“This is your private room,” she said and left. As I entered and closed the door behind me, I felt the heat and humidity of the sulfur bath I had all for myself. The space in this 400-year old public bath had no windows and I felt an urge to leave. I decided to stay and deal with the feeling. My heartbeat calmed down. I could smell the sulfur evaporating in the air from the hot spring and feel it entering my skin. The fancy old shower head and its beautiful iron handles were appearing like out of nowhere from in between the brown and yellow tiles. The actual bath was right next to them.
Complete silence. I could only hear my heartbeat accelerating again from the anxiety of being on my own. I didn’t know how long I was to have the bath for myself. I forgot to ask. I had felt that before at the start of my trip. But why was I feeling anxious now? I had only two days left of my month-long trip in Tbilisi, Georgia. I had thought by the end of it I would have overcome it.
The objective of my journey was to become a stronger and more independent girlfriend who doesn’t hide in the warm and fuzzy comfort, as well as a bolder CMO who drives more impact and challenges to the marketing team daily. I wanted to explore the world out there and my inner world by facing my fears such as being alone (and sick), being unable to have fun on my own, or losing a sense of who I am. Through my lowest and highest moments I learned 5 things about myself.
1. Having fears balances my ego
Back in the bath, in its humidity and what felt like eternity, I took another deep breath and dipped into the warmth of the bath to relax my body and embrace my inner vibrations. Doing nothing was hard and the silence felt uncomfortable. I remembered that I had brought a book with me. I started reading “Ego Is The Enemy” to keep my mind focused and busy to avoid exploring the abundance of time that was suffocating me. Drops of sweat gradually covered my face just above the book. I managed to underline a sentence before one of the drops almost fell on the page. “The ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all.” I looked up. The uncomfortable still felt scary, but now I knew. I had the confidence that I can overcome it.
2. Facing my fears gives me strength
The worst thing I could imagine before my trip was to get severely sick while being abroad on my own. About 15 years ago I was hospitalized for double pneumonia and 12 years ago I got my tonsils removed. Because of that, every time I cough or a sore throat worsens and doesn’t go away, I’m afraid of pneumonia. To ease my worry, I bought a health insurance for my stay in Georgia. It was my way of managing this fear.
А day before my trip to Tbilisi I felt unwell and took sick leave. Unfortunately, my flights didn’t go as planned. It didn’t take 2 flights within 16 hours, but 5 flights back to back in 32 hours. My body was wrecked.
As a result, the first night in Tbilisi I was unable to sleep, I was sweating and coughing up to the point that my back hurt. There was no one to make me a tea or ask me how I was. I went to WebMD and skimmed through a beautiful list of diagnoses, most of which were lethal, of course.
My worst fear had become a reality: I was abroad, I was alone, and I was sick.
The next day I went to a doctor. Thankfully, I found one that could speak English (I could never manage to explain how I felt in my broken Russian). After some tests and failed attempts to take a blood sample, it appeared I don’t have pneumonia. Equipped with a syrup and a tab of pills I headed home. I got some groceries on the way. It was only when I got home that I remembered that it was Christmas Eve. I made dinner with all I had – a salad of fresh white cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers with a piece of bread on the side.
It took two weeks to recover. I spent most of the time in bed, trying to distract myself with yet another Netflix show. And even though I often felt like a forgotten grandparent that no one is to come visit as they are all busy with their lives, this experience proved me that I can overcome an illness on my own, even when abroad, even during the holidays.
3. I can find happiness within myself
It was probably the last Friday of the year when my colleague Eric sent me his script for his upcoming TEDx talk. His story made me feel so many things. It also left me with the conviction that one’s happiness should not be dependent on anyone, one should be self-dependent.
That reminded me of my Christmas morning. I opened my eyes and realized I was in no rush to see anyone or go anywhere. Sick and in bed for almost 24 hours non-stop, I knew I could stay in all day. But then I jumped out of bed and played one of my favorite Christmas gospel songs. I clapped up in the air, moved around, and lip-synced, as I had no voice and couldn’t sing. I was happy in the moment that I created for myself.
