Somewhere between the rainforests of Brazil and the dusty yellowed streets of Peru, I found my capabilities.
It seems bizarre to me now that there was ever a time in my life when I doubted my own strengths and skills. For a whole variety of reasons, ranging from shitty classmates to a perfectionist mindset, I honestly thought myself incapable of many simple things.
“Oh, I have a terrible sense of direction,” I would often explain to people, my nose wrinkling in embarrassment. “I can’t read maps very well either.” And then I’d crack some shit joke about the futility of my Geography A-level.
“Oh, I hate buses. I always feel like I’m going to get off at the wrong stop,” I would wonder aloud whilst nervously playing with my hair. And then I’d crack some shit joke about the time I stayed on a bus 20 stops too late.
I have made far too many self-deprecating jokes over the years, mostly centred around my supposed lack of common sense and basic ability to complete simple tasks. There are many events and moments in my life that led to this nihilist mentality (like the time I shit my pants when I was 5, for example), and other traumas that have left my confidence depleted (like the time I shit my pants when I was 21, for example.) And part of the reason for my going backpacking round the world by myself was this:
If I could travel through a foreign country where I couldn’t even speak the language, and survive, then I was capable of anything. I could learn how to not shit my pants.
What’s a shitty European unemployment rate compared to walking through La Paz all alone or being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no place to stay?
I figured that travelling would be a good way to make me stop shitting my pants.
And my theory has proven to be correct:
I can navigate my way round a city without a map, only using my sense of direction and the occasional pointer from locals; I can ask people where to go and how to get there in a foreign language, even if I can’t speak that language particularly well; I take strange buses in even stranger places (and get off at the correct stop); I don’t scare easily, brushing off the strange presences of strange men; when I get lost I find my way home without panic; I chat to strangers as though I’ve known them for years, never fearing awkward silences nor cringing at misunderstandings.
There is nothing I cannot handle. I am capable. More capable than I ever thought possible. I am not perfect and I have much to learn, but I am realising my strengths more and more. And for the first time in my life, because I am away from those who know me, and because I have the room to do things independently and to discover what I’m good at, there aren’t any friendship roles to fulfill and there’s no one around to assume I can’t do something. Travelling gives you the crucial combination of space and stress through which to realise your potential.
Travelling teaches you to see and accept the glitches in life: the moments when the world is unfair and things go topsy turvy and you’re not sure which way is up. Like when you miss a bus, lose your luggage, get mugged, get lost, get screwed over, lose a travel buddy, eat a bad piece of meat, break your phone, say farewell or break a heart.
The world is fatalistic at times and random in others, and each moment is laced together to form a particular fabric (the butterfly effect, if you will), and eventually we realise that we must appreciate the good and comprehend the bad, and simply deal with the latter as best we can. Sometimes we can change the negative and others we can only curse it. Shit happens. It happens a lot. It happens all the time. Very often it’s not even our fault. But when you travel shit does indeed happen and at some point you’ve got to stop putting that shit in your pants…because both your life and your pants will start to get very messy.
And that’s how travelling has taught me how to not shit my pants.