Dear Self.... embrace the feared adventure
I was asked to coordinate a work meeting in Europe.
Instead of leaping out of my skin in excitement and joy, I leaped out of my skin in fear and anxiety. I had not been to Europe. Everyone kept responding with "Oh my gosh! Europe? You must be THRILLED!" I needed to say YES. I needed to feel the YES. Yes, I should be excited. But all of me was holding on to the idea that there was a lot of expectation riding on this. If anything went wrong on this trip, all eyes would dart in my direction and no doubt there would be breakdowns of the public display kind. After all, I have this thing about crying all the time.
If you don't know this about me... I have an issue with not being able to control what's ahead. While I definitely know I am not alone in this problem, it's still very debilitating and prevents me from confidently accepting new challenges. Exhibit A - meeting in Europe for board members and executives.
My best friend called me about a month and a half prior to the trip. I had not booked my ticket yet. I was already 2 months in to planning this meeting. The stubborn part of me was convinced I didn't need to go and could just stay safe at home on the ground. I know what you're thinking.... I am also thinking how ridiculous this all sounds. I rattled off my fears and anxieties. Blah, blah, "the world these days is scary" blah, blah "but what if I screw this whole thing up and everyone looks at me like I'm a huge failure and embarrassment?" The biff told me I'm crazy and that basically I needed to grow a pair. I booked my ticket the next day. I hit purchase and then ran away from my desk to take deep breaths in a bathroom stall.
I am worthy of this experience. I value myself and I. AM. CAPABLE.
I am 37 years old. I am finally going to Europe. On someone else's dime. Let the rejoicing begin!
Let the raging panic, insecurity and fear keep creeping in. 2 panic attacks and a prescription to an anti-depressant later.... I was on a plane to Austria. I had obsessed over every detail that WAS IN MY CONTROL (insert definition of anxiety here). I had 5 pages of lists with small check marks by nearly all of them. The small amount sans check mark ran in my head in my sleep. All of the planning was 9 hours ahead of me. I was possessed by emails at 5am. But I made it to day 1. At the airport... "check".
On the days leading up to day 1 I had been swaddled with support and love from co-workers, family and friends. Messages of encouragement, cards, travel goodies, you name it. My cup was full. I felt like the world had my back and I was ready for this.
Thanks, God. I appreciate you listening.
The tears rolled down my cheeks not because of insecurity or fear, but because of gratitude. A heaping, enormous, bursting cloud of gratitude. I admitted to being scared out of my mind and the out-pour of love and generosity came back at me with a force that knocked the fear right out of me.
From the friendly "roomies" on my 9 hour leg to London, to the care and concern of my co-workers who checked in on my sanity level daily, I entered day 1 with a confidence that honestly hadn't shown up till right then. My children were excited for me! Probably because I told them I would bring back some special treasures. Kids, man. My husband hugged me tight, kissed me, and his familiar smile while saying "Try and enjoy it! Have a good time!" helped me bury any tears creeping up.
"I got this."
Off to Vienna
Vienna // Austria
Shops are closed on Sundays. The U.S. is doing it all wrong. My colleague, Kate, and I hit up the museums, specifically the Mumok, where we viewed 4 floors of Feminist Artists of the 1970's. We slowly savored our lunch, as everyone seemed to be doing, sipped on a cold one, and strolled the antique streets of downtown Vienna. I was in a dream. The air smelled of cigarettes, but masked by fresh baked breads and cologne. The buildings are no higher than probably 6-7 floors so you can see the skyline. Instead of feeling swallowed in the city's hustle, it felt like it was welcoming you on its streets. Each building donned a unique architecture. Each with it's own character and special personality. My neck was pained from looking up and around all day. My brain was full of curiosity and wonder. It was something I hadn't experienced since I was a wee teen on a mission trip in Mexico. Experiencing a different culture and way of life - it was refreshing.
The history of Vienna oozes from every wall and street stone. I found myself lying in bed on night 2 browsing Google images of WWII in Austria. The sights of the devastation wrecked my gut. What a privileged life we lead. I couldn't stop sinking my eyeballs in to the small back lit screen in front of me. I was jet lagged and exhausted, but I wasn't shutting down.
Our hotel provided a far and wide view of the city that I'm sure reflected back in my awe-stricken eyes.
Naschmarkt and Stephansplatz // Viennese market - St. Stephens Cathedral has been one of the most beloved and historical sites in Vienna. Mozart was married here in 1782 and it also withstood WWII attacks. Something most of Vienna did not survive from.
If you've read to this point, you've basically come to this correct conclusion......
Day 4 - this look sums it up. I was in love. I was feeling adventurous - I wanted to stay here forever. We had spent days touring the city with purpose of understanding the retail market and customer. I squeezed in every last second of freedom I had before we were on to our next destination.
