guys. We get one shot at this thing called life. Even if you believe in reincarnation, you will not be living as the You that you are today. For some people, death feels incredibly distant and is simply not a good motivator. But some of us are acutely aware of how short life is.
When I was 18 I felt called to go solo travel in India. I was fresh out of high school, had gotten into college, but just couldn't go write more papers for other people's validation. I needed to know if I could survive halfway across the world in a culture I didn't understand, as a racial and religious minority. Basically I needed to try living for once. So I saved up for 6 months by injecting trees with fungicide and flew off shortly after my 19th birthday. My parents were scared, to put it mildly. They had good reason. India is not a very safe place for a young woman, no matter how resourceful she is. But I had to go-- I had to know who I was when I wasn't in my comfort zone.
Above: Me in New Delhi, November 1999
Amazing things happened on that trip, like meeting the Dalai Lama. Someday I hope to write about them. But today I'll focus on a not-so-amazing part, which was my attempted kidnapping.
I was a couple months in to the 6 month journey and things were going... okay. I had made it through an unfortunate volunteering experience where I cataloged books that were half-eaten by termites in the dark, surrounded by large rats. I had figured out how to use pit toilets, eat only with my right hand, speak some Hindi, and avoid accidentally marrying myself off, as I was offered dowries semi-regularly.
The random black outs were becoming familiar and so was people staring at me. But I never got used to the sexual harassment. It was above and beyond anything I had previously experienced, and I was surprised by it, erroneously assuming that Indians would be more respectful of women since they are more religious on average than Americans. I was young, okay?
I was riding a train across Rajasthan in the middle of the night. It was a long journey and I had foolishly not packed enough snacks. Partway through I bought a samosa from a vendor on the train. Shortly thereafter I got sick, and if you've ever uncontrollably vomited in a moving vehicle you know it's the last place you want to be. I held out for as long as I could, getting off the train several stops early in Jaipur, a major city, so I knew the station would be busy even in the middle of the night. I was so weak I parked myself near a garbage can and planned to wait for the sunrise to look for somewhere to stay.
Shortly after sitting down, a member of the Indian army meandered over, drunk, talking about how he loved me and how I should meet his mother. He didn't seem to care that I was throwing up. Do you know how hard it is to throw up while holding your 50 pound pack while being harassed? I decided to find the sleeping room-- many Indian train stations have them-- to rent a bed hostel-style. I figured I'd be safe in there.
I was wrong. The soldier followed me up the stairs to the room, telling me the whole time how I should come home with him and we could stay in the same bed together with his mother (?). I ignored him and paid for a bed. A few blissful moments passed and I thought I might be able to sleep off the food poisoning, when I heard the creepy drunk voice of the soldier again, telling the sleeping room manager to let him in... and then felt him get into bed with me. You've never seen a sick girl jump like that, man. I was outta there. Lugging my giant pack and vomiting all the way. This time I parked myself in front of the information desk, which wouldn't be open for another hour or so. I didn't know what else to do. You might wonder if I asked those around me for help-- the answer is yes-- I shouted for help and everyone just stared at me. The soldier followed me, picked me up, physically pulling me toward the exit. Luckily I knew about making yourself heavy by going completely limp. I was a lot heavier with that backpack on too. He was simply too drunk to get me into his car, which he said was waiting to take me to his house. Finally he passed out on the floor, after whispering gross things in my ear while taking hits off his flask.
The information desk finally opened and I found out where the nearest hotel was. I RAN all the way. After I checked in I didn't leave for 3 days. I was so ill that the hotel manager sent a doctor to my room. Turns out I had dysentery and could've died.
All this is to say, would it have been better for me to stay home in Minnesota, wondering what could've been had I ventured out on my own? Certainly I would've avoided that guy in the station and the illness. But I also would've missed the crazy, interesting, wonderful experiences I had that made me who I am today. I know what freedom feels like and I know what fear feels like. They are simply two sides of the same coin.
Fear is such an interesting concept, because the very thing that is meant to keep you safe can also keep you bored, depressed, stagnant and lonely. I'm not advocating huge risk taking all the time, but if you feel yourself get a little excited about an idea, but then get scared, feel the fear and do it anyway. Because life's too short. Consider this: if you don't do it, what does 5 years from now look like? Are you satisfied? Happy? What if you do take the risk? What might your future look like? If it doesn't go as planned, can you allow yourself to “fail” and try it again differently? Do we give up on love when our first relationship doesn't work out? Of course not, and we can't give up on risk taking either. By all means, take calculated risks. But always head in the direction of joy, love, excitement; and away from fear.
I'll leave you with this: When you aren't sure about a career or life decision, ask yourself: Is this the best use of my time on earth?
Life Purpose and Career Coach
Career Clarity Now