Earlier this week I found myself on my own in London. I live in the North of England, around four hours by train from the capital, so although I travel there fairly regularly, it’s a while since I’ve visited on my own.
I was staying in Islington, and had made plans to meet a friend for dinner a few stops along the Northern Line, but part way through the tube journey I decided I fancied a walk, so jumped off at Camden.
It was about 6pm so still light, and about 45 minutes away from where I was headed. No big deal right? Surely not for the girl who took her first solo trip to the capital over ten years ago, and since then has been right around the world alone.
Yet it was.
Stepping out of the tube station I felt absolutely terrified; I’ve never been to that part of London – let alone on my own – and all I could see were groups of young blokes, standing around looking stereotypically intimidating (I know, I know, I’m ashamed of the judging too, but in that moment…).
Now if there’s one thing I love it’s a good market. So maybe it was the promise of a market right across the road, maybe it was the fact I’d just told my friend I was walking and didn’t want to show up half an hour earlier than expected after chickening out, or maybe it was the two thick clouds of cannabis smoke I walked through just past the station, but I decided to chill the hell out and explore a little, promising myself I could always get back on the train if I still wasn’t happy after the market.
And so I pottered. I spent a good 20 minutes walking around Camden Market, and the shops around there, and then set off on the walk to Hampstead. And yes, for those that know London I’m aware this wasn’t a particularly scary route or dodgy area of town.
For the first 20 minutes or so I was terrified; I clutched my phone to my chest and refused to look closely at anyone I saw along the way, but forced myself to keep walking.
I walked for 45 minutes, mostly uphill and at times seriously contemplated getting back on the tube, but determination and the reminder of having a half marathon to train for made me keep going right the way to my destination.
I met my friend in Hampstead, where the pair of us went for a fantastic dinner at an Asian restaurant and spent all night catching up. Like literally, all night. Much later than I’d originally expected. By the time we were done it was dark, and I still had a hotel in a relatively unfamiliar part of town to get back to.
I told my friend I was contemplating an Uber, but she argued. The car would cost me £30-40, while the tube would cost me less than £3, with only a couple of minutes’ walk at either end.
She was right. And while I’m not one to advocate taking needless risks in scary places, I teach people all the time about the simple effectiveness of asking to be protected when you’d otherwise be scared.
So I walked the five minutes back to the tube station, got on the train and walked back to the hotel. It was dark, there weren’t too many people around and I won’t lie, there were a couple of times when I thought about sprinting the rest of the way back to the hotel (although I’m not sure half marathon training is going quite that well!). But unsurprisingly, I was fine and made it back quickly, safely and easily.
A friend told me a little while ago that when you have children you suddenly become a lot more scared of life in general. And I get that, but actually I don’t think it’s just when you become responsible for a child, I think there’s something about getting older that leads you to feel more frightened.
Look at me; I’ve been to London alone, and wandered around there, countless times. Hell, on one admittedly very silly occasion I left a night out in Sydney – a city I’d only been in for three days – with a migraine and walked the whole length of the city back to my hostel alone. But fast forward nine years and the idea of walking through a city I know in broad daylight fills me with fear!
Time passes so damned quickly you know, and with all of the “must dos” that touch our lives each and every day, it’s all too easy to get into a routine that means we stop pushing or testing ourselves. And as comfortable and lovely as that can be, it also makes the bigger outside world – with everything and everyone it includes – start to seem more than a little scary.
And of course when things seem scary our natural reaction is to stay away… and stay tucked in our little cocoon of safety instead.
And that applies not only to where you go physically, but to all parts of life; when we’re single it often feels less scary to stay that way than to put ourselves on the market; when we’re in a job that’s not quite right for us at least we know we’re safe there rather than the alternative; and even when we’re in an unhappy relationship we can all too regularly stay there for fear of what the alternative might be.
Well no! I’m here today to tell you to dust off your metaphorical walking shoes and get the hell out of your comfort zone!
Because I’ll tell you what lies on the other side of that: adventure, excitement, a sense of achievement, and who knows – maybe, just maybe, the key to the happiness you desire.
My wander across London wasn’t exactly the huge, life altering change I’ve made in the past, but it was surprisingly big nonetheless. I got back to my hotel that night and realised just how safe and comfortable many parts of my life have become, and how much I was cheating myself out of as a result.
Although I wasn’t necessarily in the position to make huge numbers of physical changes overnight, I could make some. But for those that would take more time that sense of frustration and powerlessness was suddenly gone, replaced by the realisation of how brave I am if only I drum up the courage to take that first step.
And isn’t that the key to every big change in life? Taking the first step. For many of my clients that step is about deciding to make some changes and then getting in touch for support to do that, and if that’s something that sounds right for you then get in touch. My six-week programme “Unstuck Yourself” is perfect for helping you to step out of the areas that have left you feeling stuck and make the changes you need to move forwards and I’d love to help you out of your comfort zone!