The Power of a Plane Ticket

About three and a half months ago, I stood in front of a set of large sliding glass doors with a rather heavy, fully-stuffed suitcase and backpack in tow. Before I entered the airport, I turned around and waved to my father, knowing that this may very well be the last familial interaction I would have for a while. I redirected my attention to the glass doors, and stepped inside.

I checked my bag and proceeded to TSA, tightly gripping my phone with my digital boarding pass displayed on the screen, where I stood with trembling legs and an anxious stomach. I hate flying, I told myself. Not only was I flying on this particular day, but I was boarding and flying solo for the first time in my twenty-one years of living. I didn’t think this day would come, to be honest with you all. Anxiety does that to you–it keeps you from doing anything that even remotely evokes panic by paralyzing you with intense fear, dread, and apprehension. As the line moved along, I found myself on the other side of the concourse, headed for my gate. My legs were moving, but my brain was not; every fiber of my being was screaming to turn around, to run back to my father’s car parked outside of the airport entrance, retreat back to safety and security. Again, anxiety is paralyzing.

While I sat in my terminal, I decided to start people-watching. Now, incase you haven’t been to an airport by yourself at 4:00 AM, let me be the first to tell you that it’s certainly a different sight to see. I noticed people slumped into their seats, people hunting for the nearest Starbucks in an effort to get some much-needed caffeine, people asleep, people talking on their phones, people typing away on their computers. And then there was me: Sitting in a chair, seemingly calm, but quite the opposite. A war was going on in my head, and there was nothing I could do but sit with it and let it wage on. The only thing I could possibly do was hope that the war would die down with a change of scenery–a new start.

As it neared 5:15 AM, the airline began the boarding process. I stood up, still feeling as though I wasn’t in control of my body, and got in line. I crossed the threshold of the tunnel to the plane, took one last glance behind me, and stepped onto the plane. Heading to my seat, I told myself again–as if I had forgotten– I hate flying.

Fast-forward four hours later, and I had touched down in the beautiful Colorado. Still feeling disconnected from my physical body, I walked toward baggage claim and contacted the car service taking me to my next destination. As I sat in the car, I started to realize something: I just flew halfway across the country…by myself. I did something when I thought I couldn’t. And friends, this was only the beginning of this discovery.

In the past three and a half months, I have traveled more than I have in my entire twenty-one years of living. Crazy, right? This is coming from the girl who needed to speak with a therapist a month prior to flying to Disney World with her father and grandparents at the age of fourteen. I’m not kidding when I said I hate flying.). If you asked the girl trembling in the TSA line three months earlier if she thought she’d be where she is today, guaranteed that you would’ve received a, “Hell no!” in response. Seriously. From Colorado to Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania to Colorado, Colorado to Texas–it’s been a very busy, kind of chaotic past few months.

There’s a reason I’m going into such great detail about my recent traveling experience, and it is this: In being “pushed out of the nest” (for the lack of a better phrase), I realized that I do indeed have the ability to use my own wings. I’ve spent years cooped up, believing I couldn’t do certain things because my anxiety kept me grounded, paralyzed in fear. I had family members who would encourage me to take steps toward more independence, but also remind me to be careful, cautious, and smart. So what did I do? I stayed stuck; I stayed in one place, doing the same things over, and over, and over again. I believe that’s the definition of insanity, no? It is. I was arguing with myself, in a power struggle between being independent and being dependent. What did I really want? I honestly didn’t know.

There’s a sense of safety, comfort, and predictability in routine. Familiarity is comforting, and I do still believe this to be true. However, when that familiarity crosses the line of being more harmful than helpful, that comfort is questioned. Maybe not by ourselves, but by those around us. How could we be comfortable with such rigid routines, practices, and behaviors? Where is the excitement in life if all we are doing is the same old, same old?

When I think of the word “change,” my mind gravitates toward thoughts and feelings of discomfort, flexibility, risk, pain, uncertainty, and lack of control. I wish I could say that my mind no longer defaults to those thoughts and feelings, but that isn’t the truth; I still struggle with change, just as many other human beings do. Change can be messy, uncomfortable, risky, and just all-out terrifying. Why? Because change often involves doing something new or different, something that threatens the current sense of comfort and security we have. So why bother to change? We change because it helps us grow, learn, and experience life. We change to better ourselves. Perhaps we change because there is some aspect of our current reality that isn’t working for us–some aspect that is not providing the gratification and satisfaction that we are ultimately seeking.

The girl who stood before the large sliding glass doors to the airport wasn’t simply walking in, checking bags, boarding a plane, and leaving the state. She was embarking on a journey toward something new, something different. Was it comfortable? My goodness, no–not in the slightest. I had my moments, lying awake in what seemed to be a different bed every three weeks. Once I started integrating new practices and behaviors into my daily routine, I found myself beginning to sit with the discomfort rather than running from it. I spent so many years running, avoiding discomfort at any cost, which inevitably only made making the necessary changes that much more uncomfortable and difficult. But guess what? Here I am, amidst all of the change, and I’m still alive–perhaps even more-so alive, some would argue.

The girl who stood before those sliding glass doors was scared, dependent, and stuck in her own mind’s rigid warfare. The girl sitting in Starbucks today perched before her MacBook, sharing her story of change with the world one blog post at a time, is still scared, but much less dependent and stuck. In traveling alone multiple times for the past three months, I’ve discovered that I am capable of doing difficult, uncomfortable things; I am capable of making indepdent decisions that lead me in the direction of my personal values; I am capable of adapting to new situations, meeting new people, and making important lifestyle changes; I am capable of being my own person, without relying on others to tie my wings safely behind my back.

Without a doubt, change is scary, uncertain, risky, and uncomfortable. But change, as I’m learning–and continue to learn with each day that passes by–can also be incredibly freeing, enlightening, and empowering. Change helps us get in touch with who we really are, what we are capable of, and what ignites our souls on fire. Without change, I’m not sure if I would be typing this post today. And if that means continuing to take the “one day at a time” approach, leaning into the discomfort and uncertainty of change, then I truly do believe that the not-so-comfortable side effects of change are more than worth it.

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