What Does Courage Look Like?

Sometimes you fall flat on your face and discover that something is not at all what you thought it would be. Something you planned turned out to be greatly disappointing. And that’s OK.

I am nine days into my travels here in Thailand, and I haven’t been this miserable in quite some time. Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with Thailand. I am very aware that the problem is in me. But, all the same, I feel unhappy here and desire greatly to go home.

I’ve written before about how the murkiest of emotions that we have to wade through are fear and shame. Underneath frustration and anger and boredom lie these two great beasts, and they try to muck everything up with their refusal to soften. But eventually, they do soften, with enough awareness and tender compassion applied. That is my practice right now, because at every turn my mind is bullying me.

Naturally, I have felt pretty stupid that I have not liked it here. I quit my teaching job and started planning a longer term trip through the Southeast Asian region, quite obviously not knowing what I was getting myself into. I prided myself on being someone who loves to do things alone: I have traveled alone in Europe, I love going to the movies by myself, I was single for over five years and rarely felt lonely. Traveling in a third world country, however, as a thirty year old woman, is not what I imagined it would be. Especially with a new boyfriend at home who I miss deeply. Especially as a sober woman who tends to be rather introverted and shy.

My first instinct was to toughen up and wait it out. I didn’t love Bangkok… perhaps a change of scenery will lift my spirits. Not the case. I don’t enjoy Chiang Mai by myself either. I don’t like walking around in the terrible humidity getting eaten by mosquitoes. I don’t like sleeping on rock hard hostel beds and feeling sick to my stomach and always having a headache. I don’t like sitting down to most meals alone or eating from the 7/11 because for some reason the street food isn’t agreeing with me. (I do love Thai food back home.) I don’t think these feelings mean I am weak. My head tries to tell me that I am, because minds are often mean. I have already proven to myself over the past ten plus years of my life that I am tough. That I don’t run away from my problems. My late teens and twenties are filled with countless tales of beating the odds and overcoming adversity and picking myself up in the midst of great despair and anguish.

Perhaps this would be joyful if I had a companion to share the experience with. A few beers in my belly to take the edge off. But no, here I am, stripped bare, face to face with loneliness and feeling out of my element. I don’t write this to complain. My heart swells with gratitude in spite of my current predicament, and I am well aware that this is what they call a “quality problem,” and that at every moment I have the freedom to make a change. That doesn’t, however, negate the mixed thoughts and emotions that are in me, the vacillation between feeling like it’s brave to admit defeat and head home and to stay because I should stop being a baby and shouldn’t quit so soon.

I find that the latter voice is an old one, and that life is too short to stay miserable in order to prove to myself or anyone else that I am strong and not a quitter. But is that true courage? Staying stuck in something that clearly isn’t working, isn’t fun, isn’t what I thought it was going to be, simply to prove something that I already know is true? Is it courage to stay in something simply because I am afraid people will judge me for wanting out? Because it wasn’t what I had imagined? Even my father, who loves to pick himself up by his bootstraps, told me I proved long ago, at nineteen, that I was one of strongest people he ever knew. Thanks, dad. Noted.

So, courage might actually be doing what we know is not the popular choice, what doesn’t appear brave. What the travel bloggers would strongly advise against. What your mom says you might regret later.

Not to get totally cheesy on you, but I’m a huge fan of the musical Rent, and one of the great lines, “forget regret, or life is yours to miss,” rings true here. No day but today. Or, to get current, YOLO. I love myself today, (took years and years), my recovery, my friends, my heart and soul, my deeply blessed and happy life. And I don’t want to waste another second of it in a place I don’t enjoy. And I see how these little quotes could help with the argument of why I should stay, because, you know, I might regret it later, I might never have a chance to do this again, but you know what? I don’t subscribe to scarcity thinking anymore. I am not having fun, I don’t like it here, I would rather be home with the people I love, in a city I love, and go from there. It’s impossible to see the entire world in a lifetime anyway, so I rather see the parts that bring me joy and connection. If do regret leaving in the first few weeks later on in life, well, I will ask for help in dealing with those feelings. God is far bigger than the black and white world.

So what does courage look like? I think it looks like telling the truth. Being willing to look like a total failure and walking through that. Caring what people might think (because I do) and listening to my heart anyway. A wise man once wrote, the truth will set you free. And the truth is that I want to go home. There’s no place like it.

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