I used to be afraid.

I felt like the best way not to look stupid or out of place was to keep myself in a box.

This box was the idea that I had of myself. By the time I was in 5th graded I was full grown at 5’10” and taller than most of the kids in my grade, including the boys. I remember feeling like I was so different from the other girls. People would always comment on my height. Adults would say, “Oh I bet you would be great at basketball or volleyball- you’re so tall!” After my initial humiliation of having my freakish size pointed out, I decided that they were right. So, I began focusing all my attention on basketball.

At this age, I had every opportunity in the world to explore all kinds of activities. I loved drawing and writing. I loved learning dance routines for our grade school talent shows. I loved to sing. I just didn’t have any confidence. I thought I wasn’t good enough at these activities, so I abandoned all of it in the pursuit of sports.

In retrospect, it’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly why I felt so limited at such a young age-a combination of low self-esteem and yet a need to be perfect. It sounds so weird to say it now, but by the time I was 12 years old I already felt like my options were so limited. I felt like I was behind all other kids who had pursued things like martial arts, swimming, dance, etc. at younger ages.

I thought I couldn’t possibly catch up. It was too late. If I tried to pursue anything other than sports I would just look stupid. I had so much fear. I was afraid to disappoint my parents and myself. I was afraid to fail.

Why did I feel like being GOOD at something was so incredibly important from the start? I was already putting myself in a box. I was 12 and I had already decided that I wouldn’t be good at any other activity/hobby/craft.

I was putting myself in a box.

I hadn’t even started junior high school yet.

I go back to this time in my life because this fear has followed me throughout most of my life up until recently. It presents itself in many ways. Withdrawing from social activities, withdrawing emotionally from relationships, eating my feelings. And all the opportunities I’ve closed myself off from…

Fast forward to college. This was a confusing time of bouncing from major to major hoping one would stick-hopefully one with good job prospects and a good salary. After 3 ½ years trying to decide if I wanted to be a doctor, physical therapist, nurse, PA, nutritionist, exercise physiologist… I was so burnt out. I didn’t like any of these careers and frankly, I didn’t even want to finish my biology degree. I only did because my Aunt Lu convinced me to. (Thankfully because after all that money spent I should at least have a degree!)

I see now that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life when I still had no idea what I even liked or who I was. I was also navigating around my own fear and low self-confidence. How could that possibly work out?

I felt like an impostor in my own life. I spent so much time trying to build a life around what I thought I should be instead of what I wanted to be. I wasn’t a star athlete and I wasn’t a doctor. I didn’t want to be. I didn’t even walk in my college graduation because I felt like a phony. Like I was getting a degree for something I never really showed up for with my whole heart. I felt so out of place in the life that I had created for myself that I didn’t feel like I could do anything but escape it.  My need for escape trumped my fear of leaving my hometown or messing up.

So, I bought a one-way plane ticket to Hawaii.

I had no idea what I was going to do once I moved there, but I knew I would figure it out… preferably while lying on the beach. My sister had lived on the Big Island so I could figure Oahu out, I thought.

And I was right.

I won’t say that moving somewhere new and starting a life is not without its difficulties, because I have had my share. I've made lots of mistakes. I experienced some of the roughest times of my life while living in Hawaii- but I am grateful for all of it. 

I faced all my worst fears head on. Living somewhere that no one knew anything about me was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I threw caution to the wind in lots of instances and did things that up-tight, fear-driven, close-minded Jess never would have. I made it through situations that I never thought I would have had the composure, patience, wisdom, or bravery to deal with. Moving from New York to Hawaii set in motion a cascade of events that allowed me to begin to find my true self. I thought I hated hiking before I moved to Hawaii, simply because I never let myself release my fear and enjoy it. It seems silly now.

As cliché as it sounds, I realize that the only thing holding me back from being anything I could ever want to be is fear. Every time I face my fears I am rewarded with a sense of satisfaction that is second to none. Fear prevents us from being happy. Fear makes us treat each other badly. Fear tells us that we can’t use all our amazing human powers. Fear prevents us from seeking the truth. Fear doesn’t allow us to feel our connection to the world around us.

But how could you when you put yourself in a box?