The other day, I woke up with David Byrne’s voice echoing through my head–“How did I get here?” As the sunlight streamed through my window much like the trickling synthesizer behind the questions posed, I realized that my life has changed beyond recognition in the proverbial blink of an eye. I got out of the bed I never thought I’d sleep in, fed the cat I never thought I’d adopt, walked the door I never thought would mark the boundaries of a space I never believed I’d inhabit. And like some fantastic notion of a life I’d always wanted but never thought possible, I head off each day to a school I’m proud to attend, and live in a neighborhood that swells my heart to call home.
But for all its upbeat new wave sweetness, the song so resolutely planted in my mind is actually quite melancholy. I marvel at how quickly my life has transformed, but the song itself recalls more of the emotions that kept me in my previous place. Like the “water underground”, so deadly and destructive in its most overwhelming, awesome form, I know what held me back was fear. I was afraid that moving wasn’t practical, that I wasn’t good enough to get into school, that my family would resent me for wanting more than I had. I was afraid that if I took the necessary risks, I’d be left with nothing. Fear is paralyzing, and having a little–a mind-numbing job, a general education, a room in my family home–is better than having nothing at all.
I often looked at people my age, even younger, living in New York City and wondered what they were doing that I wasn’t. They sold coffee or clothing or answered phones or served food, they enrolled in prestigious programs or worked towards higher degrees, they dressed in stylish clothes and wore their hair however they pleased–why couldn’t I? I asked friends and acquaintances who lived in the city how they organized their moves, but their responses were overwhelmingly similar–“I didn’t.” It seemed as if everyone I knew acted on instinct, following their hearts and figuring out details later. But I was too afraid to follow suit, citing practicality as my excuse.
And then some time in July of last year, everything changed. There was an itch under my skin that simply wouldn’t go away. No class I took, no work I did could banish the awful, creeping feeling that I was wasting my time. I felt like I was drowning in familiarity. So I did the only thing I could think of to push myself to the surface: I applied to new schools. Some were in places I’d never seen with my own eyes, others in places I’d visited and thought of fondly, but all schools I could envision as the start of a new life chapter. It wasn’t an instant fix–in fact, the fear got much, much worse before it began to fade. I can’t even tell you that it disappeared entirely–there are nights I come home and wonder how on earth I’ll be able to sustain this new life I’ve built for myself. The difference is, now I know it’s not impossible.
Every day is an adventure, full of hope and love and dreams I didn’t even realize I had. I meet fascinating people and encounter puzzling sights. I’m presented with challenges that I’m happy to meet head-on and best of all, I get to be endlessly creative. I’m still adjusting to the freedom I’ve given myself, still learning how to stretch and grow and quiet the fear that keeps me from testing my boundaries. But every step is a step closer, and I’m excited to see where I go next.
If any of this sounds familiar, take the advice that I never accepted: go. Do. Become. Don’t mistake fear for practicality. Don’t listen to the trickle of doubt in the back of your mind–it can become a flood without warning and sweep you away. Don’t drown in your uncertainty. Things will come together when you stop holding yourself back.