A highway in Central Oregon.

The Other Side of Fear: What’s Next?

I recently read my writing out loud, to a crowd of people, in a room more suited for an Italian orchestra than a Master of Arts Thesis Reading. I stood alone, behind a podium, staring down at about 100 faces with an elaborate floor-to-ceiling organ behind me, and I read about the terror I’d felt when I first arrived in India, late at night and alone. It was two weeks after the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a tragedy that made worldwide news, and her story had colored my mind, twisting into an irreconcilable fear of my own rape.

Standing on that stage, I was just as terrified, though in a different regard. Sharing one’s art with strangers is never without fear.

When I walked out of the spotlight and back to my seat, my mother, who had flown from Oregon to Colorado to listen to me read, said to me: “You never told me all that.”

“Did you listen to the rest of my piece?” I asked her. “It was about how fear is a construct of our minds, and that we can only live a life we dream by facing it head on.”

YES, DECISIONS ARE SCARY

Those of you who know me know that I freaked out before I moved to Colorado. Not a freak out in the temper tantrum sense, but freak out in the panic attack sort, where one would have thought I’d just committed myself to a life in prison rather than two years in graduate school. It was a hard adjustment for me because I’d just spent the past 18 months living out of a backpack. I had become used to staying in a place until I felt the urge to move on, completely on my own whimsical time clock; one I’d adopted in Thailand. I freaked out because two years in one place sounded, to me, like an eternity.

*Image borrowed from Pinterest. I regret that I don't remember who took it, but I love it so!

*Image borrowed from Pinterest. I regret that I don’t remember who took it, but I love it so!

But those two years are up, gone, behind me in some sort of blurred trail. They’ve been amazing and challenging, full of adventure and tears, life lessons and new friends, classroom experiences and outdoor pursuits, and lots of reading, writing, planning and grading. I can hardly believe they’re over, but I find myself befuddled by the feelings that have overwhelmed me since the realization of the end came simultaneously with the realization that a new decision must be made.

I hate decisions.

I thought I would know exactly what I wanted when this course was through. For the past several months, I’ve been waiting for my path to be clear, instead of the muddy 5-way crossroad I see each time I look ahead. Options are good, yes, but big decisions are hard….because fear gets in the way.

THE CROSSROADS

I considered a PhD, but feel burnt out on school and I find myself questioning my previous desire to teach. There is no point in getting a PhD in English if one does not want to spend a career in academia, and I’m not sure I do. Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching. I’m good at teaching. I even think my students would agree with me. I thought I wanted to teach, but I’ve found myself disheartened by the higher education system. To make a long story short, without a PhD I can only be an overworked and underpaid professor with little to no benefits, who must reapply for her job each year. With a PhD, I’m eligible for a tenure-track position (read: nearly impossible to fire) but those are few, and for a girl who freaks out about two years in one place, perhaps a 30+ -year career is not in the cards. So, teaching in the usual sense is not off the table just yet, but there isn’t exactly anything pulling me that direction.

I considered being a live-in nanny for my friends in Denver, which would have allowed me to stay in Colorado, since my initial freak out turned out to be unwarranted and I find myself not yet ready to leave. I came really close to committing to a baby girl for 50 hours each week, but something kept nagging:

I want to write. I want to grow my business. I want to travel. 

Fear quote I knew all along that my primary goals right now are to finish my memoir (it’s half done!) and to continue building my business, Teach English: ESL, which despite taking a back burner for the last two years (along with this poor blog 🙁 ) has managed to do quite well. But this path didn’t illuminate itself initially because there was a heavy layer of fear preventing me from taking it. It’s scary to shy away from a consistent income, to know that failure is possible and to try it anyway, to make decisions that make others question your ability, your motives, your past. Our society is built on a 9-5 mentality, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I know it’s not for me. I’ve done it, and I know I don’t want to do it again. I’d rather work 7-10 on my own time, than 9-5 on someone else’s.

