The Meaning of Doubt: Perched Precariously on the Precipice of Coming Home

“Thank God; human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth: it does not wait for beauty—it flows with resistless force and brings beauty with it.”

—George Eliot

This is a personal post. This is a confessional post in which I expose some of my deepest insecurities and hope that someone out there in the void hears them without judgement, relates to them, maybe even learns from them. It’s possibly oversharing; it’s possibly tasteless and self-indulgent and narcissistic; it’s possibly unnecessary. It’s not for me to make that judgement call. It’s for me, as a writer and feeler of human emotion, to confess these wild, unruly emotions that rage like hurricanes in my mind—to take those hurricanes and harness them and squeeze them through my fingertips, to express them in whatever capacity I possess, in the hope that my expression will illuminate yours, will give you something to grab onto and grasp for support so that when that emotion seizes you, you’ll know you’re not alone. I am not a writer if I do not write honestly. This post is about doubt, fear, and that tricky little butterfly of happiness that flutters away the more we seek it. This post is for anyone who has ever felt lost, lonely, and scared. This post is for anyone who is afraid of failing. This is post is to tell you that you’re not alone, and that there is always hope.

Last week marked three weeks until I leave Germany and move permanently back to the States. I had 21 ticking days until I board that inevitable plane, the monstrous heap of metal that will carry me back home, where I will be greeted with several rounds of hugs and a few days of euphoria before the dust settles and everyone goes about their normal business and it is no longer a Gracefest because everyone is living their own lives and will return to them after performing the necessary Welcome duties. We will all celebrate my return and then—

What next?

I am not naive enough to think that everything will be the same. I am not returning to my previous life because my previous life does not exist; I have lived and grown, I am a little bit older, I am just slightly, intrinsically different. No matter how much I dream about going home, it will never be exactly the same because I am not exactly the same. And that is a wonderful thing. I don’t mind it, and I welcome it.

As I began to picture my days back home, though, I realized that I had absolutely nothing figured out. I have been toying with ideas that were all scrambled in my mind—shall I move to Virginia? California? New York City? apply for grad school? get a corporate job? be homeless?—and I realized that I had no plans. Within a single week, I contemplated becoming a lawyer, academic, novelist, counselor, waitress, radio host, and pastry chef, all while assuming that nothing was feasible and I’d be destitute regardless.

I was dropping myself into the States like a drop of water from a wet countertop—slipping slowly from the surface, finally releasing and letting go, plunging into that endless chasm through the air, that long winding plummet down to the hard smashing ground, where I will splatter and have to pick myself back up yet again. It has been such a process of untethering and unraveling, of reassembling and repairing myself since I embarked on this grand adventure: and was I about to do the same thing? Will I hit the ground running, or will the ground rise up to meet me like wind slapping my naked face from an open window? Am I at all prepared?

Moreover, things here are actually beautiful. After months of standing unsteadily, I have finally found my footing and I feel wonderful. But it’s right before I leave. Doesn’t that mean I messed up?

Doubt wormed its way into my brain and creeped around, seeping toxin into my bloodstream. I have never felt like more of a failure than when I looked at my life and saw only a winding, twisting line of wreckage. I felt like I had done everything wrong. I had wandered through college, lost and confused and eventually suffering a nervous breakdown. I had wandered through Germany, alone and scared and eventually deciding to come home four months early. But to what? The two “defining moments” of my development—college and a gap year—seemed to have failed, and I suddenly worried that I was thrusting myself recklessly forward into just another escape, a hasty getaway from a painful experience, yet another avoidance behavior to dodge the impending bullet of self-sabotage and regret.

And I could already feel the regret: I hadn’t even left Munich and I already regretted it. I didn’t have a good time, that’s true, and it was really difficult, that’s true. But I felt like it was my fault and I started to wonder what the f*ck is wrong with me. I actually wrote,

“I have no idea what the f*ck I’m doing with my life and I feel like I’ve f*cked it up so far. I’m so afraid of what everyone will think of me when I come back home and work a shitty job while I work on a novel that no one will ever read because it’s not very good. I hate myself for all the poor decisions I’ve made and how I crumble. I’m such a f*cking failure. And I’ve really f*cked up.”

Would I ever succeed at anything? Or was there something embedded deep down in my core, some irretrievable thorn stabbing my insides that prevented me from blossoming?

This consumptive torture cycle—the hopeless, self-deprecating negativity in which we sensitive, introspective types get trapped—worsened when I realized that I really am attached to Munich. I was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering what I’ll miss most about Munich, and suddenly I felt an exquisite gush of affection for this place I was desperate to escape.

