Lately the idea of being uncomfortable has been popping into my head. After reading an article about traveling the world alone (would link but I can’t find it) and this guy was explaining how you aren’t really learning, growing, or changing if you aren’t uncomfortable. This idea stuck. Actually, it’s stupidly stuck. I can’t get it out of my head, but that’s a good thing. It is something I needed to hear, and I do believe more people need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Let me show you how this played out in my life recently. I was asked to run a race in DC with some coworkers (ok, the actual ultimate boss of the company!) and I was all cool with that. Frankly, I was nervous as hell! Worried about it constantly. Thought that I should go to the doctor because I was sure there was something breaking in my body which would prevent me from running. Naturally this would involve MRI’s, scans, x-rays, the works! Alas, nothing was wrong, I sucked it up, and went to DC with my boyfriend at my side for some moral (kick me in my ass for being a baby) support.
The race was amazing. I finished strong. A mere 7 minutes behind the big boss. Woot! DC is a beautiful city, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I wasn’t being a wuss before the race. This story is not my uncomfortable story. Maybe it will be about missed opportunity, later though. The real story begins on my flight home.
Checking into the DC airport the computer popped up asking if I would be willing to be bumped. Inside my inner adventurer was jumping up and down, outside I was playing it cool for my travel companions. “oh great, guys I might get bumped for a $200 voucher”. They were awesome, and said I should totally take it. On we fly to Newark, New Jersey. I turn in my voucher. They call me up minutes later. BUMP! The guys board the plane*, and I wait to make arrangements after everyone boards. They can’t get me on a flight to Des Moines until 8pm. It was 10am. Again, the little surge of excitement starts to bubble. I tell her that is totally fine. I’ll take the late flight. She was so so nice and gave me $400 in vouchers for the long wait I was about to have! I love me some United!
This is where the adventure starts. I’m in an airport so close to NYC. I have TEN hours. What to do? I am texting my boyfriend and telling him I want to go to NYC. He said I should. Excitement turns into nervousness. I want to go. I want to go. I want to go. I’m scared. My phone receives a text from him saying, “Didn’t we just talk about you needing an adventure?” Fuck it. I’m going.
I found my way to the train station. $25 dollars round trip. Deep breath. When will I ever get to go to New York for $25? Tickets bought. I make my way to the track that will take me to the NJ Transit. Done. I get on the train going to NYC. Easy. Way too easy. I can’t help but smile. I made it! I’m on my way.
I get off at Penn Station. There is a bag check for $5.50 where I leave my suitcase. Making note of the streets where I exit, I step into the city and start walking. I had no idea where I was going. No plan. Vowed even to leave my phone alone. Just walk and see what I can see.
I wandered into Times Square. The people started to change. You could tell you in tourist land. I hurriedly turned a different direction. I didn’t come to New York to hang with tourists! I walked a few more blocks and saw green space. Wandered over to it and saw all the people sitting at tables, reading, playing games, JUGGLING on this beautiful Fall day. This is New York. This is what I came to see. I stubbled into Bryant Park. It was beautiful. Inside there was an outdoor bar/cafe so I ordered myself a dark and stormy and looked up.
To my left were the jugglers practicing their craft and teaching people in the park how to juggle it was so fun to watch. To my right a man named Stew sat eating a hot dog. He was very friendly and told me all about New York in the 80′s. “This park was dangerous back in the day and look at it now”, he said. They were building an ice skating rink in the open space. He told me how beautiful it was going to be come Christmas time. He also told me fascinating stories about working at a hotel across the street from a church. He said the priest was always out stealing the pimps girls when they got off the train, and the pimps would come in an throw money in the offering plate to try to get them back. Man, I wish I had a tape recorder that day.
Stew was kind enough to give me a few suggestions on what to see in New York with the few hours I had left. He pointed to his right and said I should go to the library! Seriously! The New York Public Library was right beside us! This is, of course, what I did. Spent at least an hour in there wandering around. It was beautiful and I hope to get back to get into the photo archives which is closed on Mondays.
Stew also told me to do the Empire State Building. I wasn’t as excited about this. I am not a touristy kind of person, but I trusted Stew. Luckily, the lines were totally manageable. Only a few minutes in each line to go up. The views? Worth it. I heard so much German being spoken. I took pictures of people. Weirdly, this is one of my favorite things to do. I’m always reminded of a couple who asked this dude to take their picture, and they realized later that dude was freaking Arnold Newman. I know, I’m not Arnold Newman, but maybe someday…
Alright, this all sounds really fun and easy right? Where is the uncomfortable part? Well, I did have to get back to the airport! I gave myself three hours. After the Empire State Building I started walking back to Penn Station. The beauty of NYC is that their streets are numbered. It’s pretty easy to figure out. The hard part was the train station. I got my bag and saw all of these people standing around monitors. I checked the train table on the wall, and noticed that I needed to figure out which station I had to catch the train on. I tried and tried to figure it out. I was starting to panic about missing my flight. Finally, I asked someone. This guy kind of figured it all out for me and told me which station to go to. I went to the station and there was a train there but nothing to identify it as the one I needed. I started to panic. Finally, I asked someone standing on the train if it went to the airport. He had no idea, but luckily the guy beside him did and said yes. Whew! On the train where it never announced a station! Crap! Where are we? I recognized the first station, but after that not really! When we came into a station I recognized as possibly being the airport I asked someone again. Yep. It’s my stop.
I did it. To NYC and back to the airport! On time. Through the uncomfortable. I did it. When I tell people this story they are amazed that I went to New York alone. They have asked if I was afraid, or nervous. Naturally! But my desire to see the city was bigger than the fear.
Do your best stories start out with I was comfortably hanging out at home? Probably not! Think about it. What do you want to do? Does it make you a little nervous? It’s ok! I doubt that anyone did anything awesome without being a little uncomfortable. Get uncomfortable and then get bold! Do something big.
*my boyfriend was on a direct flight. We didn’t travel together.