SO…THE PLAN

I hope my Colorado chapter is not forever closed, but I’m going to leave the way I came. I’m backtracking through Grand Teton National Park, and then Yellowstone with a friend, weather permitting. Otherwise, we’ll head through the mountains to Moab and do some hiking in Arches National Park and Salt Lake City on the way to Oregon. I’m packing my Xterra back up with my dog and as many of my belongings as I can fit, then selling the stuff I’ve acquired since living here. I’ll unload the car at my parents’ house just outside of Bend, board a plane bound for Guadalajara, Mexico and after six weeks of sipping mojitos and smoking cigars (hint: I’m not just going to Mexico!), I’ll return in time for the annual wheat harvest in Condon (that’s right, I haven’t missed a year yet…what did you expect?). Then, I’m back to Central Oregon for an indefinite period of time to work, for myself, on my own time, and with the freedom and ability to pick up and move wherever I want, whenever my whimsical clock decides it’s time. I’m f***ing scared as hell, but a man named George Addair once said, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear,” and I’ve tested that wisdom enough to know it’s true. Plus, if I don’t listen to my own words of inspiration, no one else will either. —– Have you ever made a decision that scared the hell out of you? If so, I want to hear about it! Leave me a comment. 

travel quotes

21 Comments

  1. Kellie Hill says:

    Looking forward to your arrival back home. Its a decision well thought out and will move you in a direction you are looking for. I love you.

  2. Katy Koehler says:

    I love this! It is very inspiring and a great reminder for my own journey.

  3. Good stuff! Honest and inspiring.

  4. Very good blog. You will do well with what every you choose.

  5. I made the decision to get me a CDL and see my way around America, in a 18 wheeler, for a year. It was the most fearful thing I have ever done other than raising my kids. Now I am stuck trying to get out of trucking. No one wants to hire you when your my age and been doing this for almost four years now. It was fun for a while but not having time to be with my family and friends is hard on me. I guess my worst fear is that my Grandchildren will not know me and grow up with out me being a part of it.

    • jessicajhill says:

      I love that you faced that fear and did it for reasons you felt were right at the time, but I don’t think you’re stuck. There are lots of other opportunities out there, and all you have to do is face that fear again. But, on another note, I think a blog from your point of view while trucking around America would be absolutely fascinating. I’m waiting for it…

  6. If we've learned anything from our adventures I know it's been nothing is permanent! And all of our stepping stones have been worth it to get us to where we wanna go!!! Love you girl. Cannot wait for your next journey. Xo

  7. I look forward to reading your new adventure story's. We love your writing.

  8. Hooray! Bravery is something you’ll never regret and you’ve got it in spades. Looking forward to catching up with you when you’re home for harvest.

  9. Imagebloke says:

    Hello! First of all, I really want to say how much I like this website. Coincidentally, I am facing the same problem. I’ve been teaching for some years now but I also study law. I thought about a master and doctorate degree but I am sure sure I want to in the academy. The law field has always been one of my great passions and I am definitely going for it. Photography is among my dearest passions but I have never head the courage to embrace it as I would love to. Reading this extremely well-written article was quite inspiring and made me realize that fear is natural and important in the decision making processe. Thank you very much.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Congratulations on your decision to study law. That is a big commitment, and like any big decision, it’s a scary one. I’m so glad you found some inspiration from my writing. Yes, fear is totally natural. Some people choose to face it and others don’t. Good for you for choosing the former. Go get it!

  10. This is wonderful and so incredibly honest. Very well written, good luck on your next adventure!

  11. Joan Howard says:

    Thank you for a beautiful reminder that fear keeps us from experiencing wonder! My last real fear came to me stepping off the train from Mestre into Venice proper….old, alone, and with no language skills. Then I remembered that you can’t really get lost if you’re on an island!
    Lovely post, great blog, can’t wait to read more!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Joan. And for your kind words! I know that feeling of first stepping off a train/airplane/bus and feeling scared and lost…and then ultimately realizing “I got this.”

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