When I was a young adult, I was very shy. I spent an awful lot of time thinking about the way I looked, trying to make a good first impression, and making sure nobody hated me. And, if they did, I’d spend my whole life worrying about it.
I went through the first four years of my twenties like this, and looking back, I was miserable. I knew that I wanted to travel, but I was waiting for the right partner-in-crime to show up, whether that was a best friend or a boyfriend who wanted to travel as much as I did.
When I turned twenty four, I was in a miserable relationship, and I realised something had to change. Travelling was quickly becoming a priority (especially for someone who had left the country twice in the last six years), and I was stuck in rainy old England with winter approaching.
On that New Year’s Eve in 2019, I had a brief encounter that changed my life.
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Realising Something Had To Change
One of my close friends invited me to a party at a huge, elegant house that she shared with around six other people and an enigmatic, live-in landlord. I’m sure it was a great party, but all I can remember of it now is an awkward round of the bowl game and a thirty-second conversation I had with one of her housemates. She told me that she was moving out in a few days to do a three-month teaching placement in Seville, Spain.
Throughout the night, I kept thinking to myself “I’d love to do that, but…” and finished the sentence with a different excuse every time. Then, I don’t know why, but I started to ask myself “Why”. Why was I making excuses? Was it because I was too afraid to take the risk?
By the time midnight came, I’d made my decision. I was going to move abroad by myself.
Spain made sense, because I spoke some Spanish, so I started doing my research. I searched high and low, but I couldn’t find anything that was only for three months, and I was too nervous to commit to longer.
Over the next few months, I texted the friend that had invited me to the party four times (each one more desperate, but more apologetic), asking for the name of the programme her friend was on. Eventually she got back to me, and I went on an immediate internet deep-dive.
I found an internship in Digital Marketing with one of their sister companies that was perfect for me. I applied, interviewed, got accepted, and convinced my team at work to let me take a three-month sabbatical all within about a month.
By this time, the pandemic had hit, the toxic boyfriend had been dumped, and I’d done a lot of self-discovery during lockdown. Despite this, it was still a huge upheaval for me, and I spent the weeks leading up to moving-day preparing myself to move abroad.
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Taking the Risk
Taking the escalator into Gatwick Airport to meet the other people on my internship was one of the scariest moments of my life. I’d never done anything like that before. I remember repeating to myself that it was only three months, if I didn’t like it, I could just go home.
But I wanted so desperately to love it, because I knew it would shape the rest of my twenties. And I did, and it has. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done, but it was the best decision I have ever made. I don’t like to think about where I would be, or who I would be, if I had stayed in the UK out of fear.
I loved the internship so much that I did it again a year and a half later, but this time I was SO EXCITED to go and meet the people who I knew were going to become some of my best friends. I was the one that emailed everybody and created the group chat. I approached strangers in the airport that looked a bit like some of the grainy Whatsapp pictures I’d studied. I asked everyone if they wanted to go for dinner the first night we arrived.
That was when I realised how much I had grown and changed in the year and a half between my internships, and it was for all of the risks I had taken.
After my three-month stint in Seville, I got a taste for risk-taking. My next big trip was to Greece, where I spent the summer volunteering for a sea turtle conservation project. Instead of taking a 10€ taxi from the airport to the campsite, I tried to navigate the public transport system. I got lost in the middle of nowhere between the city and camp, my phone died, asked about five strangers that didn’t speak English for directions, and eventually got rescued by a cute French guy from the project (who also had very little English).
After Greece, I went to Mexico to work in a hostel that turned out to be run by a drug dealer. I got on the back of a random guy’s motorbike and ended up stranded on the side of the highway at midnight because we ran out of gas. I had an allergic reaction to a random vegetable whilst off-the-grid in the Costa Rican rainforest.
I also have literal notebooks full of funny stories, interesting people, and amazing adventures. Once you accept that 99% of things that go wrong eventually turn out fine (often with a funny story thrown in for good measure), taking risks is so much easier.
Ever since I moved to Lisbon, life has been a little quieter, but I don’t mind that. But there’s one thing I count my lucky stars for: the conversation in a beautiful house in Sheffield almost four years ago. Because I know for certain that, without that conversation, I wouldn’t be here now.
So, what do you think? What risk should you be taking?