Monday, June 25, 2012

Are You Excited? Are You Scared?

“You must be Megan,” a round woman with a flannel shirt stuck her hand out. Instinctively, I shook it, but my well-coached strong grip was lost and I was only limply playing along. My mind was racing.

One of the most exciting aspects of starting a new school is anonymity. This being my fourth school, I was an experienced participant in this game. This game was like real-life dress-up. I would start out pretending to be quiet or shy, athletic or dainty, and though I always ended up shedding the outer layer to reveal my true self, it was a huge amount of fun while it lasted. Whereas many children might find difficulty in moving, I thrived on it.

So I was ready to start the sixth grade that day, lined up outside of Pinckney Elementary in my new hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. I toyed with the idea of playing the clueless southerner. Was Springfield far enough south to pull this off? I had practiced both removing my slight twang and enhancing it, and decided I would play it by ear. I did confidently announce at dinner that I was going to be called “Meg” instead of “Megan” to kick-start my new adventure.

But the woman who somehow knew my name caught me off guard. She knew it, too. I must have had the how-the-hell-do-you-know-my-name look on my face.

“Oh, there are just two new students, a boy and a girl. The rest of these kids have been here since kindergarten.” She laughed nonchalantly.

The feeling of excitement is ironically similar to feeling afraid. The same butterflies flutter in the stomach, the same blank look and awkward smile mask a mind working overtime, the same insomnia keeps us up the night before and all of the questions that are running through the brain start with the same two words: What if…

The day I started sixth grade was the first day I remember that mix of excitement and fear pumping through my body. It is a feeling that has become quite common in my life. Big moves and transitions, new school years, first days of class and sometimes just Sunday nights bring the dichotomy of anticipation and apprehension.

When asked about the political situation in Egypt, I often say, “I try not to worry about things I cannot control.” But essentially that is the very definition of worry. We are preoccupied with things that bother us, but about which we can do absolutely nothing. I do plenty of that.

When asked about the weather or the conservative dress code, I respond, “I’ll deal.” I may be a little uncomfortable, but I can handle discomfort.

When asked about being away from my family for such a long period of time, I answer, “Well, it will be hard, but with Skype and all I think I’ll be okay.” I feel sad about leaving them for so long, but grateful for the technology that will keep us linked together.

Worry, discomfort and sadness are often mistaken for fear, but in my experience, fear is the emotion that defies the coping mechanisms instituted to thwart the former. When I have total control over a situation and I think I might screw it up…that’s when I am afraid.

I’m afraid that I might have left the best job in the world. I’m afraid that the students, parents and coworkers in Egypt won’t like me. I’m afraid I won’t do a good job. I’m afraid of the exact same things that I was that first day of sixth grade when I realized I was no longer anonymous. And it’s silly, and petty, and stupid, and selfish, and immature, but at 28-years-old, I’m still afraid that I won’t make friends.

I know I made the right decision, because I think about my dreams, my “why Egypt?”, and excitement overwhelms me. Maybe excitement and fear are meant to go hand-in-hand. The experiences that are most exciting are so often the life events that will also make us afraid. I think back at some of the most exciting adventures of my life so far—performing, traveling, going away to college, student teaching—and every time I was also very scared.

Once I calmed down, I decided to embrace the new-girl label, and my sixth grade year ended up pretty legendary (for me, at least). Needless to say, I’m expecting similar results this time around.
My sixth-grade friends at my 12th birthday party.
My awesome sunflower hat.

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