Throughout my life, I have been a fairly confident person. If you know me, you know I can meet new people, speak to large groups and share my ideas and opinions with others.
But my confidence was not prepared for living in a country where the first language is not the same as mine.
On our first night in Zagreb, Bret asked if I wanted to go out in the city the next day while he was at work. I stalled, saying I was a bit nervous about it.
Well, let me be completely honest with you: I was petrified.
Bret and I had explored the city together, but he was my crutch. He can speak the language, and he was able to practice in the cabs, at the stores and in the restaurants. Although most people in Zagreb speak English, I was still afraid to go out without him.
So Bret and I sat down and looked up the closest store to our house. It was up the hill, only a 20-minute walk away. Nothing crazy, right?
But I was so nervous. To make the goal more concrete, I announced to Bret, “Ok! It’s going on my to-do list.” I made a show of writing it down and smiling up at him. That note means I have to go.
The next morning, I spent my time completing little tasks around the house. Stalling, basically. It might rain, I told myself. Just when I was about to leave the house I decided instead to lay on the couch and relax. As I guessed I would, I took a little nap. Crap.
I woke up an hour later and almost procrastinated again.
Without giving myself another second to think, I put on my tennis shoes and jacket. I filled my pockets with kuna (Croatian money), my keys and phone. Then I walked out the door.
Before I knew it, I was walking up the hill. After about five minutes, the sun came out and I was sweating bullets. I think half of that was just my nerves, but to be fair my legs were burning as I made my way up the hill. Exercise, hooray!
Slowly, my anxiety dripped away and my confidence began to build. With each person I passed, I said, “Dobar dan! (Good day)!” And guess what? Everyone returned the greeting.
Once I arrived at the store (tired and sweaty), I was greeted by two old men sitting outside the store. I replied, “Dobar dan!”
One of the men then began speaking to me in Croatian, and I had to meekly say, “Ne govorim hrvatski (I don’t speak Croatian).”
He laughed and said, “Ok!” with the “ok” hand sign.
Feeling happy, I walked up to the door and found that the door wouldn’t open. Did they close for lunch? I pulled again with no luck. The old man then said, “Push!”
Embarrassed and laughing, I pushed and the door opened. I turned back to the man and said, “Hvala! (Thank you)!”
That is the trick with confidence, right? You make mistakes and feel anxious, but you have to put yourself out there in order to grow. If I had not taken my first step alone, I would have stunted my own personal growth.
Now, I hope you do not think I have my confidence yet. That will take more time and experience. In the next few weeks, I plan on taking Croatian language classes and exploring the city more on my own.
You are never too old to learn something new and become confident in a new area. All it takes is some practice and that first step out the door. Sretno! (Good Luck)!