People have a hard time believing this, but when I was in ninth grade, I had major, major social anxiety. Like the kind of social anxiety that constantly gripped me and made me petrified of putting myself out there to make friends. So I found myself a lonely, sad little fourteen year old that was frustrated further by the fact that I didn’t know how to change or what I needed to do to take myself out of my misery. Changing to a huge public high school in ninth grade exacerbated the cause.

The high school cafeteria at this new school was the Mount Everest of social engagement for me and subsequently I avoided it at all costs. There were two times in my entire grade 9 year that I went anywhere near it after soccer teammates pulled me in (I remember these times because of the utter trauma that they entailed for me).

When my teammates started talking to other people, I felt insanely self-conscious that everyone was staring at me and thinking “there’s the girl that has no friends” and promptly bolted the hell out of there. And so I spent my entire grade 9 year at lunch trying to look busy and with somewhere to go and people to hang out with, when in reality, I had no friends, I ate my lunch by myself in the library until I got kicked out for eating in the library and promptly spent the year wandering around the neighborhood crying, gripped in anxiety and not knowing how to make a change. I was a textbook case of manifesting in your life, exactly what you think about and fear the most.

At that point the only thing I had, besides the very real fear that the writing spot next to my graduation pic would have a blank spot because I had no friends and thus no memories to write of, was a vision of who I wanted to be in my mind. This person was who I felt I was underneath all the anxiety; happy, with the desire to laugh, confident, kind and friendly.

Grade 10 started and for the first week, I went back to my grade 9 MO, avoided the cafeteria at all costs and tried to look busy on breaks from class.

One day, fed up with being lonely, and with the thought, “nothing that can happen in there can be any worse than what life has looked like outside roaming the neighbourhood alone”, I stood outside the door of the “caf”, and as much as every bone in my body wanted to run, while puking simultaneously, I finally willed myself to walk inside with no one coercing me in.

And once inside, when every bone in my body begged me to run back outside the door, to the safety and security that being alone on the outside and not at the risk of getting rejected provided me, I forced myself to stay inside. And when I felt like throwing up, awkwardly trying to talk to people once inside the cafeteria, I reminded myself how awful the year before had been and calmed myself with my mantra of “whatever happens inside here can’t be any worse than a year of being totally alone like last year.”

After a year of entering the caf daily, I slowly grew more comfortable socializing with peers and soothed my fear of friend rejection with the internal mantra of “just be the best friend that you can be and why wouldn’t someone want that in their life?”

And one day about a year and a half after I wandered the neighborhood alone and miserable, I stood in the caf, surrounded by friends, telling a story, laughing with a captive audience and thought to myself, “holy shit, I’m that girl that I wanted so badly to be.”

I always say that of any award I’ve ever received in my life, getting voted class clown by my class in grade 12 after the journey I took from being a lonely ninth grader was my biggest achievement of anything I’ve ever accomplished. Whether people actually found my jokes funny is a whole other story but the fact I was even there to tell them was a victory.

That being said, for some reason in many ways over the last decade I’ve found myself again being that girl that has chosen walking around the neighborhood instead of taking the options that make me feel uncomfortable, and out of control and vulnerable. I’ve felt stuck for a very long time, just like I did outside the cafeteria when deep down I know that the only thing to take away that feeling of being stuck is to just walk inside the door and join what seems so scary inside. I’ve sat on the metaphorical street outside the high school of my life, thinking and knowing what I needed to do, but choosing not to do it, and stayed safe but somewhat miserable as a result.

And because of that I’ve felt like I’ve been missing out on some really real, really great parts of life that come with wading into the uncomfortable waters of living life and doing things that scare me, those things that are different for all of us.

Recently I’ve wanted to close a chapter and move for the last couple of years, but there was always a reason not to. Mostly I didn’t know what to do, where to go, and was afraid to do it. As unhappy as I was with where I was living, I had a job, a house, a routine and no real reason to change anything up besides the very strong feeling that it wasn’t the place that I was supposed to be anymore.

