I am so, so excited for this specific contributor to the blog! I met Courtney on a trip to Mexico with The Boudoir Divas last year, and I am consistently blown away by her amazing life. Courtney is quiet and maybe more shy, but she was a cheerleader through the entire trip (and expert at stealthily capturing shoots on IG stories), and we continue to cheer on each other since then. I love how Courtney is a bad ass in both her career, and off the clock! I know you’ll be just as awed and inspired by her story (I knew it was a risk approaching her to share, and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED that she decided to)! -S
For the longest time, I wanted to travel internationally. When I was a kid, my family took a couple international trips, but as an adult, I pretty much never took a “vacation” anywhere. I was all-work, no-play until I was forced to take some vacation time from work. One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to travel alone. It’s just not right for me. Originally I hoped to travel with a significant other—which I did not have. My close friends weren’t up for it due to money constraints or major life events, so I felt like I had no options. Then I came across a women’s travel group and the promotional email said “Want to come with me to Greece?” to which my internal response was, “ummm YEAH.”
The beauty of this women’s travel group was that everything was pre-planned and all the logistics were taken care of. All I needed to do was get myself to and from Athens. No problem, right? Well something you might need to know about me is that I’m an introverted over-planner with anxiety. For me, even small domestic trips that I’ve done a million times (i.e. flying to the Midwest to see my family) still cause me anxiety. It’s a perpetual molehills-into-mountains scenario at every turn. While I’ve been working very diligently to keep this under control, I’ve also needed to rely on others for help or encouragement. Getting outside of my comfort zone can be especially difficult for me, and those few cheerleaders in my life have made all the difference.
Despite my anxiety (and lots of stress crying), I had an amazing time in Greece and met so many wonderful women, some of which I traveled with again to Italy, Rwanda and Peru. My trip to Rwanda was considerably more difficult, and that was my first time traveling to a third world country. I had a meltdown about a week prior to the trip, and I lost sleep over access to drinkable water. While still a challenge, Rwanda was such a memorable trip because it’s absolutely lovely and home to beautiful animals and enlightened and compassionate people. Through this women’s travel group, I’ve gone places and done things I never would’ve dreamed of. A few years ago, I never would have thought that I’d hike Machu Picchu, see a jaguar in the Amazon jungle or go on a mountain gorilla trek. Travel has truly changed my world.
Recently, my job has brought me face-to-face with new anxiety-ridden adventures which have pushed my comfort zone more than ever. I’m an aerospace engineer for the US Navy (I’m a civilian), specifically working flight test for fighter aircraft (F-35, F/A-18, and T-45). A couple years ago, my job required me to live on a small-deck aircraft carrier for a month in support of our project. I spent MONTHS preparing for that environment because I was so nervous about it. High-sea states, unpredictable temperatures, less-than-ideal working and living conditions, and literally nowhere to hide from your coworkers; it was an introverted anxious girl’s worst nightmare. But I made it through the other side and coming home after that project felt like an amazing success, professionally and personally.
Then came the potential pinnacle of my career: flying in the backseat of an F/A-18. This is a special program within my organization to allow flight test engineers, like me, to understand first-hand what the pilots experience in the aircraft. This allows us to have more perspective and, overall, be better engineers and testers. This opportunity does not come easily. We go through medical qualification, then a survival swimming course, which is no joke (this link is a good explanation), amongst other hurdles –all of which were significant challenges for me, mentally and physically. The anxiety was REAL.
The thought of flying for the first time was simultaneously awesome and unbelievably anxiety-inducing. Just like my anxiety prior to my international trips, I could barely sleep or eat, I was incredibly tense and inexplicably worried. So much so, that I feared, “oh no, my co-workers are going to see the REAL me, not professional me!” Luckily, I work with the kindest and most helpful Navy and Marine pilots on earth. They stepped me through everything, talked me off the proverbial ledge, and ultimately showed me the absolutely extraordinary environment they thrive in. I like to think that I’m pretty tough, but, in this case especially, I relied on the collective strength of others until I became more comfortable with flying. Because of those awesome pilots, I had an incredible experience, I can do my job better, and I’m truly personally fulfilled because flying in a fighter jet is a childhood dream come true.
My ultimate message is to be scared and do it anyway. As Leslie Knope says: “No one achieves anything alone.” Ask for help. Figure out who you can count on to push you outside of your comfort zone. While I’ll always be the first one to retreat to my safe space, when I’ve stretched beyond my comfort zone I’ve had the opportunity to do awesome things. In my case, travel helped me gain confidence in other areas of my life. My anxiety still exists, but I’ve proved to myself that I can, successfully, take steps to expand my box. Big steps or small steps, every step makes a difference and every step can lead to things you never dreamed possible.
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