"I could tell you that I laughed so hard I cried…several times"

“Why did you go?”

It’s the first question I’m always asked.

When I left on my own for a woodland camping adventure with 230 other entrepreneurs and career-changers I didn’t know, it certainly did feel like a fairly courageous thing to do.

I really loathed (note the past tense) being on my own in large groups of strangers because I’m an introvert so I find it exhausting and – as I became acutely aware over the weekend – I held some deep fears about being rejected, which I’d never consciously addressed before.

However, I went because my intuition was too strong to ignore.

Escape to the Woods is as a ‘micro-festival for inspiring career change’.  I didn’t actually feel like I needed to be inspired, so I went along with no specific requirements for the weekend, just an overwhelming sense that I was meant to be there.

There’s a lot I could tell you about those two days; how relieved I was to arrive without mishap, that I managed to pitch my tent without embarrassing myself, how I made friends the very fist night and danced until the music stopped, that I laughed so hard I cried…several times.  I could tell you about the amazing speakers and the excellent ‘un-conference’ talks, I could even describe Eiji Han Shimizu’s incredible Sunday Sermon where he guided us through a moving death meditation under a pale blue sky, the sunshine warming our faces, the majority of them wet with tears.

But what I really want to tell you about is fear – or really – what it feels like when you face it.

Because I felt intense fear on the day of my departure and it did cross my mind repeatedly that I could simply not go.  I imagined standing alone for most of the weekend, yet it felt like a vulnerable situation that I needed to endure.  Of course, it wasn’t like that at all; yes, there were moments of overwhelm and of feeling slightly exposed, but most of the time I felt a deep sense of happiness and discovered a beautiful tribe of like-minded people.  For two days I  felt more like myself than I usually do, except for when I’m alone or with the people I love the most in this world.

I can hardly explain the experience of facing a fear in an intense way; it doesn’t feel like your world expands, it feels like youexpand.  Looking back, going to a micro-festival in the woods on my own seems like such a simple thing to do, yet at the time it felt significant.  And whilst it’s not that I suddenly believe I’m invincible, I just feel capable of doing all those thing I’ve ever wanted to try.  I don’t believe you can put a value on that.

It’s not that the negative dialogue that holds us back suddenly dries up when you face your fears.  Instead, you can finally hear the words clearly as they flow through your brain.  But rather than seeking distraction, you welcome the chance to question what you’ve unconsciously always believed about yourself; both the rational and irrational fears, the personal ones and those tied to how you think others may perceive you.  You question the critical assumptions you’ve imposed upon other people, and realise you’ve also been imposing them upon yourself.

It’s been kind of weird working through some of these things, a process of listening, writing, wash, rinse and repeat.  I’ve spent some time wondering why I haven’t dealt with these feelings before, despite all the soul work I’ve already done this year, I guess I just wasn’t ready to acknowledge them.  I believe I’m creating my life from the inside out, which is the right way, even though I’ve still got a lot of work to do.  Discovering limiting self-beliefs is empowering, but it doesn’t make them instantly disappear. But I love the process and how I’ve been led to this next step of my personal growth, as a result I’m also allowing myself to really enjoy being happy, granting myself time for self-care and I’m giving myself permission to play and to dive into passion projects.  I feel like I’m really starting to live how I’m supposed to. And whilst I’m not sure what all of this means, I know it means something.

I really do believe that I was meant to go on that weekend in the woods.  I was due to be in Australia at that time, but things didn’t go as planned.  Yet at the same time, I have a very strong feeling that things turned out exactly as they should.

None of this is what I expected.  I expected to grin and bear my way through the weekend, to hopefully meet a few nice people, to come away with some new ideas and to continue with my life as before, once the weekend was over.

Instead, I have changed.  Now I understand that rather than pushing our deepest fears aside, we are much better off facing them, embracing them and accepting that life only expands when we are prepared to.  Fear feels different to me now, it feels like something to welcome rather than avoid and I’ve done more new things in the past month that I’d previously done all year.

My wish is that by sharing my story from the other side of fear, that it gives you the courage to face your own, and that this becomes your story too.

Escape to the Woods is an annual event. The next one will be held in September 2016 – more information here. This event is a brilliant Escape the City initiative.

Photographs by Dave Cornthwaite
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