In October 2014, I decided that it was time to stop making excuses and go somewhere new.
I was covered in cobwebs woven from unhappiness, stress, and anxiety about the future, and I concluded that discovering an unfamiliar place was exactly what I needed. I hadn't been anywhere far since I spent a semester abroad in France in 2010. So for the rest of 2014 and much of 2015, I scrimped and made payments to a travel group for a trip to Europe.
In September, I reaped my investment and traveled Germany and the Czech Republic. For eleven glorious days, I did not think too much, fall into a funk, obsess about the future, or feel stuck. I was not tired or exhausted, and I did not feel like I was putting in more than I was getting in return.
And it was perfect.
I ate breakfast every single day, unheard of in my nine-to-five life. To my surprise I even got a lot of exercise since being in Europe means endless walking! I huffed and puffed my way up 285 steps to the top of the Victory Column in Berlin and saw an amazing 360-degree view of the city. The climb stretched my thighs, and I was disappointed by how often I needed to take a break. Did that stop me from taking on the increasingly steep steps of the Old Town Hall Tower when I got to Prague? No! My “screw these steps" mantra did help a great deal as my ankles screamed during the long climb. Although I felt like I was the only one struggling so hard on the journey to the top, I told myself that can't possibly have been true and put my mind at ease.
In Munich, I looked up at the St. Peter's Church Tower, dreading the exertion it was going to take and already disappointed that it wasn't going to be a breeze. But I could picture what was waiting for me at the summit: a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the pride that came from pushing through and completing what I had set out to do. That was enough for me to pay and go. 306 steps later, I had no feeling in my legs, but I was proud to look out over Munich and see the Alps in the far distance.
After my tower-climbing crusade, when I was back in the States and jotting down what I'd taken away from the trip, it dawned on me that I had made it to the top.
During the climbs, I focused on my abysmal endurance and weak ankles, and I made silent promises to strengthen them, but hindsight helped me realize that even though I had climbed at a slower pace than those around me, I had made it to the top just the same.
In fact, I made it to the top three times. I also realized that even though some people passed me, I was in front of many.
So, what I tell myself now, when my brain wants to sprint into panic mode because it's focused on the fact that a double major in French and International Studies does not provide a linear career path like a major in Political Science or Information Technology, is that, yes, there will be people who are farther along than me, but there will also be those who are behind me--people who either started after or who need to take more breaks than I do. Yes, there will be those who surpass me along the way, those who will get ahead while I take the time to regroup. That is reality, and it has always been. It doesn't mean I won't get where I want to go. I don't need to be first, and there is no last.
I've decided to shift my focus to answering my needs when they arise so that I don't stress about the climb. If I obsess about getting there at the same time as the people that I started off with, then I will eventually wear myself out and be forced to stop.
The most important thing that I learned is to take care of myself and to not worry about the pace of those around me. And that applies to all aspects of my life.
After all, looking left and right will only slow me down from reaching what lies ahead of me.
Alta Joseph lives in Florida and works in the non-profit sector as a Grant Writer, among other responsibilities. She's an avid Fanfiction writer, is currently working on a manuscript to enter grad school, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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