by Lesley Carter
On August 16 I sat at a gate in the San Francisco International Airport, waiting to board a 12-hour flight to Seoul. I’d taken out my laptop, intending to spend the layover blogging. But I’d been staring hard at my monitor for several minutes, reading a prompt from WordPress that said: “Are you sure you want to do this?”
WordPress was only asking if I wanted to approve a comment. But as I sat there, about to leave my home country for a whole year, having spent the previous night hyperventilating instead of sleeping, the question pulled me up short.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
* * * *
Rewind nine months to November, when I sat in an East Atlanta pasta shop with my friend Gisele.
“So I’ve been thinking I don’t want to just get another advertising job. I think…I think maybe I want to teach English. Overseas. Like, maybe Korea.”
It was the first time I’d said it out loud. At the time, I was going on a month of unemployment, having been recently laid off from my last copywriting gig.
And as the words were coming out, I was kicking myself for not keeping them in. I knew that if I put them out there I’d eventually have to back them up, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. Unfortunately, I have never, in my entire life, been able to keep a secret.
It had been a week, maybe two, since the idea of teaching overseas had come up during another lunch date with another friend. A week, maybe two, since I’d said “That sounds like an interesting idea. I’ll definitely think about it.” I thought I had no intention of actually thinking about it. But as it turned out, I’d been able to think of little else.
It had been nice to daydream about. It was the only post-layoff prospect that didn’t depress me. Rather than trolling the ad industry for another job, I could become a world traveler. I could be brave and capable and come back a conqueror — and wouldn’t that just show everyone?
Not too shabby, as fantasies go.
But I mostly believed that it would stay a fantasy. After all, I knew myself. My eyes have been bigger than my stomach my entire life. This kind of bravery is not in my everyday wardrobe. I knew I’d back down when reality caught up with me. I expected this — maybe even hoped for it a little.
Thing is, once you say something out loud, your options change.
Korea became what my friends and I talked about all the time. Now, instead of “How’s the job search going?” they asked “Have you learned anything new about Korea?” The first question was depressing; the second was empowering. So I ran with it. I tried to always have a new answer to that question. I researched ESL job postings online. I found a recruiter. I memorized the time difference between Atlanta and Seoul. Working on Korea became my full-time job. Their approving nods were my salary.
And somewhere in there, the idea morphed from a fantasy into a possibility. And from a possibility into a likelihood. And from a likelihood into a plane ticket.
Because as I raced to meet their expectations, I discovered that I’d unexpectedly been feeding my own. That’s what happens when you say your ideas out loud to people: One way or another, the world is going to make you put your money where your mouth is.
What I mean is, once you’ve told people about your super brilliant ideas, those people are going to expect you to make those brilliant ideas into brilliant realities — or to have a darn good reason why not.
Having to be accountable to everyone within earshot might seem like a reason to keep your ideas to yourself. To not share things that could turn out scary or challenging. But let me tell you why I feel the opposite.
I have trouble self-starting. When I only have myself to answer to, I’m amazing at finding ways to say “good enough.” By involving the people around me in this fantasy-turned-likelihood, I found incentive to make myself push forward. Because if I didn’t, I would have to look more than one person in the eye and explain why I stopped trying.
They got me rolling the ball. And eventually I realized I wanted to keep it rolling, even when they weren’t around anymore.
Some people would have a problem with that explanation. You should do your own thing and not care what other people think, they’d say. And they’d be right, to an extent. But sometimes you have to recognize that being a loner might be holding you back. Sometimes the eyes of others are the fuel you need to take on a challenge. Sometimes meeting their expectations prepares you to exceed your own.
* * * *
So, fast forward back to that gate at San Francisco International.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
I looked out the window and watched airplanes taking off. I thought about how much work goes into getting a plane off the ground, how a huge group of people have to work at refueling and cleaning and tuning up before the machine is ready. And yet, in the end, it comes down to one pilot pushing one throttle forward at the right moment — and defying gravity.
I looked back at my monitor, took a deep breath, and clicked “Yes.”