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Pushing Past Self Doubt
By Phoebe R., YES Abroad 2017-2018, Jordan, from Charlottesville, VA
Back in the US, I am an athlete. I’m a rower, and I love crew, but before every race I almost throw up. Sitting at the start, I just get this all-consuming feeling of “I can’t do it.” Every fiber in my body tells me to jump out of the boat because there is absolutely no way I am strong enough or good enough; there is no way I can push myself far enough. I start most races in tears because these thoughts get so overwhelming.
Flash forward and I’m in Jordan. I’m at the start of my exchange year and the past three weeks have been spent exalting, despairing, in awe, in shock, amazed, exhausted. It’s the end of, maybe, my 5th day at Mashrek International School and I’m on the school bus. It has just really occurred to me how hard this year is going to be. And I feel… angry. Or, at least, it feels like anger. I can’t stop shaking. During the ensuing mental semi-breakdown, I got quite a lot of stares from the Jordanian kindergarteners that ride our bus and barely made it through the door of our house before I literally fell to the floor sobbing, thoroughly freaking out my roommate. All I could think was “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”
While I was crying on the bus that day, I kept thinking how I just wanted to row, be in a boat. I realized that what I’d been feeling wasn’t anger. It wasn’t sadness, either. It was the feeling I feel before every race: painful, burning and crippling self-doubt. The nice thing about crew is that I get to prove it wrong. I hear the call and it’s on; I’m moving and before I know it, we’re at the finish line (and I’m still feeling like I’m going to throw up, but now because of exhaustion). Every stroke I took was accented by my pounding brain: “STOP, you can’t do this!” But, the harder I rowed, the farther and farther I got away from that feeling. My biggest source of motivation in crew comes from knowing that the success of every athlete in my boat relies on my ability to pull my own weight. If I give up, everyone loses. Studying abroad is not really like that. I can’t simply pull harder and make my fears go away. And if I were to just give up, solely I (not a boat of nine people, not my whole team) would be affected.
An important thing I am in the process of learning is how to find my motivation from myself. I’ve also been learning a lot about strength. That night, after the bus incident, my host mom, Lana, came home from work and I asked for her help.Then, I cried on her shoulder. Letting myself be that vulnerable goes so against my nature. But she hugged me and told me “you are my daughter, and I feel that you are strong, and it will get better, I know this.” And she was right. It really doesn’t take that much strength to look strong, but it takes so much to admit that you can’t really be strong at the moment and that you need help.
It’s crazy, I’m almost at the halfway point of my time in Jordan. Continuing the crew metaphor, this means I’m in for ten strokes to recommit and ten to make a power move. I don’t really know what that will look like here, but I’m excited to find out. Nothing this year has been as I expected it to be. In some ways my experience is so much better than my expectations, and in some ways it’s kinda worse. In any case, everything I have felt and done here in Amman has just been incredibly more real and more beautiful than it ever seemed in my imagination. I have a feeling, when I’m back in America and it’s time for fall crew, I’ll be at the start of a race and think “I can’t do this.” And you know what I’ll be able tell myself in that moment? “I was strong enough to make it through last year, I sure can do this.”