Celebrating Fears Faced

When I was in high school, I was accepted as a Rotary exchange student and was invited to go to Belgium for the year. I let the fears of others rule my decision and I stayed home.

That is one of my biggest regrets in life.

As I matured, I began to realize that letting fear stop you from taking chances means giving up on a lot of dreams and on living. I tried, when faced with fear, to push through it and face the fears. I wasn’t always successful, but I grew stronger and more courageous with each attempt, or so I thought.

Yet, something shifted again after I became a mother. Suddenly fear has control over me again, and more often than not I give into those fears. Fear of trying to publish. Fear of making friends. Fear of taking chances. I think this new hold FEAR has on me has something to do with the fact that my life is not my own–my decisions affect Nathan and Sarah. I can’t just pick up, take off, and take chances.

Yet, as I approach this birthday (Eek! The actual day is tomorrow) I find myself yearning to become the person who does not let fear stop her anymore. After I graduated from college and was on the job hung (following a one year internship at a theatre) I had two interesting options on the table:

  1. The more practical option of working for a Canada based Arts Administration Organization that sent people throughout North America to help arts organizations with reorganization and planning. This would have probably led to a solid career in Arts Administration and or Arts Advocacy (one thing I would still love to do ) and–more often than not in recent years ;)–I’ve thought being Canadian wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
  2. A job teaching at an English conversation school in Okayama, Japan.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time (or even just the first of the celebratory posts), you know where I ended up.

In Japan in my early 20s.

Yet, the decision to go to Japan was not an easy one. It was a fear-filled one. It took some words of wisdom from one of the actors at the theatre company I was working out to help me make a choice. He said,

“There are no wrong decisions. There are choices that can go badly, but they always lead to the next decision.”

I tried to make those the guiding words of my life. This doesn’t mean we never make mistakes, but if we face those mistakes head on–despite our fears–we will make it through to new opportunities, new decisions, and new moments to face our fears.

So today I celebrate the moments in my life when I faced my fears and moved through them. Among those moments, I celebrate the day I got on a plane, headed for a country I’d never been to a job I never thought of, and cried my way from Boston to California before sitting in sleepless fear from California to Japan.

I hope someday to be that courageous again.

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Feeling Foreign Abroad and Feeling Foreign At “Home”

On and interesting post at Broadside called Feeling Foreign Caitlin asked at the end:

“Have you ever lived outside your native land? Did you enjoy it?

How has it changed you?”

I’ve thought about those questions a lot lately, because of my search for a place that I can call home. I cannot really call this new location home. I’ve found people here that fit my idea of home, but I still feel like a foreigner in this place.

Now, you may ask, how can you feel like a foreigner? It’s America, you are American.

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve had many wonderful experiences in my life, including the opportunity to live in a variety of places. My first big move was to Okayama, Japan, where I ended up living for three years. I was a gaijin but I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy; sometimes it was difficult. And, when I chose to leave, it was time to leave. But, whenever I think about what place I want to call home, images of Japan pop into my head. I don’t think I want to live there, but there was something about my experience there that made it feel more like home to me than any place. Perhaps it was simply that I became a true, individual adult in that complicated country. I lived alone, I supported myself, and I learned to survive despite language and cultural barriers. I am not saying that every moment was perfect. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it was challenging. Sometimes the cultural differences seemed impossible to overcome. But somehow that country and that experience felt like finding home.

From Japan, I moved to Hawaii for graduate school. There I was haole and I have to say being haole was a lot more difficult than being gaijin. Perhaps it was because Hawaii is part of the United States, so I expected to feel like I belonged, but I didn’t. Sometimes I made more glaring errors there than I did in Japan. Sometimes I felt more alone. Even now, when we go back to visit Nathan’s family, I don’t feel completely comfortable. I love it there, but it never felt quite like home. Maybe if we actually moved there that would change, but I don’t know.

Between then and now I’ve lived in several other states. Some felt more home-like than others, but I still haven’t found home. And now, after moving to Kansas, I again feel more foreign than I should. Why? Well, I am a liberal person in a sea of conservatives. I am a Jew in an ocean of Christians. I am “different” in ways that I can’t quite explain.

Now don’t get me wrong, the people here are warm and wonderful, it is all the way I feel. I feel foreign. For some reason, I feel more foreign than I have before, and I don’t know how to guide myself through it. When I was in Japan, my errors were often seen as “cute”, because they were made by someone making an honest effort to be respectful of the culture. Somehow that doesn’t work here. Of course I respect the differences between me and other people, but I can’t just pass off disagreements as my not understanding the culture. Because the culture is not that foreign, but in some ways it is.

Is it possible then, that “feeling foreign” is a state of mind?

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