I will miss the trains through Bavaria. Oktoberfest was the time of my life. I love walking these crowded streets. I love my favorite cafes, restaurants, shops, hiding places in the gardens. I have had some of the best moments of my life here.

While it may seem like this is a good thing to realize—I’m not miserable! What a relief!—it bought yet another crashing wave of doubt that crescendoed as the week progressed. I couldn’t shake the apprehension that I was making a gargantuan mistake—abandoning my grand adventure for an uncertain future. The words clanged endlessly inside my mind: Am I doing the right thing?

I convinced myself that being fond of Munich was a bad thing. I suddenly assumed that, because I was feeling loss at the prospect of leaving, I was doing the wrong thing and once again f*cking up my entire life because I am a senseless idiot and inevitable failure.

(These things are not true. I am neither an idiot nor a failure, and I only become those things if I truly believe that that’s what I am.)

But then I suddenly remembered that a worthwhile life is not measured in mistakes or grades or degrees or salary figures. A worthwhile life is measured in love, respect, memories, and hope. I asked myself why I was worried about doing “the wrong thing” in leaving, when in this life, there are no right or wrong turns. This life is not a video game with a factory-designed end goal, a meticulously crafted series of levels designed to test you until you “achieve” the final level and whatever arbitrary objective someone else has decided for you. There are no right and wrong turns.

We all have the freedom to choose our own paths, no matter how meandering and indirect they may be. We all experience ups and downs and in-betweens; we are all riding these massive fluctuations in our selves and moods. We all feel lost sometimes; sometimes we all feel destined. And you know what? That is okay.

From the depths of savage self-loathing and paralyzing doubt, I realized that loving Munich is not a bad thing and that I am immeasurably lucky to love this place. I might not have everything figured out, but I am twenty-two and I have a long life ahead. I have a beautiful few weeks coming up and that is a blessing; I will leave with fond memories and a full heart and that’s what most important.

And, in the midst of doubt, I had to remind myself why I chose to leave this place. No matter how great it is to see James Bond at an English theater in Munich, I have a very valid reason to abandon this “little adventure”: I absolutely hate being an au pair. Six months of tantrums, organizing Legos, and making noodles with ketchup for dinner is enough for me. Although traveling is cool and I’ve had some magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I can’t take it anymore.

I am a girl who determinedly lives a distinctly individual life, but I want you to know something: I doubt myself all the time. 

I say that hoping to comfort anyone who feels like a failure. I say that to remind our FOMO-ridden, productivity-crazed Millennial generation that doubt is normal and natural. Yes, we are young and uncertain, but that doesn’t mean that we’re failing. It is normal to doubt, to get scared, to make mistakes. We are collections of scars and broken parts and little victories.

Doubt is okay; self-hatred is not. It is okay to doubt what we’re doing, but we don’t need to hate or torture ourselves just because we’re confused. It means that we’re still learning what it means to be alive. We’re still learning how to live.

I wasn’t wrong to decide to go home when I was miserable, and now I’m not so miserable—thank god!—and that’s beautiful. I am happier now than I have ever been, and that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t leave. It means that I’m having a good time while I’m here, that Munich is sending me off with a fond smile of recognition and affection. I have hope for the future because I know that wherever I put my energy, I will produce something worthwhile. I am standing somewhere lovely; I am headed somewhere brilliant; and I am happy. 

And it’s right before I leave, and hallelujah for that, because I can’t wait to go home with cherished memories, a wiser mind, a stronger heart, and a trunk full of photographs that I’ll treasure the rest of my life.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Doubt: Perched Precariously on the Precipice of Coming Home

  1. Thank you so much for this. I can’t even articulate how much I’m appreciative of this. I feel like I can relate to this situation so much and I’m currently battling the self-doubt and fear of failure too, as I’ve decided to cut my travels short, leave a city that I love and head home. I think I really needed to hear this. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Thank you so much for this. I can’t properly articulate how much I needed to read this right now. I’m currently in the same situation where I’m experiencing a lot of self-doubt and fear of being a failure because I decided to end my travels early, leave a city that I love and go home. I loved in particular what you said about life not being a video game and that there’s no right or wrong turns. I’m realizing that that is currently my mentality and it’s inaccurate. I can relate to everything that you said. Thank you for putting the circumstances of my head and heart into formulated sentences. It was a very valuable read for me, so thank you.

    Like

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