When I first told people way back in 2011 that I was going to go on my grown up gap year, the response from quite a few of them was: “You’re so brave, I could never do that.” My reply to that comment was always the same: “Firstly, I’m not brave at all and secondly, you definitely could do it.”
I’m really not a naturally brave person. I’m a huge worrier and my years as a journalist have left me with a bit of a ‘worst case scenario’ personality. It’s something I’m constantly trying to work on and some days I feel like I’ve got a grip on the anxieties that plague me, while other days they just go full-steam ahead whether I like it or not.
But what I’ve always refused to do is let fear hold me back. That’s why I’ve taken deep breaths and walked into clubs where I don’t know anyone else, applied for jobs I secretly think I have no choice of getting and stepped onto planes for solo trips, even though I’m sobbing my eyes out.
Because fear cannot rule you.
And that’s how I found myself in a TV studio yesterday morning, about to be interviewed on Sky News. I’d been asked the previous afternoon to go in to talk about my grown up gap year and why I thought more people in their late 20s and early 30s were choosing to travel. As soon as I was asked to do it the fear kicked in and as I’ve never done a live interview before, I almost turned it down. However, I knew that I would later regret it, so I took a deep breath and said ‘yes’. I then obviously spent the rest of the evening totally stressing and making poor Mr A run through question after question with me.
After a 5am start, a train ride and a taxi, I’d had plenty of time to stress before I arrived at the studio. The weather gods then decided to get in on the act, by soaking me with a sudden downpour as I ran into the studio. I was a complete bundle of nerves by the time I was met by one of the runners and led to the Green Room. Fortunately the lovely makeup artist there took one look at me and leapt into action, covering my deathly pallor and asking the hairdresser to straighten my wind-blown hair.
Before I knew it I was rushed from the Green Room to the studio where a floor manager attached a microphone to me and told me I was going straight on. I didn’t even have time to say hello to the presenters before the questions began!
The actual interview passed in a blur and while people told me later I looked very calm, I was totally shaking on the inside. I hoped that I’d managed to get my points across though and some of my photos were also shown, which was a bonus. At the end of the interview, the presenter asked me to sum up what I’d learnt on the trip and I said it had taught me to be braver. Whenever I’m worried that I can’t do something, I remember that I somehow managed to navigate myself around the world and suddenly it seems more do-able.
As soon as I left the studio and got on the train to work – secretly hoping I didn’t look ridiculous with so much TV make-up trowelled on – I called Mr A and my mum and they both said really lovely, reassuring things about the interview. By the time I hung up, Sky had already posted a clip of my interview on its Twitter feed and I took a deep breath and watched it and actually, it wasn’t as terrible as I’d thought it was going to be. I’d just started to feel reasonably happy about how it had all gone, when I made the mistake of scrolling through the tweets underneath the video and I was instantly dismayed by the comments, which mainly seem to revolve around the themes of me being totally out of touch, me being stupid and ‘obviously’ travelling on daddy’s money.
It was so frustrating to see people who have no idea about my life or who I am judging me and making assumptions about the kind of person I am. Part of me was furious and instantly wanted to respond to every single one, telling them about the three jobs I’d worked through university, or the many money saving things I do every single day in order to be able to travel and the fact that I would never, ever, have asked my parents to give me money to go travelling at the age of 29.
However, I quickly realised that it wasn’t worth it. People who instantly jump to those conclusions are never going to listen and as the saying goes, it’s best not to ‘feed the trolls’.
But it got me thinking about how living a life that is different to the ‘conventional’ sometimes means you have to be brave. Choosing a lifestyle that involves a lot of travel can leave you open to criticism, even from those close to you, but it’s important to follow your own path and be true to yourself, rather than worry about the negative comments of others.
Luckily I also posted the interview on my own social channels and the overwhelmingly lovely response I got back from my family and friends blew me away. People I’d met on my travels got in touch, people I hadn’t spoke to in years congratulated me and I just felt so loved and was so glad I’d made the decision to do the interview.
I’d been thinking about bravery quite a lot yesterday morning and had been half planning this blog post in my head.
And then a terrorist attack hit London.
As the events of the afternoon unfolded, I realised that sitting in a TV studio doing an interview isn’t brave. Running towards danger, while everyone else is running away, is brave; holding a stranger’s hand as they lay injured and bleeding is brave; doing every single thing you can to save someone else’s life is brave.
I was in my office just down the road from Westminster as the news started to come in. We all watched the scenes unfold in silence, as confusing, chaotic, reports began to fill the TV screen.
I’ve always loved Westminster Bridge. I often walk across it during my lunch breaks, dodging the tourists with their big cameras and selfie sticks and I can never quite get over the feeling of how amazing it must be to see Parliament and Big Ben for the very first time. To know that those people, many of whom were on their holidays, school trips or celebrating special moments, were the ones that were targeted makes me feel so sad and angry and helpless.
But this morning as we all return to work in the city we love, we continue to be brave by getting on trains and buses, going to our offices, walking our streets and saying no to fear.
Hopefully most of us are also trying to be a bit more caring, a bit more understanding of our differences and a bit more compassionate about other people’s feelings. Because life is short and life is precious and the bravest thing we can do right now is to try and bring a bit more kindness into this world.