With this life, this adventure, starting before you’re ‘ready’ is something all the great adventurers tell us we should do. It’s true. It dawned on me that the process is similar to learning a language. Here’s why:
You never feel ready because there is always more to learn
If I’d waited until I could speak fluent Italian before I moved out here, I would have been waiting a LONG time. Even when I’ve been in England over the last few months, and working on my language a little every day, my progress has been slow. I didn’t feel ‘ready'. The first few interactions I had in Italian once I stepped off the plane, I felt so disheartened, and totally out of my depth. But sticking at it means you DO improve and you do make progress.
There’ll never be a point when you know absolutely know for sure that you’re totally ready to quit your job or move abroad, start a business or start your big idea. We just have to start, wherever we are. We all start when we are willing, not when we are ready. With persistence, we DO make tracks in the road.
Sometimes you feel way over your head
I was in the Agenzia delle Entrate last week. It wasn’t my first brush with Italian bureaucracy but it was the first I’d tackled alone. So I took my dictionary just in case. I had been prepped to know what to expect and what to do, but when I arrived, the man at the information desk, began to explain things in very fast Italian, gave me a form to complete and pointed at the various places to sign. I completed the form as best I could and began to quake in my boots slightly as I realised that was the easy bit.
I looked through the form as I waited for my ticket to be called. I hardly knew any of the words. At first, I was overwhelmed. What happens if they ask me a question and I say the wrong thing? What if I get it wrong? I should have brought someone with me, so much for feeling ok about it! But I realised I could translate some of the words with my dictionary. I could ask if they knew any English. And I just had to ride it out. (It went fine!)
When I went part time in my job, I kept hearing this voice in my head saying ‘Are you crazy? What are you doing??’ I still sometimes ask myself this question. But I know for sure that if I’d had my time again, I would have done exactly the same. I’ve learned so much to turn back. 'In way over your head' can just be a quick way to learn…!
You have to be in the situation to practice it…live and in person otherwise it’s just theory
While I was in England, I practiced a bit of Italian almost every day (via the app, Duolingo). I felt as though I’d improved, but until I got to Italy, I didn’t really know how much real progress I’d actually made. Until I was in the shop and talking to real Italians about which colour dress suited me best, it was merely ‘I think I can say that’. It’s a lot more scary, but also a lot more satisfying.
Before we actually take a step towards the life we want, it’s just a theory, an idea. We can think or google as much as you like, but it’s not going to make us adventurers. An adventurer plans the journey, yes, but it’s leaving the house, leaving the comfort zone which makes it the adventure. It’s the choices we make on the ground that define our lives, not the possibilities we dream up for them.
You have to be willing to make mistakes and look stupid...
I make a mistake every time I say something in Italian. EVERY TIME. I take so long to say stuff, that my housemate gets visibly frustrated with me. This whole scenario of depending on other people’s kindness is super challenging for me, because I’m used to being totally self-sufficient and being vulnerable is asking (without actually asking) for people (often total strangers) to be very patient with me. Put it like this I’m getting used to looking quite stupid (yes, people actually laughing).
In stepping away from my job and life in London to pursue this adventure, I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’ve stepped out of alignment with myself and done things because other people thought they were right, rather than consciously choosing them myself.
...but even though you think you look bad.. people love you for trying
Italians really appreciate those who TRY and speak Italian. I’ve had some encouraging smiles and straight faces as I’ve tried to muddle my way through sentences. I’ve had delighted faces as Italians ask me ‘Parla Italiano?’ (Do you speak Italian?) and knowing smiles when I reply ‘Un po’’ (a little)
Each time someone has said they think I’m brave for stepping out and doing something different, I laugh. I don’t see it as bravery. I know they wonder how they can do the same. And I smile, because I used to be like them, and I know they will get there, in their time.
You have to take risks
If we don’t take the risk, we don't know. I have walked past various shops several times before plucking up the courage to go in and stumble through the embarrassment of asking the price of the dress, or whether they sell rooibos tea. When the pain is bad (like the bathroom is the nearest in the vicinity!) or the desire is great (like whether all the icecream flavours are made with milk!), the fear of being misunderstood or looking like a fool becomes less of a factor.
When I was in my job and struggling, wanting to get out, do something different, have a different life, it wasn’t until I decided that the situation was good (or bad) enough to take the risk, that I pushed through the fear. From my experience, the risk only looks scary from the one side...
Learning Italian is a challenge. Every day. It's been so tiring, learning to 'attune my ear' to the sounds, listening for key words, concentrating and practicing, practicing, practicing. But I AM making progress. I CAN understand so much more than I think I can. And it gets a bit easier (sometimes).
Stepping out to live your life differently sometimes can feel as though you're a fish out of water. The ear you attune to is your internal guidance, but it can feel as unfamiliar as a foreign language. It can feel as though you're doing, doing, doing, with no visible progress. But you are without realising. You're soaking up more than you know.
And one day, you'll realise you can even understand the jokes.