Many of you know that I am on my way home from a solo mission to San Francisco, California. I boarded Amtrak’s California Zephyr Saturday night in Creston, Iowa, traveled 2,046 miles in 44 hours to spend a grand total of 39 hours in San Francisco just to board another train and come home. I have heard numerous times over the course of my adventure that I am crazy, which may very well be true, but I have had the time of my life. I met some great people, I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in America, and I learned more about myself in the past few days than I have in my previous 26 years. Here are some of the things that I learned on the trip, and how I came to understand them.
- I am braver than I ever knew. The purpose of this trip was to help me to figure out who I am. I’ve been struggling with an identity crisis for a while now (I have always been someone’s daughter/wife/mother/friend, rather than being myself). I really wanted to take some time for self-reflection and to discover who I am. Just me, not in relation to anyone else. That is why it was so important for me to take this trip on my own. Was I terrified. Abso-freaking-lutely. When I started planning the trip I told as many people about it as I could so I had a security net of people to hold me accountable not to back out of my plan. When my friend, Mike, dropped me off at the train station, I had a panic attack and seriously thought about getting back in the van and having him take me home. But I did it. I stuck it out. I did something really special. I stepped out of my comfort zone, even though it was scary, and in doing that, I found courage inside myself that I never knew I had.
- My anxiety cannot control me. This may seem like the same as being brave, but there is a big difference in being scared of something and anxiety. I had a reason to be scared: traveling alone, especially as woman, is not something to take lightly. Anxiety is something illogical. Anxiety takes the most minuet things that could POSSIBLY go wrong and turns them into guaranteed disasters. Anxiety tells me that I should stay in my hotel room and not walk 3 blocks away to a bar. Anxiety tells me to panic about what to do if there is an earthquake. Anxiety turns striking up a conversation into an impossible mountain to climb. Yes, all of those things happened to me during my brief time in San Francisco, but I overcame that anxiety. I walked to the bar, struck up a conversation with the bartender, and he introduced me to his regulars, who wrote out an itinerary of things I should see while I was in town. I met fantastic people, and my trip wouldn’t have been the same without them, because I refused to let my anxiety control me. I refused to stop living simply because it was uncomfortable. It isn’t easy. And I know it is going to be a constant battle for the rest of my life, but I won this one, and that gives me hope for tomorrow.
- People are, more often than not, kind. I didn’t meet a single rude person while I was gone. People were genuinely happy to speak with me and hear about my adventure. They were willing to answer my questions, to help me get where I needed to go, and to plan the things I needed to cram into a single day of visiting the amazing city of San Francisco. For someone who is socially anxious/awkward, this was eye opening. I have always tried to have faith in humanity as a whole, but have still always been afraid of being judged, ridiculed or rejected. This trip made me realize that most people aren’t nearly as judgmental as I think they are, and if they are, they are probably assholes I didn’t want to talk to anyways. Not only were all the people I encountered on my journey kind, but I received more positive comments and encouraging messages from friends, family, and acquaintances back home than I ever had. It blew my mind how many people really care about me, and are honestly interested in hearing about this excursion. I spoke to a friend on the phone today who told me my trip was the talk of the town (at least in the bar I work in) and I was so surprised that my customers gave a shit about more than how fast I can bring them a beer. The kindness that has been shared with me during this process of planning and executing my vacation has been astounding and overwhelming. I feel loved, and I’m giving it right back to you all.
- Being socially awkward is okay. No one thinks I am as weird as I think I am. I need to be reminded of this daily. Am I awkward? Yes, but there are other people more awkward than I am (I met some). I found that most people I have spoken to have found my awkwardness quirky rather than straight-up weird, and I need to realize that more often. It’s okay to be weird!! It’s okay to be myself!
- I talk to myself way too much. While alone in the hotel room, and now in my sleeper car on the train, I realized that I narrate what I am doing. I talk to myself almost constantly. I am sure the people in the room across the hall from me now think there are two people in here, but there’s not…it’s just me…being weird (that’s okay, remember?!)
- I find comfort and peace in nature. On numerous occasions while on the train, and while exploring Marin County just outside of SF, I was completely astounded by the beauty of the world around me. On more than one occasion, that beauty literally brought me to tears. I feel connected to nature in a way that I never truly appreciated until this trip. I have always enjoyed the outdoors. I have always love seeing the pretty flower, trees, and sunsets, but I have never felt as connected to the world around me as when I watched the Colorado river carve its way through the magnificent Rocky Mountains. I have never felt so small, yet so empowered as when I put my feet in the Pacific Ocean on Stinson Beach. I’m crying right now just thinking about it! The world is so big, so magical, so wondrous, and I am part of that. This really makes the efforts to protect the beautiful awe-inspiring natural resources we have around us all the more important to me.
- I need to conquer my fear of flying. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this on my trip. Yes, I’m working on it. I know I would have much more time to explore if I had taken a plan rather than the train. HOWEVER, the journey of this voyage was more important to me than the final destination. The train trip was my adventure, San Francisco was just the spot I ended up before coming home.
- There is power in solitude. It is okay to be alone. I’ve been trying to figure that out for quite a while now. This has a lot to do with my identity crisis I am dealing with as well. I don’t know how to be alone, I’ve never been alone, and therefore I don’t know who I am when I am just me. I am finding that there is power in being able to be alone, and not lonely. There is power in accepting who I am as an individual, not as a part of a group. There is power in taking agency over myself and my choices and not letting anyone else have control over those things.
- There is beauty in everything. I found just as much beauty in the sunrise over the plains of Nebraska as I did in the waves crashing on the California shoreline. Different types of beauty, but they are both beautiful nevertheless. When you can find beauty in the everyday mundane things around you, you can find beauty in others, and it is easier to see the beauty that others find in you. It is empowering and inspiring to see that beauty in yourself, and to connect your own beauty to the beautiful people and things around you. I recently stumbled upon a slam poem called When I was Thirteen (here is a link to the video. Watch it Feel the feels.) and I was struck by the power of these words:
Beauty is perception
Although there is a dictionary definition of beauty
Beauty has no real definition
Because it is redefined every day and you are a definition of beauty.
Someone find your laugh, your intelligence, your thoughts,
Every little thing you don’t like about yourself beautiful
And who are you to tell them they aren’t.
- I never want to stop traveling and experiencing this magical place called Earth. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to see the world, but I’ve been to scared to go out and do it. I wanted to explore, but it was easier, safer, to stay in my comfort zone. This trip opened my eyes to the endless opportunities I have to live life to the fullest, to experience the richness of the world around me, to see all the sights, to hear all the stories, and to learn all the amazing things there are to learn. This is what I was made for. This is who I am. I figured that out.