Nelson Mandela once said “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
As someone who is scared of virtually everything, those words have always resonated with me. Those words gave me a sense of hope – that I didn’t have to be doomed to a life full of fear, that it was normal to feel afraid, that these obstacles are conquerable. That maybe there’s something within my soul that could be likened to Nelson Mandela’s… and then I realize I might be pushing it a little bit.
My favorite part of that quote has always been the first two words, which I think might often go unnoticed. “I learned.”
I learned. I learned. I learned.
Lately I have been taunted by fears and anxieties – some of them reasonable, all of them unnecessary. All of them hindering me from living and loving as well as I know I can. It’s this heaviness in my chest, like a strong hand that holds me back and pushes me down. Lately it’s seemed too strong for me to fight.
Lately I’ve felt lost in a fog of problems that haven’t even happened yet – that may very well never ever happen. I’ve been dizzied by the unpredictability of life and simultaneously discouraged by the things that will certainly happen eventually (i.e. death and taxes.) It’s torture, truly, and it’s been even more disheartening to me that I haven’t just been able to stop. I haven’t been able to “just let go” like my friends and family have told me to.
And the most frustrating part of it all is I know it’s just some devil on my shoulder talking. But still I find myself wondering if maybe he’s right. Maybe it isn’t really worth it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s too much of a risk. Maybe I’m not where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’ll never be where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’ll be unhappy. Maybe it’s hopeless.
I’d like to say that when I’m in this state of mind that I’m someone I don’t recognize, but I do recognize this person if I look hard enough. It’s the person I used to be – the little 16-year-old girl that didn’t think she was pretty enough. The little 18-year-old who moved away from home for the first time. The little 19-year-old who gave everything up for something and ended up with nothing to show for it. The 20-year-old who forgave and got kicked down. The 21-year-old who graduated college, moved out of her parents house, started a job and knew she was closing a chapter of life that could never be reopened.
All of those girls had to learn that they were stronger than the sum of their fears and insecurities. And they had to keep learning, and keep learning, and keep learning – even when it felt foolish or hopeless to do so. They learned that eventually they would be okay, and then eventually, that’s exactly what they turned out to be.
They turned into the 22-year-old girl I am right now. A 22-year-old girl learning how to love wholly in the present despite being hurt badly in the past. A 22-year-old learning how to find her own voice in a world going on about a whole lotta nothing. A 22-year-old learning that no matter what you do or who you are, you can never make everyone happy. A 22-year-old learning that that’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.
I’m learning that life is a beautiful, continual and maddening learning game. I hate it and I love it. I fear it and I long to figure it out, and it pisses me off knowing I most likely never will. But I guess life wasn’t designed to be understood so much as it was designed to be lived, seized and appreciated.
I hope that one day I am able to fully let go, to not give any strength to the fears and anxieties that creep into my head. And if they gain strength, I hope I’m always able to remind myself that I will forever be stronger.
And if someday the 25-year-old version of myself reads this, I hope you’re proud of the person you’ve become. I hope you’re proud of the choices you’ve made, the love you’ve given, and even the times that you feel as though you’ve fallen short. And I hope that, if you’re still scared, that you’ll remember that you’re still just learning. Lots of living comes hand in hand with lots of learning. You’re going to be alright, and you are so much braver than you know.