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Silvia Mihailescu

Communications Leader

Bucharest, Romania

They say 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' but they never add that you should seek out situations that help you get stronger.

In 2010 my employer selected me to volunteer in Sri Lanka. I knew little about the country except that it was previously called Ceylon, was famous for its cinnamon and was disrupted by a long civil war. It was a great experience for someone travelling to Asia for her very first time, and it was 100% worth getting all those shots and malaria pills to stay safe while discovering the culture and people on the magical island. But my story is not about that assignment, nor my volunteering project there.

The following year I went back to Sri Lanka. I had great friends to return to and still so many "lassana" ("beautiful" in Singhalese) places to discover. I also had the money to go back thanks to the best wedding present ever from my husband!

The day after I landed we hit the jungle. I like to think I am brave and I often lean in to things that are beyond my power, comfort zone or control because my mind tells me I can manage. But being alone with my Sri Lankan friend in the jungle was absolutely scary.

I got more and more frightened hearing all the noises the wild animals made. Our cell phone wasn't working, the next village was far away and I didn't know the territory. The noises moved closer and closer and when something hit our glass door, I felt my heart pumping like never before. Suddently my sweat was cold and all I could think of was: rapists, Tamil rebels planning for a kill (I read a lot of Sri Lankan books so the scenario seemed realistic).

I have never felt a bigger fear, growing and growing until I could no longer take it. I wanted to cry, to teleport myself home. I couldn't stop asking myself, "How could you actually come here? Your friend is unarmed and he can't protect you! If you shout nobody will hear it!" All these bad things came to my mind and one thought was feeding the other, over and over again. My only hope was to see the daylight and tell my friend that I couldn't manage and needed to go home.

I was already awake when he woke up and asked if I was ok. All I could say was "let's go for a safari" and smile. He replied that he was afraid I may want to go home. The second night was also bad, but afterwards we moved to beaches, parks, ancient cities and other places and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

There is no standard turning point, no time or place when we should or should not lean in. I never expected that my greatest moment of fear would bear such a natural attitude towards embracing challenge. They say "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but they never add that you should seek out situations that help you get stronger. I am now voluntarily looking for experiences and people what will get me to lean in and discover new things about myself and that will help me grow and shape my personality to become a better Silvia.

What's the next thing you're going to challenge yourself with?