Fear Is Temporary
By the age of sixteen, I felt a burning hunger inside of me, urging me to pack my bags and explore the world. Everyone else in my family had stayed within a fifty-mile radius throughout their lives. They felt rather terrified at the thought of venturing further, much like the old seafarers, afraid to drop off the edge of the world should they get too close to the horizon. I am not sure why I was the only one of that bunch who couldn’t stop thinking about far-away destinations.
Was it all the adventure books I had read whilst growing up? Did being adopted make me inherently homeless, destined to roam the planet in search of answers, in search of myself? Beyond assumptions, we’ll never know…
At seventeen, I didn’t want to wait any longer. When I read about AYUSA, a program looking for high school students to study one year in the U.S., I applied immediately. My dad and I were invited together to an interview in Stuttgart, Germany. Then, a few weeks later, I got accepted into the program. Only three months after receiving the acceptance letter, I was on the first long-distance flight of my life, heading towards Seattle, Washington.
A year later, I was back in my home town in Southern Germany. But living abroad had irreversibly changed my perspective. I couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t bring myself to settle back into German everyday life. My horizon had expanded, spanning oceans, cultures, and continents.
Soon, I was researching opportunities to study and work abroad. This set me on a path to Zurich, Switzerland and from there onwards through six countries as well as seven vastly different professions. Now, twenty-five years later, I am back in Zurich. But the nomad in me is stirring and it is only a matter of time before I will move to another location on this planet to again absorb and learn as much as I can.
During one of my recent monthly visits to my dad, we sat in his garden. Sipping cold beers, we chatted about the surprising turns my life had taken over the last three decades. Dad expressed his admiration on how I was able to brave major life changes. “When you first left for the U.S. in 1990, I was so scared for you, Liam. There you were, only seventeen years old, all on your own in a foreign country with no one you knew. I never understood how you could be so fearless. I was terrified for you, just thinking of all the unknowns involved. I would never have been able to venture out like that. Then, when you came back, I thought you’d settle down at home.
You kept surprising me, moving from country to country, ever farther away instead of closer to home. Where do you get this strength? And why are you not afraid?”
I looked him straight in the eye, “But I am, Dad. I’m always afraid, no matter where I am heading to next.”
When I was hurtling through the skies, towards my school year in the U.S., I drank so many whisky-cokes on the way, I threw up on my host dad’s shoes upon arriving. Trying to get comfortable as a young student in Zurich, I felt so lonely at first, no matter what people said, I replied with “fantastic” and “amazing” in a misguided attempt to make them like me more by being over-supportive. Then, I decided to leave everything I knew in Europe behind to begin life as a SCUBA diving instructor on a small Maldivian island. I packed in such a frenzy, I ended up forgetting half my luggage, including my underpants and swim shorts.
Four years later, a new challenge beckoned. I was going to work as a diving technician and performer trainer for the aquatic show “The House of Dancing Water”, first in Belgium, then in Macau. During training and formation in Antwerp, my boss kept telling me, “You’re too soft spoken. Not tough enough. No one in the team will respect you once we arrive in Macau. They’re a bunch of rough guys, you know. Tough love. All former soldiers and oil rig techs. You’ve got to stand your ground.”
Intellectually, I knew my boss had a warped definition of toughness. Standing my ground had nothing to do with the decibel-level of my voice. Still, after a few months of having my personality judged and criticized on a daily basis, I was so intimidated, I felt I had to go see a therapist to get help in re-focusing my strength and re-claiming a sense of entitlement. I wondered if I was heading straight into some kind of hell. But then, I loved coaching the artists for our show. They had come to trust me. I wanted to be there for them and figured I had as much right as any other person on my aquatics team to help see the visionary theatre project in Macau through to operation. When we finally relocated from Europe to East Asia for creation, I felt like a trembling five-year-old, playing Navy Seal, crawling through mud, hoping the enemy won’t shoot too sharp.
Bottom line, venturing into the unknown has never been and never will be easy for me no matter what the circumstances. Each time, I will have the shakes as much from anxiety as from excitement.
But there is this realization that hit me in my teens, long before I headed out on my first overseas relocation. Fear is only temporary. Regret is forever. There is nothing wrong with angst as long as we don’t let it rule our lives.
A small dose of it might even be healthy. And we sure will come out stronger in the end. So, I will answer the call every time. I will again take my backpack to see where new challenges will lead me. I will give it all I’ve got. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. No regrets.