Trying new things makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to take risks; I like the familiar. That’s why when I was asked to give several author presentations at international schools in Beijing, my gut reaction was to shout, “Not on your life!” Sure, I knew other authors who had traveled overseas and had wonderful experiences visiting schools in India and Saudi Arabia, but I’m not as brave or as competent as these friends.
Still, something inside me whispered that I would regret saying no to this opportunity. The whisper continued to nag until finally I told the inquiring school a hesitant “yes.”
It didn’t take me long to imagine all the things that could go wrong. I could miss my flight. The Eastern food could disagree with my Midwestern stomach. My driver in Beijing might not show up.
My brave friends assured me that all of these worries were unfounded.
And you know what?
They were wrong.
All of these worries came true.
My departing flight was delayed multiple times until I was sent home and told to come back tomorrow and try again. When I eventually made it to Beijing a day late, two bites of an innocent looking “pancake” from the hotel’s breakfast buffet left me with instantaneous “digestive issues” (aka explosive diarrhea). And midway into my trip as I waited (and waited and waited) one morning for my driver to arrive, it became clear that he was never going to show, leaving me (without a cell phone) to frantically find a way to contact the school.
With all these setbacks, the trip should have been a disaster for a worrywart like me. But it was nothing of the sort. I brought back incredible memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything: standing on the Great Wall, visiting with preschoolers who had baked a giant cake shaped like one of the characters from my picture books, learning how to make Chinese dumplings from one of the teachers. None of these things would have happened if I had stayed at home.
And all those mini-disasters? They turned out to be blessings in disguise. When my worst worries materialized and I found a way to work around them, I discovered that I was braver and more competent than I thought.
Though I’m reluctant to admit it, some of the most rewarding moments of my career have come when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and attempted things I didn’t think I could do: write for teenagers, illustrate a book with tricky paper engineering, tackle nonfiction. I’ll never be an enthusiastic risk-taker like some of my friends, but I’ve learned that being a little uncomfortable is worth the benefits I reap when I stretch myself.
Recently I was asked to visit schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As I remembered my time in Beijing, I visualized all the things that could go wrong on a trip to Russia. Then I swallowed my fears, took a deep breath, and said, “Sure, I’d love to go!”