I’m standing in a corner store in Nicaragua, trying to talk myself into buying a bottle of water from the lady behind the counter.
“un botella de agua, por favor”
That’s all I need to say. I know it, I’ve rehearsed it, I’ve seen it done a million times by my friends since coming to Central America.
But for some reason the Spanish words are sticking in my Australian throat.
The self-doubt, once again, has crept in.
It always starts as a prickle in my scalp. Then it hooks itself around my throat, wringing the air out of me.
You’re going to mess it up, the self doubt tells me. You’re going to sound like an idiot. What are you even doing trying to live here in Central America, you big oblivious Australian? Klomping around the place like you might actually one day belong?
It doesn’t help that the corner stores here are called Pulperia’s. I thought ‘pulpo’ meant octopus in Spanish… But then wouldn’t that mean that I’m standing in an ‘octopus store’? Why would they call their corner stores octopus stores? That can’t be right.
Octopus store. It can’t be. Surely.
I break a sweat. I’m completely reconsidering any small grasp I thought I had on the language.
You know what? I decide, folding. Maybe I don’t need that water after all. I’ll survive.
That’s the lame thing about travel – having to face some pretty confronting truths about ourselves that we might never have admitted to at home. At home we can cloak our shortcomings with “grown up” things like excuses, justifications, procrastinations and distractions.
Anything that stops us from having to look at the cold hard truth: somewhere along the way, we started playing small. We restricted ourselves with doubt, started to see discomfort and vulnerability as the enemy. We stopped pushing ourselves, growing ourselves… Really, we stopped showing up for ourselves.
But when you travel to a country with a different first language to yours and you realise you’d rather go thirsty than risk looking dumb while ordering a bottle of water, you see where your self-confidence is at pretty fast.
I’m scared of looking stupid. That fact is undeniable. And if I allow it to keep happening, I’m going to miss a lot of beautiful shit.
“It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable. But those who do are the dreamers, the thinkers and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.”
Recently I had a guy staying at the same hostel as me- let’s call him Bob. Bob had come to El Salvador for three weeks to learn Spanish, the same as me.
The difference between me and Bob was that Bob didn’t give a damn about looking stupid.
Bob practiced his Spanish at every opportunity he got, with anyone in the town.
He got it wrong, a lot. He’d say “nice to meet you” to a waitress taking his plate away at a restaurant (in his defence “mucho gusto” does sound like it should mean “what a great meal”.) He’d try to swear in El Zonte slang and it would just sound cute in his clipped, polite accent.
But who wins in this equation? Who was the one throwing himself out there, doing the thing, and who was the one sitting scared on the sidelines, giving herself Urinary Tract Infections because she was too scared to ask for the toilet key at gas stations . I’ll give you a hint. Bob wasn’t the one crying on the toilet at 3am.
Bob owned his space as a beginner, without shame. Bob knew that looking dumb and vulnerable is necessary for evolution, and he went straight into the guts of it, every time.
Having Bob around made me face up to the truth I’d been trying to hustle around for months. If I really want to learn, to grow, or to elevate in some way, I have to get comfortable looking silly. Only then can I even dreaming of reaching the gargantuan goals I’ve set myself.
Or as the dude who was sitting next to me on the twelve-hour bus ride to Leon, Nicaragua, put it: “I think it’s time to bite your ego and just do it.”‘
P.S. Pulperia’s actually does mean ‘octopus store.’ How about that.