being assertive? or; I’m afraid of suitcases

sky3

I should probably think of a witty caption here, but skies have little do with fear. But I don’t have any pictures of fear.

I would never call myself a fearful person. I see threats and dangers and avoid them when possible, but I try not to let that dictate my life. In the last few years, I’ve found out how silly most fears are. When I say fears here, I’m talking more specifically about personal fears; fear of the unknown, fear of looking stupid, fear of doing the wrong thing, or fear of rejection and failure. Dangerous situations should never be overlooked or disregarded, and caution should be taken at all times.

But these less rational, more personal fears are another matter. They can keep us from doing what we want and being happy. I’ve had more situations here where I’ve had to forcefully assert myself and thrust aside a fear in order to do something. Sometimes I fail at this.

Here’s a funny story that makes me cringe; my best friend and I wanted to eat at Sushi Express. We’d been once before with a co-worker in Taipei, but this location was inside of a grocery store. We’d tried already to eat there before, but it was super crowded and the waitresses had some difficulty trying to explain that there was a wait. It was awkward; she showed us waiting slips and said wait a few times and tried to mime it, all in front of a packed restaurant. I think we embarrassed her. Embarrassed ourselves too. Anyway, so we wanted to try again, this time when we could clearly see many vacant seats. Sushi Express is all about speed, so you pick a spot round the long circular-ish bar and get the plates sliding around, then pay according to how many plates you have. Simple.

The second time we tried, we’d already been turned down that one time, so we were unsure if we needed to be seen to our seats or if we should just sit anywhere. We stood in front of the place for a good three minutes whispering and trying to decide, all while making a spectacle of ourselves and being stared at by customers. We knew how to ask the waitress in broken Chinese, but I was terrified of approaching her. Still don’t really know why. I think I was afraid she wouldn’t understand, that we’d be run off again, and everyone would laugh at us. My friend tried unsuccessfully to make me ask, but I was sweating and refusing with all my might, my eyes getting buggier every second, so eventually she asked and we just sat down where we wanted. I wanted to hide under the table, as my face was about the color of the crab scooting along.

Ugh. So, long story short, I was afraid, and it was annoying. I hated myself a little inside for being such a wuss. But there you are. I’m much more comfortable using what little Chinese I have with my co-workers than total strangers. I feel like my co-workers will judge me less, and it won’t be as awkward since they speak English anyway. Not so with strangers, where a mutually unintelligible conversation results in a really awkward stand-off.

The situation I describe above has happened maybe twice in my recollection, but that one was pretty epic. Normally I feel more confident about going after what I want or need, saying what little words I know or using strange body language to mime stuff. You have to lose some inhibitions when you don’t speak the same language. I’ve mimed shoes being too small, clothes being too big or weirdly shaped, being on a bike, and other things I can’t remember. But, as I say, sometimes I fail. (I’ve been to Sushi Express again since that time and successfully been seated and asked for our check. By pointing and nodding. Huzzah?)

I like doing stuff alone because then I’m forced to challenge my fears. I have no choice. When I’m with someone else, I can take the back seat if I want and let them lead. I don’t like leading other people except when it’s necessary. I can find my way just fine through train stations, but if someone else is there to guide me, I’ll let them go ahead. A personality quirk that means it’s necessary for me to look for situations where I need to assert myself. I have been to town alone a few times for this purpose, but a much bigger challenge is ahead.

Namely, Korea. Going it alone is a little scary (mini panic attacks at the sight of a suitcase, anyone?). I’m not over-worried about my personal safety, since Korea is known for being safe, even for lone girls, but what if I get lost? What if I make a fool of myself? I have no wing-man to be there for me, no fellow traveler to commiserate with, no second guest for dining out. Most places don’t like if you eat alone, but I can avoid peak times and fancy places and probably be fine. As it is, I want to know I can traverse a country alone. Psychologically, this is important. It’s a roadblock in my head, and once I get around it, I think a lot more venues will open up. I won’t be as afraid of other things once I get that under my belt.

Fear is a constant in my life, and probably in yours. Don’t let it stop you from doing things. Forge ahead, assert yourself, and be amazed at what you can do. Remember Nike; Just Do It.

otter.

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