One of the most valuable lessons one can learn during the transition from childhood to adulthood is to accept and appreciate uncertainty, rather than fear it. For some, this is easier said than done; after all, growing up in a society that tends to punish risk-taking behavior for the mere possibility, or danger, of failure, one tends to grow rather averse to the thought of sticking one’s neck out.
For many years, I too held a fear of uncertainty that sometimes bordered on neurosis. However, as I’ve managed to say in one form or another on many occasions in the past, there’s a lot to be said for having the courage to throw yourself into potentially embarrassing and/or (dare I say it) dangerous situations. This has been something to which I’ve borne witness a number of times over the years, the most recent having occurred last November during a semester abroad in Japan, specifically while on a weekend trip to Tokyo, where I had a sort of epiphany in the middle of the Tokyo Disney Resort.
It was an interesting confluence of events that led to my revelation: After hearing stories from some of my fellow international students about their weekend-long trips to Okinawa, Hiroshima and South Korea, I made a snap decision to spend a weekend in Tokyo. Unfortunately, no one wanted to accompany me on such short notice, so I decided to go alone. In hindsight, this was a mistake because in the interest of saving money on hotel accommodations, I inadvertently booked two nights at a cheap capsule hotel (think a cubbie you can sleep in) right in the middle of the reddest of Japan’s red light districts, Kabukichō. Being a lone tourist in a dodgy part of a big city, I was heckled at by a number of shady nightclub promoters eager to rope bumbling foreigners such as myself into situations that I’ll leave to the reader’s imagination.
Freaked out as I was by the barrage of club promotions, I decided to go through with my visit to Tokyo anyway, despite it being a notably chilly weekend when I forgot to pack a sweatshirt. Long story short, after a long day of aimlessly wandering around Tokyo’s Shibuya district and a last-minute decision to visit Tokyo Disneyland, I found myself standing (cold, tired and on the verge of tears) in the middle of Tokyo DisneySea’s Mediterranean Harbor when I came to a realization.
All my life, I had wanted to visit Japan. All throughout my time in Japan, I had wanted to visit Tokyo. And while in Tokyo, one of the places I’d wanted to visit the most was Tokyo Disneyland.
Even after the travel mishaps, the hotel shenanigans and forgetting to pack a sweatshirt, I still managed to do what I set out to do. Every decision, every reaction and every obstacle I’d endured had led to this. In one singular moment, I was reminded why I went to Tokyo, why I studied in Japan, and why I even bother getting up in the morning: To experience moments of rapture like that one. That one fleeting moment was worth every penny and then some.
As much as that may sound like a bunch of crystal-gripping, New Age hippie nonsense, it has its base in cognitive science: Much has been written concerning the impact of a varied and stimulating environment on one’s neurodevelopment, with specific emphasis on what Abraham Maslow calls “peak experiences,” which he describes as being “moments of highest happiness and fulfillment” that do wonders for one’s psychological health.
But this isn’t intended to be an ad for international study, so let me say this: the moment of rapture I experienced had less to do with my physical location than it did my willingness to take risks. Awe-inspiring things can happen when one sticks his or her neck out from time to time, things that are by definition not 100 percent certain. Only by relinquishing our fears of uncertainty can we truly experience moments of happiness and fulfillment.
I feel like a broken record when I say this, but I’ll say it nonetheless: You must not let fear rule your life. Go out on a limb and do something exciting with your life. If you’ve ever needed permission to do so, you hereby have my blessing.
Just try and stay out of red light districts, if you can help it. And remember to pack a hoodie, or two, just in case.