Schladming // Austria
Days 4, 5 and 6 were spent in the amazingly gorgeous resort town of Schladming. About 3 hours from Vienna, up in the alps. Basically we were in The Sound of Music. I didn't spin around in the hills like I had planned (enter sad face here), but the hills were most certainly alive. I experienced driving on the autobahn at about 150 km. It was just as exhilarating as it sounds. It was also as frightening as it sounds. The most challenging part was exiting downtown Vienna where the roads are like makeshift side streets and there's no clear direction. Not to mention the street signs aren't AT ALL obvious. My co-pilot, Elisha, and I had fun playing the guessing game. Yes, I drove the wrong way on several one-way streets. Thank the Lord for protecting us while I made these terrifying mistakes.
Schladming felt like a movie. Like a painting. My eyes couldn't believe the beauty that surrounded us. Pictures will never do it justice. Not even slightly. Everything about this village felt special and unique. The kindness was genuine and there was never a shortage of warm bread and espresso.
Our friends at Blue Tomato (a retailer our company acquired 5 years ago) welcomed us to the town of their HQ with open arms, a lovely reception, and a lot of friendly smiles. They are some of the kindest people I've met. We are so fortunate to be in the same retail family.
The following several days were filled with full day meetings, traditional dinners, lots of laughter, and new friends.
I was feeling settled. I had zero anxiety. I was calm, collected, and my worries had vanished. The week had gone so well, I was honestly shocked. With years of planning events under my belt, I knew that at least one major thing would go wrong. Whether it be my doing or the vendor/venue's doing. I prepared myself for something to go sideways. When the week came to a close and nothing went south, I realized how long I had been holding my breath. 4 long months I had been seized up, thinking this would be the thing that would break me. It was crippling. Then, come to find out, it was the BEST thing that could have happened to me. That fear fed the adventure.
Munich // Germany
A few hour drive from Schladming, we arrived in Munich for our final night and departure the next day. Not nearly as charming as Vienna and Schladming, Munich had a hustle and busier city life. Restaurants were buzzing and not a single table had anything other than beer. Tom and I wondered if any patrons, where we were dining, even drank water! At dinner, a gentleman in lederhosen cruised the restaurant with a half glass of beer (clearly not from the restaurant), plopped down at a community dining table with a group of young adults and made himself comfortable. He casually talked to himself and in between made small talk with the group he shared a table with. Within ten minutes he was up and moving on to the next place. An elderly man at the end of our table was reading a newspaper and enjoying a beer and meal alone. He gestured our server over and asked her something in German while he pointed at us. She returned back and handed us menus in English. The man smiled, winked at her and nodded in our direction while he raised his glass.
7 long days and it was time to return home. As I lied in my hotel bed in Munich on that last night, I recalled the days prior. Where had my anxiety gone? And in that current moment, I had no emotion about the travel home. I was totally at peace. I felt like the week had been a success. I felt good. I hadn't felt this way in what seemed like 6 months.
If you're familiar with that high you experience after a long mountain hike or climb, or when you just ran your best mile, you'll understand just how I felt. It was as if I had just finished a marathon.
I listened intently this past Sunday as our pastors delivered a message about how God talks to each of us differently. It was a moment of clarity for me. A bright and buzzing light bulb was above my head. God DOES talk to me! My husband prompted the conversation further as we were driving home from church. He asked if I felt like God talks to me and how he does. I explained that I had always been jealous of others who felt like God was speaking directly to them. I had looked everywhere for his voice during my season of anxiety and worry, but I was waiting to hear HIS voice. Come to realize, He talked to me through all these wonderful and amazing people that sent me messages, wrote me cards, texted, called, left messages, hugged me and told me "you've got this - embrace this adventure". He was using the people in my support system to tell me He'll be by my side each step of the trip.
Everything went seamless. I am still pinching myself when others ask how the trip went.... hesitating at the possibility that I cry because everything went wrong and chaos stirred.
Once I had settled in back home, I called my parents to give them the good word. My mom brightly asked me "So! How does it feel to have it over and done with and be home!?"
"I feel brave, mom!"
Brave? That was a strange choice of word. But honestly? I was, in fact, feeling brave. I had embraced my fears: failure, mistakes, international travel.... all the unknown potential dilemmas that could happen with over 20 people in a foreign country with zero visibility to what I was walking in to.
Note to self:
Fear can fuel adventure
Anxiety is the real-deal - and it's super annoying....
It's okay to admit when we feel overwhelmed and need help
Do not obsess over the things I don't have control over
Be prepared to remedy problems by seeking out help from resources, rather than believing I need to have all things problem-proof
Be open to new challenges and experiences
Growth opportunities are a gift
God does in fact speak to me
God walks with me
I need more adventure
I love Europe
I also appreciate my anti-depressant
I'm grateful for the challenge my company charged me with and trusted me with. I am better because of it.
Europe - I will return to you.