That’s a lie. I had a sort-of plan. It was to find a job and live there, indefinitely, as an ex-patriot.
And I was never afraid when I was living in Santiago.
That’s a lie too of course. I was afraid all the time. Sometimes even terrified. I didn’t act like it, but that’s because I had a method, and I am not one to leave any where like a scared puppy with my tail between my legs.
I was 25 and I had decided to go big-time, right away. I lived in the Centro, the downtown area near the capitol building and the main stretch of pedestrian plazas.
As in most cities, Centro is also the place where most crime happens. It is also the area where most of riots originated (sorry mom and dad, of course I never told you about this part). In 2005 there was a major city bus riot, paired with continual student vs. government battles and occasional other protest along the way. Santiago was (and still is, to an extent) at the end of an era. Old dictator Pinochet was on his deathbed, the people had just elected their first female president, and groups (indigenous, laborers, the working class) were organizing to institute their rights.
And that’s the time when I decided to move to Chile for love. I loved a person, but I also loved the country, the energy, the people and the geography. That move changed more than just location for me, it changed my life and perspective on just about everything.
But I digress. I was still scared. So here’s what I did.
Before I got a job, I had time on my hands. Like, days at a time, doing nothing…which means of course anything I wanted. I didn’t want to stay in my 25th story apartment building watching telenovelas all day (though tempting, because they are seriously amazing shows), so I started to walk. My method was to walk as many blocks into the city until I was afraid, then turn back. I’d walk in a straight line at first to a little café and treat myself to a cappuccino. The next day, no matter how hot the barista was, I’d pass the little café and go to the next, or perhaps a store, or maybe just a park bench. Eventually I started making turns, creating a radius of things I knew, people I recognized, street dogs I would greet and pat. By the end of my first two weeks there I knew the city well—the way to the fruit market, to a variety of places to get a café cortado or an empanada, parks to sit and read. Santiago had become a friend, an advocate. People started asking me for directions and recommendations. I carved a piece of that little world just for me. Then I didn’t feel afraid. Even if I did, I kept walking, just a bit more, every day.
Some of the most interesting people I know are also the most courageous. They do things outside of expected tradition because it feels good on them. They like touching down to do projects in new cities and meeting new people and embarking on new experiences–they thrive on it. But all of them will admit to at one time having been or still being occasionally terrified of what was to come next. So how do you do it?
How can you not be petrified at the slightest motion in a new direction?
In my experience, it’s one step at a time.
It’s saying no to something that is comfortable, just to make room for a future yes.
It’s doing your art, starting now and then every day until it’s a part of the air you breathe.
It’s starting to save up for a motorcycle because you’re planning to ride across the country.
It’s standing up on the surfboard on land, knowing that eventually you’ll move it into the sea.
In whatever you’re doing, it’s forward motion, inch by inch, until you can look behind you and be over-whelmed with excitement at how far you’ve come. It’s not sitting still. As you move forward you’ll be able to look ahead and be OK with being scared, because you know it’s a part of the fuel.
And you’ll do it anyway.