When I called my parents later that day, my mom asked me if I missed them. “I’m happy that I feel good on my own”. It wasn’t probably what she was hoping to hear, but I celebrated the fact that I had found peace and happiness within me.
4. In awe, I’m happy and healthy
“We will count to 3 and then go down the hill as fast as we can”.
A few seconds later, the kite filled with air and pulled us up and above the hill. We were flying 3000 meters over the Caucasus mountains. After a slight left turn, a horizon of countless steep peaks and snowy mountains revealed itself in front of us. A rush of happiness filled my whole body. A year ago I saw someone fly over the Alps and decided that I would do it this winter. And here I was, flying, feeling grateful for the opportunity, as well as proud of myself for doing what I had decided. And it was just the first week of the new year.
The instructor asked me if I liked extreme sports experiences. Before I could say “no”, his maneuvering made my tears and smile of happiness freeze from the shock. My stomach wasn’t happy. When we landed, my legs were shaking. The 10 minutes tasted like a cocktail of deep admiration to nature and adrenaline in an amount my body was not familiar with.
Moments of awe like this are the key to longevity. I read that once in TIME’s issue on the topic back in 2015. They also stressed the meaning of “longevity”. It isn’t only about the duration of life, it’s as much about its quality.
So when I was up in the air, I thought about the research and realized that if I go into nature more often, I would have more moments like this and I would probably live a long, healthy, and happy life.
5. I find treasures outside of my comfort zone
In the moon-like landscape covered in snow, a colorful mosaic monument stands out on one of the hills. Built in 1983, it symbolized Russian-Georgian friendship. The irony is that after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia wasn’t left on this own for too long. Since 2008, a third of the country has been occupied by Russia.
I saw the monument as we were driving from a beautiful village called Kazbegi hidden underneath the 5000-meter Kazbek peak on the way to the Gudauri ski resort.
I didn’t know the name of the driver. He only spoke to my friend Ana and I in Georgian. I was smiling back. We were hitchhiking that morning when he picked us up on the icy road of Kazbegi.
As we were taking turn after turn between 2000 and 2300 meters altitude, a metal cross hanging from the mirror of the white Mitsubishi van was shaking left to right.
This drive was an unexpected treasure. The raw beauty of the landscape was meditative. A few horses were peacefully drinking water in the wide open space of the valley that the road was conquering.
Going beyond my comfort zone, traveling abroad on my own came with so many intimate, meditative moments.
Some of them were when I was learning to write in the Georgian alphabet. Others while I was listening to stories about the region, or when exploring the streets and the mountains of Georgia. Some came when I was tasting yet another of their traditional meals rich on aubergine, fruits, and nuts.
“EVERY GUEST IS SENT FROM GOD.” –Georgian proverb
It’s no “leap” if you think you’re ready for it
I left Dublin for a month wanting to grow myself into becoming a stronger and more independent girlfriend and a bolder CMO. I accomplished my goal. I feel calmer and more confident now. I know that whatever happens, it’s all on me and I can deal with it. I will take a deep breath, analyze the situation, make a plan, follow my plan, test a few things, and succeed. This is a fundamental belief that I have now and enables me to be the person I aspired to be. I am proud I faced my fears.
What’s your excuse to face your fears?
Maybe you think you don’t have the time or money to do it. You can make the time and you can make it work financially with any budget. No moment is perfect. If it’s perfect you’re probably late.
Yes, it is easier to find the time for such a trip when part of Enhancv as each of us has 25 days of remote working per year. We encourage the team to explore internally to reflect on themselves, as we believe professional growth can only be unlocked when we grow as people.
In any case, if you are curious about what and who pushed me into this trip, read my blog on why I decided to travel on my own for a month.