Today is the three year anniversary of the day I arrived in Holland. Happy Sinterklaas, y’all! Time for a bit of reflection, I think.
If you’ve read the “About Me” page on this blog or knew me as a kid you wouldn’t be surprised that my folks and just about anyone else in my family was a tad bit concerned I’d never have any friends. I remember hiding behind my mom’s leg when a stranger would come over, gazing down at the floor rather than making eye contact with someone new or in circumstances I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to say. Call it shyness, lack of confidence, or maybe low self-esteem but as a kid, a teen, a young adult, I wasn’t comfortable enough with me to hold my head up high and seek out opportunities to interact with people. Obviously that is no longer the case, but how did I get here? I thought about that recently and notice a few milestones that cracked and eventually broke open the shell.
First was high school. Somewhere around my Junior year (1995/6 to date myself) a friend asked me if I rollerblade. I am a product of the 80’s and 90’s so the answer was clearly, Yes. He suggested I grab my skates and come over to his house after school so that he and a couple of his friends could teach me how to do some tricks. Out came a saw, a grinder and whatever else it took to hack my skates into the appropriate condition and a short while later these guys had me in my skates and sliding down an aluminum pole about 8″ off the ground. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I liked it and wanted more. Most, if not every day, some collection of us would get together to skate at my friend’s house, the high school or some other location with something grindable where we were unlikely to get kicked out. A couple years later an indoor skatepark opened about 30 minutes away and I learned about skating transitions, mini-ramps and other such nonsense. Rollerblading (or aggressive inline skating as it was so fashionably dubbed) became my first real passion in life. I absolutely loved it and the people I met as a result. Nine times out of 10 I would be the only girl at the skatepark earning me respect and attention and building my self-confidence. It was easy to talk to people when there was a common platform to jump off (pun intended) of and I met a number of people I am still good friends with 15+ years later.
Second was the tennis club. In college I found a part-time job working at a private tennis club. No, I didn’t play tennis or know anything about it, but I found the posting, interviewed and was sitting at the front desk answering phones and booking courts in no time. On average it would be pretty safe to say that the membership’s age was somewhere in the mid- to late-40’s, upper-middle class, Orange County. I think I started working there when I was 19 or 20. Absolutely no common ground, right? I was my shy and awkward self until, after a few months of seeing the same faces over and over as well as being pushed behind the bar, things started to loosen up. The members of the club and the other staff I worked with (some of whom were among my generation) all unknowingly cracked the shell significantly deeper. Over the years I worked there my confidence continued to build. I finished school and felt at least a little more ready to be out in the real world. I left the club after college/university for my first real 8-5 office job and started building my experience and career.
The next 10+ years were a collection of different jobs and moving my life from Southern California to Reno, Nevada. In California I mostly kept the same friends I’d had from the tennis club. In moving to Reno I picked up the friends of the person I relocated for rather than building my own social circle. When the relationship ended, I was left without much of my own identity. So I picked up the skates, went to the skatepark and remembered how to meet people, to make friends again. I stayed in Reno a while longer until that day in December, three years ago today, when I packed up and moved to Europe sight unseen. Which brings us to…
Third was Amsterdam. Not just Amsterdam but everything around it, everything it symbolized, everything that happened in those two years. I’m not sure an introvert would have ever left her home country for a place she knew no one. Packing up and leaving everything, everyone behind was the easiest hard decision I’ve ever made. Call it what you will, but it was time for a change. For everything to change. The right opportunity hit at the right time and there was no way I couldn’t go. The experience pushed and stretched me personally and professionally. I learned I could do things I didn’t think possible or that I might have been afraid of. I learned so much about myself in those two years and came out the other side more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been.
For the first time, I feel like I could probably connect and find common ground or something interesting to talk about with just about anyone. Not only do I feel I have something to say, but I’m more curious about other people and their experiences than ever before. Now, I seek out those opportunities more often online or out in the real world. Learning, growing and living is an amazing space to occupy. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many moments of insecurity. Will they like me? Am I good enough? Am I doing this right? But the voice is quieter and easier to trample over. Looking back at my youth and today knowing other kids and young adults, I realize those formative years are just wrought with insecurity for everyone. Nobody knows what they’re doing or is completely sure of themselves. It’s just that some do a better job of stepping over those feelings or hiding them than others. Now, in my 30’s I am me, I know who me is, there’s no one else I’d rather be. There’s still plenty more to learn, do, explore, discover and I’m certain it’ll all be wonderful. Probably not easy, but still wonderful.