Scanning the seats at the end of an airport terminal, a head of shiny, dark hair catches my eye. The strands shimmer little specks of light and leave me mesmerized just thinking about this young girl's hair conditioning regimen. She looks my way, her round brown eyes filled with a sense of wonder.
“Are you going on the flight to Amsterdam?” I ask her, ready to hand over a survey from my stack if the answer is yes.
“No, I am going to Columbia and then to Peru — ” she says, “I am going to hike Machu Picchu!”
“How exciting, I’ve heard it’s so beautiful there!” I say, taking note that she is sitting by herself. “Are you going alone or do you have friends meeting you?”
“I’m going alone,” she says, and then pauses.
There is more, I know there is more, so I take a seat next to her to chat.
Her name is Alex. As a recent grad with a stable job, she finally has the vacation time and money to travel. But her family is terribly freaked out that she booked a vacation alone to another country.
“My Dad dropped me off at the airport this morning and I could tell he wanted to cry. And I wanted to cry, too. But I couldn’t, because I needed to keep it together, you know?”
I do know, because I know the struggle of trying to convince your family that you are ready to go to a foreign place. I know what it feels like to hear their disapproval echoing in your head, the ache of stress consuming you to the point that your body physically hurts and the tears come easily.
It’s so hard to hear the faint voice in your heart over the sirens of fears people project onto you.
“When I first told my family I was going, they were all talking like I was already dead!” she says. “My parents even offered to give me the money I already paid for this trip and pay for a vacation to another place.”
I can’t help but laugh, “Parents are the worst when it comes to supporting adventures,” I tell her.
“I know it’s coming from a good place, because they really do care,” she says.
And I too know how deeply this is true.
In the name of love, parents will do everything they can to protect their kids.
Learning How to Fly
I am reminded of a timid little dove that sat motionless on our balcony. She was a sweet mix of baby fluff and disheveled feathers with a crooked stick for a beak. Each time I stepped outside, she froze. Not yet brave enough to fly, her beady eyes and birdy heart wished desperately for an invisibility cloak.
Day after day, the mother would return to feed little fluff. Some days the fledgling wouldn’t be there, and I wondered how she could have possibly gotten off our balcony. Until one day I saw what looked like a grey ball free-fall past our window.
Running outside to peer over the balcony, I saw little fluff and her parents frantically attending to her three stories below. Their wings flapped vigorously as the adult birds did what looked like a beak-to-beak resuscitation on their little one.
After a few traumatic seconds, their wings calmed and everyone relaxed. Phew, little fluff was fine.
Instinctively, she knew it was the only she would learn how to fly.
Oh, But The Risks…
There is a grave fear that parents hold heavy in their hearts, that their child will leap before she is ready. She will jump and fall 3 stories down, and they will not be there to help her get back up.
The risks here are real; broken hearts, bones, injuries, and scars that could require much more than a mother’s love to heal.
So parents keep their children close, an arms reach away all through adolescence. To ensure safe and optimal outcomes, they create mental maps to guide us along in the direction they see fit.
“You will follow this path; the one others have done before you — look how good it looks from the outside! We want this for you.”
When we try to do something outside of this plan — like venture alone to another corner of the world — the thought of us stumbling out of their reach can be overwhelming.
Avoid the danger! their parental instincts shout.
Chase the dream, our hearts whisper.
This tension affects us deeply.
Yet our calling, our purpose, our true inner strength, is something we must discover for ourselves. Parents cannot create the map to lead us there, they can only get us to the edge and encourage us to fly.
What If...She's Not Ready?
As Alex sits in front of me wide-eyed and waiting to board a plane that will drop her off in a foreign country alone, I can feel the tension heavy in her heart. Her parents don’t think she is ready.
I know she is.
I know this because I have been there and moved to a foreign country where at times, I felt completely, utterly alone. I trusted the process, hoping that if I kept learning a little bit every day, I would be okay.
There were days I cried frustrated tears filled with doubt. And later days when tears came again, filled with pride.
Venturing to another part of the world and figuring out how to live and breathe and communicate gives you a newfound sense of confidence in yourself and your ability to survive.
To enter a new arena of life alone requires a huge dose of bravery and vulnerability. Others may mistake this bravery for foolishness, seeing your courage through the lens of weakness. But this view is erroneous.
As the brilliant researcher, writer, and human Brené Brown says in her book Daring Greatly:
There is no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.
Rather, accepting the call to adventure and choosing to leave the familiar for the unknown is one of the purest forms of bravery.
When you know in your heart you are ready, you must listen.
Fly Baby Girl
Watching this sweet stranger on the brink of a worldly journey fills me with an immense sense of pride.
No matter where you are, even if it is the middle of the airport surrounded by hundreds of strangers, it is always okay to cry when you feel something in your heart. And it’s okay to speak it out loud.
To tell her,
Yes, you can do this.
Fly baby girl.
I believe in you and everything will be okay. Trust your instincts, and all the wisdom your parents instilled in you.
You may fall and it might hurt, but you will be okay. You will meet incredibly kind people. They are in every corner of the planet, I promise you this. When you need help, reach. Ask. Seek the good.
You will see sights out of a book that will feel like a dream, and it will be a dream. Only you will be wide awake and feeling everything. The sun on your skin, the thoughts in your head… noticing the greens of the leaves and the delicate details that surround you.
You will find that bravery comes in small packages and courage in quiet moments when it is just you and the wind. Breathe it all in, my shiny haired Pocahontas.
This moment, discovering the world with fresh eyes, is what life is all about.
Run girlfriend, run as fast as you can.
Leap fearlessly and know that you are strong enough, brave enough, wise enough. And when you fall, trust and believe that the universe will catch you.
Everything you need is already inside of you. Listen.