It was a two-hour drive to Cape Reinga for the start of #WalkNZ, my 3,000km solo walking adventure along the Te Araroa trail down the length of New Zealand.
Dad drove. Mum sat up front. I took the backseat, staring out the window as a diverse landscape whizzed past the car windows.
Thoughts also whizzed through my head.
Thoughts that asked me what I was doing, what I hoped to prove. Thoughts that questioned my sanity, my physical and mental ability.
Thoughts that probed to the depths of my soul about whether I was really ready and good enough to take on this epic trail all by myself, with no experience and extremely limited training.
I was scared. Petrified of failing and doubting everything.
And then the what ifs started – what if I got caught by the high tide and I got stranded and couldn’t get to the campsite tonight? What if I got lost? What if I couldn’t put my tent up by myself or it blew away? What if there was no water supply at the campsite? What if I couldn’t get my camp stove to work? What if I’m totally out of my depth? What if, what if, what if…
I could feel the panic and anxiety starting to build inside me.
I pushed away the thought that it wasn’t too late to say no, to turn around, go back to my safe, normal quiet life, back to my comfort zone.
No, I couldn’t succumb to those negative thoughts that told me I couldn’t do this. They had held me back from starting the trail for two years already.
I sat in the back of the car, my insides in turmoil, the anticipation building.
And then the northern tip of New Zealand came into view. Starting was imminent. I broke out in a cold sweat.
My parents and I stood at the start of the trail, a cliff-top path that zigzagged down to the golden beach below where waves crashed against the sand and the sun turned the ocean to a million diamonds.
My heart pounded in my throat as it tried to escape my body, while my mind was a blur of horrendous future scenarios.
And then I took my first step.
A first step on an uncertain trail; a leap of faith into the unknown.
The hardest step of all.
The second step followed, and soon my legs were moving forward on their own accord, moving towards a destination I couldn’t see, on a journey that hadn’t yet been written.
I turned back to wave to my parents. They were spots in the distance. I was surprised I’d already travelled so far.
I had started.
But more interesting, was that my mind had calmed. The worries, the doubts, the anxiety, the what ifs – they had all evaporated as I stepped over the threshold into adventure.
With each step away from the start line, a new future unfurled in front of me – not one that pandered to my fears and doubts and worst-case imaginings; but one that promised possibilities, opportunities, and stories. One that overcame challenges. One that was exciting and beautiful and epic.
I was living and breathing adventure. I was living and breathing my dream.
The what ifs didn’t matter now. I was in the zone. All that mattered was the here and now, the very process of putting one foot in front of the other, and slowly inching closer to a destination.
Starting is the hardest part
Starting is always the hardest part. With nothing else to focus on, the mind has free range, twisting into the hidden corners of our brain to reveal our greatest fears and worries and pushing them towards daylight.
Suddenly there is a fountain of bountiful excuses as to why we can’t do something, why we’re not ready or why we’re just not good enough.
A lot of the time we listen to them and believe them. We are scared. What if everything we fear and doubt will come true?
We hold back from taking that step over the starting line.
It’s a massive mental mountain to climb, a gaping black cavern to plunge into, so we stand on the edge and dither. But what if what we feared didn’t exist on the other side of that start line?
There is no real secret to taking the first step. We don’t need to find confidence or courage or be armed to the hilt with preparation and knowledge.
I walked off into the unknown, unfit with only a vague memory of how to put my tent up and an intense phobia of toileting in the wild. I didn’t have any superpowers. I didn’t wave a magic wand.
But I knew that as soon as I started, as soon as I crossed that start line, my worries would disappear because my mindset would change. I would no longer be worrying about the future; I would be focusing on now. And, in fact, I knew I would wonder what all the fuss was about, why I wasted so much mental energy on thinking and worrying about things that only existed at that time in my head.
That’s the thing about our thoughts. They feel real and true. But they are just made-up stories we tell ourselves about the future or the past, and use them to give life to our hopes and dreams and fears.
The only secret to starting is knowing all this – knowing that the hard part is that moment before taking the plunge when we’re all up in our heads; knowing that once that step is taken there is a world of freedom and excitement waiting for us; knowing that everything we fear and doubt is in our heads and is about a future that doesn’t yet exist and can certainly not be predicted.
Knowing all that is the spark of momentum to lean forward and embrace the what ifs.
Because what if magic, success and happiness lived on the other side of the start line? Wouldn’t you want to find out?