How a Trip to Indonesia Taught Me to be Bold

“To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Five years ago, I took one of the boldest actions of my life. I traveled halfway across the world to Ubud, Indonesia alone. In June 2008, I was 27 years old and had never left United States soil despite a constant longing to. A combination of fear and comfort held me hostage in familiarity—until, however, I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling novel, Eat. Pray. Love. It chronicled the author’s adventures through Italy, India and Indonesia as she sought to “find herself” after a divorce.

The book’s vivid descriptions of Indonesia’s rich culture and lush countryside converged with my imagination of ornate wood-carvings, colorful temples and sprawling rice paddies. It was this convergence that left no question about where my first trip abroad would be to once I mustered up enough courage to go. And whenever I decided to go, I wanted go alone—just like Elizabeth Gilbert.

I let the thought of traveling by myself to an unknown distant land linger in my mind for a few weeks to see if my inner voice would talk me out of the adventure I considered taking. And to be completely honest, part of me hoped it would. More work would go into facing my fears than succumbing to them. Did I really want to work? It wasn’t long after asking myself this question that my inner voice answered, “yes.”

Facing fear and buying a ticket to Indonesia

So, three weeks after finishing the book, I took a leap and purchased a plane ticket to Ubud, Indonesia without anyone’s consultation but my own. The decision makes my top 10 list of most unsettling things I’ve done. But, as soon as the purchase was complete, the knots in my stomach settled and the fearful thoughts faded. Interestingly, buying the ticket alleviated my anxiety and doubt because it eradicated the option to back out. So, with a $1,500 ticket in tow, I was all in.

I performed several Internet searches to find a trusted guesthouse to stay in, and I purchased a travel guide to plan other aspects of my trip. I got a few vaccinations, purchased a fake wedding ring to repel uninvited friendliness, and learned a few Indonesian words. Selamat pagi. Good morning.

The trip of my life

Then, September came, and I boarded a plane to begin one of the most amazing voyages of my life.

After arriving and getting over the initial shock of being thousands of miles away from home or from anyone who knew me, I was fine. I had to be. So, I spent the next ten days observing Indonesian culture, biking through its landscape, visiting shops, eating unprocessed food, reading “Love in the Time of Cholera” and telling people that, yes, I was black and, no, I wasn’t related to Barack Obama or Michael Jordan.

I wasn’t mugged. I was never threatened. I was never harmed, and I wasn’t taken advantage of. None of the fears I had before my trip materialized. So, if I had acted on those fears, I would have missed out on one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

It was this trip that showed me what I was made out of—southern sass and boldness. And since returning from the trip, “Be bold,” has become my mantra. Subsequently, I consistently embark upon adventures that allow me to experience myself and be heard. I’ve swallowed my doubt several times and emailed the Chief Marketing Officer of my company when I’ve had insight and opinions that I though were valuable to share. I tried out for a professional NFL dance team without any formal dance experience and made it to the final round. I’ve quite jobs without having another lined up, and it’s always worked out. I’ve moved to new places with out knowing a soul.

What ‘Be Bold’ means

Bold, in the sense of the word that I use it, is not to be confused with dangerous or grandiose. A person doesn’t need to risk injury or death to be bold. Nor does the person need to travel across the world to be considered bold. Rather, “bold” translates to “uncomfortable.” So, what “be bold” really means is “embrace discomfort.” It is discomfort that produces awareness and growth—not comfort.

So, here are a few lessons my trip taught me about getting uncomfortable, or being bold.

Comfort is overrated

Sure, comfort feels good. It wraps you up in easiness and coddles you. It’s safe and represents the road most travelled.

Comfort, however, seduces you into inaction. It likes to keep you where you are. It convinces you not to push beyond your self-imposed limitations to take a trip abroad. Comfort persuades you to stay in relationships, careers, and cities you’ve outgrown. It is one of the most powerful forces behind dreams deferred, risks not taken and life unexplored.

You cannot be both bold and comfortable. Boldness requires you to step outside of your comfort zone.

If you want to integrate more bold activity into your day, ask yourself a simple question before completing a task or making a decision. What is the easiest, most comfortable action I can take? Then, eliminate that option and go with one that causes you a little more apprehension.

Commitment is underrated

It’s funny how commitment has the ability to minimize fear. Once I bought the plane ticket to Indonesia, fear took a back seat to planning the trip. The tricky part is that you may be too fearful to make a commitment. So, here’s what you need to know about commitment. You likely will not die from it, and not making and keeping one often leads to regret. Fear or regret. Which would you rather feel?

The more you commit to yourself and follow through on your commitment, the more you will learn to trust yourself, and the more you trust yourself, the more confident you will become. The more confident you become, the less you will allow fear to stand between you and the thing you want to do. The less you allow fear to stand between you and the thing you want to do, the bolder you will be.

So, how do you cultivate a habit of keeping commitments to yourself? Start small and commit often. Promise to call up a friend you haven’t spoken to recently, take a walk, speak up in class, or offer a suggestion in a meeting. Commitments that cause you a bit of uneasiness are the best ones to make and keep because the more you embrace discomfort and conquer it, the more you will welcome it.

Soon enough, you will get to the point where not doing something you said you would do is more fearful than doing the thing you said you were going to do.

Fear only exists if you make it real

My trip to Indonesia proved that fear itself casts a bigger shadow than the thing I feared. Nothing that I feared happened! So, it dawned on me that I was responsible for breathing life into fear, and if I hadn’t given it life, it wouldn’t have existed.

We are all human and all likely to experience fear. So, we may not be able to prevent its existence, but we can give it a premature life using the points stated above.

You prolong fear’s existence when you allow comfort to decide your plight. You extend its life when you break commitments to yourself.

Parting thought

Fear produces a fork in the road. There are only two options to address it: retreat or embrace. Comfort or boldness.

Pick the narrower road less traveled. Embrace fear and the discomfort it causes. Give it a hug, and squeeze it to death. Once you decide to embrace it, keep your commitments to yourself. And no matter what happens in an hour or a day or how scared you get, always do what you tell yourself you will do.

Have you had an experience that has led you to lead a bolder life? Leave your comments below.

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