The first time I moved to Germany, my fears involved things like finding friends, knowing where to get a gallon of milk (there’s no such thing), and learning vocabulary for things like contact lens solution at the drug store. I clung to Martin, my German husband, using him as my crutch. I was afraid of answering the intercom or the telephone in our apartment. (You never realize how much body language matters until you only have spoken words to communicate.) Sometimes if Martin was gone, I wouldn’t even answer. I’d crouch down and get very quiet, nervous that someone would catch me as a fraud, ignoring phone calls and intercom buzzes.
The Unknown. Why do we always make it out to be a dark and scary place?
As Miss Introvert herself, moments abroad made me feel like surely, I must have been the world’s biggest chicken. Of course, the little cricket on my right shoulder was always quick to agree. He whispered in a condescending voice, “You couldn’t answer the telephone? Oh brother.”
I was just hesitant–I didn’t know what people wanted, but I knew it always involved a lot of fast-paced words from strangers, me saying “please speak slower,” and them getting annoyed. Or at least I envisioned them getting annoyed. They probably rarely did. German’s one of those languages that’s so formal and rigid, you’re bound to think you’ve messed it up. But who is that cricket we let sit on our shoulder to tell us our fears are unjustified or petty? Don’t let your beauty be lost in unnecessary guilt. It’s hard enough to row.
Eventually, if we want to live the richest life possible, sometimes we have to face the unknown. It’s usually disguised as the littlest things–saying “I’m sorry,” giving something away, standing up for yourself, or letting go. You have to force yourself to recognize that the unknown exists. Then the next time you’re in that situation, you rip off the bandaid and go for it; it shakes you up. Yet you do it again. You keep facing that obstacle until you don’t panic when it approaches.
I stumbled through a lot of German conversations on that intercom. Sometimes people hung up before I could answer. Once, the person on the other end was so relieved to hear me struggle. He was a man from Romania, striving to speak his best, too. You never know when the person beside you is on the same journey. Sometimes, their unknown is much scarier. He didn’t have fluent English skills to fall back on like I did; he needed that German communication ability to earn money and put food on his table.
Here’s what I’ve been learning about facing seemingly tiny obstacles that actually feel really heavy and overwhelming:
- Never measure your fear/anger/pain.
- Admit it.
- Take teeny steps toward bettering it.
A lot of these thoughts are reflected in Become, the writing prompt journal for finding your direction at Gadanke. Of course, that journal is hardly about being brave enough to answer an intercom. Or is it? Once you face an unknown, you become stronger. You become more confident. You start really, truly knowing that you are capable of becoming whatever you take the steps toward being. That’s the mission behind all the journals at Gadanke. Celebrate you!
The ultimate test came to me one afternoon when the telephone rang. I took a deep breath and answered the phone. “Guten Tag,” I said. The woman asked me (in German, of course) why I had just called her number. “I’m so sorry,” I said in German. “I didn’t call. I’m not sure what you mean.” She was quite positive: I had just called. I was equally sure that I was not touching that phone unless it was to call 911. We hung up, and then I thought about it a moment. Wait a second … that woman was my mother-in-law.