Courage is not living without fear, courage is acting, despite the fear.
As a military spouse, I have had to appear to be #LivingFearless more than I ever imagined I would. I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding the fear and pushing through it with courage.
From childhood to adulthood, I studied, at various times, several different languages: Hebrew, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin Chinese. From the start, though, I feared speaking with native speakers. I lacked confidence in my skills. I feared that if I tried to use my limited language, the person to whom I was speaking would assume I knew more than I did, and would start speaking more, and I’d get lost. I let that trepidation keep me from venturing out and experiencing new things. When Horatio accepted his first assignment in Beijing, China, in 2004, I realized I’d have to change. We spent two years in Washington DC before arriving at the embassy in Beijing, in 2006. I studied Mandarin once a week, with a tutor, for about a year and came away with some basic knowledge of survival, and cocktail party, language skills.
We landed in China and I knew, right away, that I’d have to vanquish my fear, or never leave my house. Actually, I couldn’t even count on the safety of my house to shield me from having to use Mandarin, because our household helper (ayi) did not speak much English. So, after the initial shock and awe of planting my feet and settling my young family in an extremely foreign land, I hit the ground running (the trauma of the move lasted about three months). I ventured out any chance I got and forced myself to speak the language, to the best of my ability.
I discovered I was right. When I spoke Chinese, the locals spoke back to me, assuming I understood much more than I actually did. But, I was also wrong; this phenomenon didn’t hinder my progress, it actually worked to my advantage. For one thing, in a society where the person with the upper hand wins, every time, showing confidence in the language is half the battle; and two, by forcing myself to interact with vendors, security guards and other locals, I broadened my vocabulary and quickly improved my language skills, and was therefore able to adventure out more.
Now, 10 years after we first moved to China, we are back and I am back at it. I speak Chinese every day. We’ve only been here for two weeks and I’m out and about most days. I shop, explore and figure things out along the way. Our household helper (ayi) speaks even less English than the one who worked for us last time did, and I actually find that I don’t mind having to speak to her in Mandarin. When my vocabulary stores fail me, I resort to google translate and learn more new words. I find the courage to push out of my comfort zone, and am usually happy I did. #LivingFearless isn’t as hard as you’d think, and it’s absolutely worth the effort!