Most people have known me to be a very shy girl, but I don’t actually believe that. I don’t think I am extremely shy, but the majority of my life I have felt extremely insecure and unconfident in my abilities to achieve anything. I questioned my every move with a “Why would anybody care?” and a “Who are you even anyway?”. It destroyed my confidence and I willingly accepted the label of the ‘shy girl’ and sat quietly in my school desk – letting someone else more important take the lead – while I did my work. I became a very good observer and noticed how sometimes the loudest people were also insecure – they were making noise because they just didn’t know what else to do.
I didn’t trust people easily and only grew more confident around people I knew very well. Only in the last few years of high school did I feel comfortable enough to actually contribute in class discussions – I finally felt worthy. But high school ended and, a week after I graduated, I got on a plane for the first time in my life and flew solo to Hong Kong. Not the easiest first flight ever. I remember being stuck in my seat on my twelve hour flight, too afraid to get up to go to the bathroom, because I knew everyone was going to look at me. It seems so pathetic now but I was scared to death!
My first six months in China completely changed that. As you might have noticed, China is the most densely populated country in the world. I attracted a lot of attention just by walking down the streets, foreigners aren’t that common and stick out like a sour thumb, and I had to deal with stares, pointing and even people taking pictures of me. In the first two months I was just an anxiety attack waiting to happen – everything was just too much – but after those two months something remarkable happened… I became more comfortable and more confident. It was as if someone had thrown me into the deep side of the pool and at first I thought I was drowning, but then I suddenly realised that if I just stayed calm and treaded the water, I would be able to stay afloat.
I realize now that I had decided to take control of my life. So what if I’m doing something completely different from what my high school friends were doing? It was MY life, MY adventure and MY journey. Whether it sucked or was fantastic all depended on me. I made a promise to myself that whenever I was too scared to do something, I had to do it. It forced me out of my comfort zone and I realised that I liked doing things that made me uncomfortable, because they ended up being wonderful and enriching experiences! Whenever I caught myself thinking “Who am I even anyway?”, I would reply to myself “I am Saskia Watson and I matter”. It boosted my self confidence immensely and I started to believe in that mantra. I learned how to travel by myself in a country where I couldn’t speak or read the language and usually had to ask strangers for help. Everyone was always friendly and I made so many new friends that I currently miss so much.
I felt like a new person. I was happy and confident and the world could see it. I walked with my head held high and a spring in my step. (Not always a good thing though, I was once walking down a busy street and didn’t watch where I was stepping; I tripped and face planted into the sidewalk! I just laughed it off with the people that helped me up.) I felt like I was discovering myself and I loved every single minute of it!
My stay in China taught me how to be happy and self confident again, and I will always be grateful for the life lessons it taught me. When I flew back to South Africa, I was super relaxed and walked up and down the plane, without giving a thought of how people were looking at me. I was waiting outside the restroom with a woman and her daughter and we chatted for about half an hour – it turned out that she was the wife of the pilot! She was such a delightful and kind person to talk to, and I wouldn’t even have met her if this had happened six months earlier.
To everyone reading this: please know that you matter. You might feel like you’re drowning but if you just stay calm you will soon learn how to tread water.