When I was a really young kid, I was pretty fearless. My dad used to put platform shoes on my feet and do up my hair on top of my head just because I'd begged him to ride the big scary roller coaster with him, and I wasn't quite tall enough yet. I'm not really sure what happened, but as I became an adolescent, something about me had changed, and I became a much more fearful person. I was still pretty active because I was naturally pretty good at a lot of my pursuits, like snowboarding, but I shied away from opportunities for personal growth for fear of failure or for fear of looking stupid. I would come up with some sort of excuse like ''I don't really have time'' or ''It's kind of stupid, I don't actually like doing it that much.'' I'll never forget the day that I went to the first day of try-outs for the women's lacrosse team as a high school sophomore, and walked about because I felt like everyone was better than me. I still regret that to this day, and I doubt any of those girls were judging me as much as I was judging myself.
When I went to college I began to break out of this fearfulness. I found myself surrounded by encouraging people, and realized for the first time how absolutely addictive it is to break outside of your comfort zone and see yourself improving at something you were initially afraid of. As a result, I tried lots of new things in college. I was a flyer for the Mines cheerleading team (something I had always kind of wanted to try), I started climbing mountains and going backpacking, doing yoga regularly, climbing at the Mines rock wall, and ultimately of course, the thing that I credit with changing my life the most, slacklining. Nowadays, while I still (often) exprerience fear in new or uncomfortable situations, if I can think rationally in the moment, that fear is a bit more exhilerating than crippling, and I now actively seek out situations in which I can be outside my comfort zone, which is the main reason I am currently traveling around Europe.
If you've never traveled in a foreign country, especially alone, it's something that I would highly recommend. You learn a lot (I mean a LOT) about yourself, and it's the ultimate situation to see how you respond to being outside your comfort zone and how you respond to feeling ''fearful,'' or uncomfortable in a situation.
Fear is a strange thing. It's strange because it's not necessarily always totally bad. And that's where intuition comes in. My definition of fear is a baseless and irrational (but natural) response to a feeling in which you are feeling uncomfortable simply because it is a new situation, or a situation in which you might fail or (gasp) look stupid. Intuition on the other hand is a gut feeling that a situation isn't totally right and you should probably find a way to change the situation. Some people have stronger and more developed intuitions than others. The tricky part is, the two feelings can feel extremely similar if you aren't sure of the difference between them.
That being said, I still often mistake the two in many situations. Before traveling I thought I had a much more developed intuitive sense than I actually did, but as always, ''Nomad Life'' is a spotless mirror of truth that shows you exactly where and who you are in your life. When I first arrived in Paris, I was terrified. I was traveling alone for the first time, and it was my first time in Europe, and I didn't have any idea where my hostel was because I had booked it at the airport in a hurry right before boarding the plane. I got on the Paris metro from the airport with my massive backpack at 6 in the morning, and the train was soon packed with commuters going from the extremely under-privileged and run down outskirts of Paris into the center for work. I soon had my massive backpack on my lap to make room for people to sit, and was trying to dodge strange looks in my direction. I figured getting off in the center of the city was probably a safe bet, so I stumbled out of the packed metro, knocking a few people around with my huge pack while I was at it, wandered around a bit before I found my way out of the metro tunnels, up into sunlight, and finally found Wifi to map out my hostel. Turns out, my hostel was a good hour walk away, in the north of the city. I was appalled at the idea of trying to navigate the metro again, so I hoofed it two hours through the city, getting lost three times, just because I was afraid to go try and figure out the metro, because I thought everyone was staring at me with my huge pack and I couldn't blend in. I think everyone reading this can agree that the fear I was experiencing then was probably highly irrational and un-based.
On the contrary, fast forward five weeks later and 2500 km away to the island of Malta, and Mickey (my partner in adventure here in Europe and fellow Belong Designs athlete) and I had just rented a motor scooter. At first, renting a motor scooter in Malta seemed innocent and fun enough, despite multiple warnings from people that drivers in Malta are literally insane. For the first hour of having the motor scooter, we felt on top of the world speeding down the tiny island's packed highway, trying to do our best to imitate the other motorcycles and motor scooters that were weaving their way around the cars on the highways. When we arrived at our destination, we found ourselves caught behind a bus that was dropping off passengers in front of the old city of Medina. As we prepared to pass the bus I felt fearful seeing the cars speeding past us and almost asked if we could just wait for the bus to move. I buried this fear as an irrational feeling, but as we accelerated around the bus, we tried to speed up to get a way from a car that was on our tail, lost control of the motor scooter, and went careening into a curb and a large rock on the side of the road. Luckily we weren't going too fast yet, so the worst injury (unless you count the totally trashed plastic and fiberglass paneling on the motor scooter) was my right knee, which had sustained a heavy blow. Over a week later and I'm still experiencing pain while walking and standing. This injury has put a serious halt on my slacklife :) .
Unfortunately, after trying something new and failing or getting hurt in the process (mentally or physically), it's natural to experience a higher level of fear than you might have before the failure. After the motor scooter crash, we still had to drive the wrecked motor scooter back into the city to return it (Yeah... we owed them some extra money...) and to take me to the hospital. I was reeling from fear the entire time, and this time I could definitively tell that it was un-based, irrational fear based on our previous experience of failure. It takes a lot of self awareness to be able to breathe through that fear and remain focused. If you were reading this blog hoping for the concluding paragraphs to outline a surefire way to distinguish between fear and intuition, you're going to be disappointed. When it comes down to it, the only way that you can really hone your intuitive senses is by trying things and doing things. If you were wrong about something, mark another notch in your personal history book and move on.
So was that intuition I experienced before crashing the motor scooter? Maybe. I'm not an expert myself, I'm still trying to figure out how to tell the difference between the two feelings just as much as you are, probably. With a few exceptions, though, traveling has down wonders for me in determining which feelings are just un-based and irrational fear, and which feelings are deeper and more intuitive. I still feel latent fear every time I arrive in a new and unfamiliar city, and I think for the rest of my life I will experience a latent fear every time I scoot out onto a highline. What traveling has taught me more than anything is just how ''weak'' I am; that is, just how susceptible I am to feeling vulnerable and fearful in a situation, and also just how ''strong'' I am; that is, how much power I have to live through the moments of vulnerability and positively influence my world such that ultimately, everything works out and arranges itself how it's supposed to.
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