Edward stood at the edge of the pool. With flaming red hair and big blue eyes full of fear. I was waiting in the water trying to convince this four year old boy to make the leap. “1,2,3.. Jump!” I said optimistically. His fists clenched but he didn’t move. “3,2,1…Jump!” I tried again with the same enthusiasm and the same result. I wasn’t giving up, this kid was going to jump into the baby pool if it took all day (or the better part of half an hour).
I tried a new tactic “Go Edward Go! Go Edward Go!” He looked at me earnestly,”That is the way you need to say it.” Okay, fair enough, Edward. I continued chanting, “Go Edward Go! Go Edward Go!”. He took a breath, he was visibly scared. He locked eyes with me and started a chant of his own he said “I’m brave! I’m brave! I’m brave!”
And then he jumped.
I was at the LAX airport on my way to Seoul to begin my year as an ESL teacher when I realized I had just spent 1 hour of my layover at the wrong terminal chatting on the phone with one of my girlfriends back home. Not only was I in the wrong terminal but I had to take a bus to the right one, check in again, and go through security again. In other words, I was in very real danger of missing my flight. I was already rehearsing the phone call I was going to have to make to my school. “Thank you for the flight across the world, but I missed it because I was on the phone…May I have another one please?”
Waiting in line to re-check in this time with Asiana airline I had a very mild panic attack. What the hell was I doing? No one around me was speaking English, I couldn’t figure out which line to stand in, where to check in, and all the lines were fairly long. I did not have time to gamble. I knew this was just the tip of the iceberg, a glimpse at what my life was about to be like for the next year and I already felt uncomfortable. It’d been about 4 years since my last trip to Asia and my travel confidence was rusty.
I made it through the check in line and into the security line, my eyes fixed to the clock and my heart pounding. Did I really sign a year-long contract for a job on the other side of the world based on a 7 minute Skype interview? All of the sudden, my head was swirling with the questions I had been repeatedly asked in the weeks leading up to my departure:
Do you know anyone there?
Do you speak any Korean?
Have you ever taught before?
What are you going to do after the year is up?
None of these questions had soothing answers.
Just when I needed it, the Universe sent me a sign. A little boy ran past me wearing a t-shirt that read “If It Doesn’t Challenge me, It Doesn’t Change Me.” Hell Yeah, kid. Hell. Yeah.
Seeing that care free kid running around soothed my nerves and gave me some confidence. After all, he was right. Sitting at home and being comfortable in my job and surroundings was not going to help me grow. I wanted to explode my life open, to have wonderful, challenging and core-shifting experiences.
That just wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t do something big. At least not for me, not in this moment of my life. I was making the right decision, I knew it, my friends knew it and that kid knew it too.
I made it through the security line and to the gate. The plane started boarding and I got a little nervous again. I knew that when I got on the plane my life would never be the same. No matter what happened.Whenever I came back, I would be in a different place and have a different perspective. A big thing was about to happen and my excitement was equally proportional to my fear.
I thought back to little Edward standing on the edge of the pool. He was scared, but he let himself be scared. He felt the fear but he made the decision to jump. Not think about it, not look down, and but just jump. That is courage. No matter how big or small the act or person is. Courage is allowing yourself to be scared but making the decision to trust your guts and go for it. I channeled a little bit of Edward’s courage as I handed the agent my boarding pass. Out loud I said three times “I’m Brave! I’m Brave! I’m Brave!” By the third chant, I believed it.
And then just like Edward, I closed my eyes and I jumped.
12 hours later when my plane touched down in Seoul I had made two new friends. On my left was a friendly albeit invasive Korean lady who owned an art gallery on Jeju Island and knew my age and marital status. On my right was a nurse from the Philippines who gave me an open invitation to stay at her house. I felt calm, confident and excited to start my new life.
I knew that confidence would waver at times and I wanted to remember where to get some strength from when I needed it. I grabbed a napkin and scribbled down my new mantras:
“If it doesn’t challenge me, it doesn’t change me”
Right below it I wrote
I put the napkin in my pocket and walked off the plane and into Korea.