Finally in November, I said goodbye to the one thing that held me there, a group of kids that have changed my life and taken a piece of my heart. I made a move that felt like the right thing to do for a really long time, but I left not really sure where the road led to (shout out and apologies to everyone who walked my journey with me that I was going to move to Barcelona then Phoenix, then San Fran, then LA, then Vancouver). Options were there but they didn’t feel right (thousands of dollars in rent in most of those locations helped with the not feeling right part).

I had my goals set for the 2016 of the things that I wanted to do, and what I was looking for in a location to move to; good weather, ability to save some money, awesome, interesting people living a little outside the box to hang out with, but just didn’t have a really strong sense of where I wanted to go.

Then in November, I took the leap and planned to move back to Vancouver in January (pretty much the raddest hometown to go to when you don’t know what to do or where to go, that contained the best family and friends in the whole world), I headed off to see a buddy who moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand with her family. I hadn’t really spent time in Thailand so I decided to go to an island while I was there and thought I remembered a friend saying Ko Samui was a great spot (it ended up being Phuket that she had said, but I had already booked my ticket).

The plan was I was going to go for five days and then head on to Europe for some work and then back to North America for Christmas. Then the work part in Europe got cancelled so then I just planned to stay for two weeks. I googled Crossfit Ko Samui and found a website for something called Lamai Fitness that looked incredible. It had crossfit, triathlon training and just looked like a really rad vibe. So I emailed the address and then, waited and never heard back.

I booked my hotel on Ko Samui close to where this place was, and backpack in hand, headed off into the unknown when a huge part of me just wanted to stay in the safety of hanging with my good friend and her family, and worried about what I would do on my own.

I arrived in Ko Samui, found my way to the hotel and then found the fitness place and started to walk towards it. I turned a corner, walked up a hill and heard an insane amount of yelling and screaming. I looked in, and there was a class going on with a Muy Thai fighting place across the street and no one that really seemed to be in charge.

I felt the high school cafeteria urge wash over me, that nauseating, “what the f have I done coming here myself with no plan by myself”, coupled with a dash of the thought of “oh my gosh everyone is staring at me”, and tried desperately to find someone that was in charge, which did not happen.

So I did what any person in Thailand would do when they need a bit of time to work up some courage, and I went and got a $10 hour long foot massage. While there I employed every form of positive self talk I knew and tried to get my courage up to walk back up when every shred of my being was telling me to just go back to the safety of the hotel where I would not look like the tool that had no idea of what she was doing.

To make a long story short, just like the day I walked into the cafeteria, embraced the vulnerabilities and the uncertainties and opened myself up to the possibilities, the last 3 weeks have been one of the best experiences of my life. Beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I did find someone finally that was in charge, and he offered me an option, which was the hardest one and the one I chose based purely on curiosity and the desire to challenge myself.

I have met the most incredible people from around the world, have been training twice a day harder than I have ever worked out in my life, and got to hang out in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I find myself in this relaxed environment, a version of Ciara that I love being around, and with so many things clicking into place, feel finally that for now which is all that matters, that I am where I am meant to be.

I’m not even thinking about the future because I am immersed in and loving the present so much but finally I feel like I am inching towards a path that I want to be on.

My five-day trip is coming on four weeks with another 3 to go. I’ve started training for something that has always been on my bucket list and that scares the crap out of me, a half Ironman that I’m going to attempt to do in Vietnam in May. I’m also in the perfect location to launch an online business in January for something that I’ve always been so passionate about, college recruiting, and I just feel so excited for 2016.

Nothing beats feeling like you are exactly where you are supposed to be, even if the road is winding and crazy to get there. I shudder at the thought of all the amazing that I would have missed if I had gone back to my hotel and not put myself into the uncomfortable.

So my advice to everyone as we head into 2016 and something I’m going to continue to make myself do: Find every single cafeteria door that scares the absolute crap out of you and walk through it. And once you’ve conquered that and it’s no longer scary, find the next door, and the next door and the next door.

And remember, nothing that scares you on the other side of that door will ever be any worse than standing on the outside wondering what could have been.

My wish is a Brave 2016 for all of you, where all your dreams come true.

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