I’ve seen lots of people write what advice they would give to their younger self. Reflecting on their hard won life lessons and what they wish they had known when they were younger. It’s got me thinking of the younger version of me. Rather than giving advice to the younger version of me I think the person I used to be could maybe teach me a thing or two.
When I was 20 years old I did a summer internship in Caracas, Venezuela working for a charity. My job involved going into large oil companies and interviewing them about their work on corporate social responsibility. I’m amazed that I got on a plane and headed into the unknown to do this. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know where I was going to be living or anybody in the city. It was a complete leap of faith.
Caracas is an incredible and mind blowing city, especially as I wasn’t very well travelled at the time. I can’t speak to Venezuela’s current economic problems as I was here in 2000. My experience of the city was that there were extremes of wealth and poverty. There were compound like gated communities of privilege surrounded by areas of real deprivation. The developed centre of the city is in a valley and the hillsides around it are surrounded by barrios – these are informal neighbourhoods like the favelas that you might have seen in Rio. It was easy to take a wrong turn and end up somewhere a bit dicey!
I want to high five 20 year old me and tell her I’m really proud of her. I rented a room in the house of a German woman. I took the bus and subway around the city every day. I ventured out in the evenings to get pizza and meet friends. I got by on my microscopic amount of Spanish. Caracas has a reputation as a dangerous city but I somehow managed not to get mugged despite being a very obvious target for street criminals.
The moment that really stands out is a day when the receptionist from my workplace, Karen, invited me to come to her house for her birthday. We had a hilarious friendship – most of the time we couldn’t understand each other as neither of us really spoke the other’s language. Karen said she would meet me and take me to her home as it was a complicated to get there. I didn’t realise that she actually lived in the heart of the barrio. This was a place that was supposed to be a complete no go area for tourists and I had been warned it was very unsafe to visit. It started to dawn on me by the second bus trip where we were going and I was really nervous. However it was an amazing experience. I was welcomed so warmly into her family’s home and met lots of her relatives, had cake and played with the children. When I got home and told my German landlady where I’d been her jaw hit the floor in shock.
I’ve had a dig around to find some old photos from my time in Venezuela. They are not great quality but here I am with some of my work colleagues (and a random short haircut!).
Fast forward to today – do I still have an adventurous spirit? Am I as brave as I used to be? I’m starting to wonder if I’m a bit too secure in my comfort zone. I have worked for my current employer for over 10 years. I live in a village that I love but hate the idea of moving anywhere else. I am a creature of habit and tend to go to the same places over and over again. I challenged myself recently to learn to drive. Unfortunately I failed my test at the end of last year. I’ve had a total bravery fail and not rebooked my test or any more lessons yet. I need 20 year old me to give me a kick my butt and tell me to keep going!
I definitely have a different perception of risk than I used to. I anticipate the things that could go wrong and prepare for every eventuality in a way my optimistic lets go for it younger self never did. When I was young and intrepid I would embrace and seek out the unknown in a way that I don’t tend to do very often anymore. I obviously need to be more responsible now that I have 3 children. It is one thing to get in a bit of a tricky fix on your own but the consequences of getting into a difficult situation with 3 kids are quite a different. But I can’t help questioning am I playing it too safe?
I have moments of everyday bravery. I take my 7 year old and my 3 year old twins out on my own quite frequently, normally when my husband is working and we are getting bored at home. Taking my tribe on the train or out to lunch is not for the faint hearted and I always feel a sense of achievement when a day out goes well. Surviving the early days of having twin babies made me find new depths of strength and resourcefulness that I didn’t know I had.
I’m not going to go back packing any day soon but for 2016 I want to look for ways to get in touch with my inner 20 year old adventurer. There must be ways in my day to day life I can step out of my comfort zone more and explore the unknown. I think it would be really fun to try and have some family adventures this year. Maybe if we can capture that fearless spirit it will inspire my kids in the future to go on crazy adventures of their own.