How I Karate-Chopped Fear to Live a Life of Ridiculous Adventure

BY Heather Thorkelson        May 13, 2016

When I emerged that first day from the stairs of the Tokyo subway onto a teeming street corner, I felt my stomachheartliverkidneys in my throat.  I had no idea where I was going and everything looked the same.

I felt exposed.


As a 19 year old kid with nothing but a backpack, a few thousand bucks, and a long history of severe social anxiety, I was paralyzed.

Was I nuts?

How would I ever find housing, a job, friends, or even food when I couldn’t even take more than two steps in this hive of a city without feeling like I was going to throw up from fear?  But the ‘how’ was quickly silenced as I turned my attention to the neon sign I had fastened above the door in my brain:

This is my destiny.

My entire life I had been terrified of well… everything.  As a kid, I remember my sisters asking me to go get more ketchup from the lady (teenager) at the counter in MacDonald’s and feeling paralyzed by the thought of interacting with a stranger.  When I was older, I would only walk to places I was familiar with – A to B in a straight line – and usually with headphones on so I wouldn’t be forced to interact with strangers.

Combine that version of me with a total disintegration of my family during my early teens and moving with my wholly neglectful father to Central America when I was 14, cutting me off from nearly all family and friends in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and you’ve got a terrified hot mess.

For years I found ways to cope… throwing myself into school, hiding behind alcohol in social scenarios, anything I could do to either be invisible or fake courage.  By university I had become extremely depressed.

Many days I didn’t want to get out of bed.

Many times I wondered how I would ever find my way.

Most of the time I felt completely out of control of my own life.  Like I was going through the motions on the road to nowhere.

About halfway through my second year at Uni I maxed out my $500-limit credit card and bought a flight to see my best friend in Manchester, England to try and bring some kind of joy into my bleak, small existence. (A to B + friend waiting for me when I got there = safe.)

While there, I found myself arguing about politics over other people’s heads in a late night kebab shop with some guy sporting a leather jacket and an intellect that knocked my socks off.  We hung out again the next night, and the next, as he regaled me with stories of sleeping on benches in South East Asia and general adventuring in places unknown… adventure my soul longed for but was too broke and too shy to do anything about.

On the plane ride home, I was inconsolable.  Tears streaming quietly down my face, my body shuddering through muted sobs as I stared out the window at the sunset on the vast horizon. I had been cracked wide open.  Something had shifted.  I couldn’t go back to the lonely, disempowered prison I had let myself live in for most of my life.  I knew I was meant for so much more.

Dropping out of university and throwing myself into the most foreign environment I could think of was how I decided to re-write my story.

I was tired of being ruled by doubt.

I was sick of living small.

I was over feeling alone in the world and decided the best way to find my place, my courage, was to go and chase the hell out of it, karate chopping my fears along the way.

I don’t remember exactly how I chose Japan as the location where I would reboot everything, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that it seemed like the kind of place that would challenge every fear and every limit I had been living with.  I purposely went with no job and no housing lined up, because I needed to prove to myself that I was capable.  I already knew I could survive my inner demons, now I needed to survive the outside world on my own.  I didn’t want to play it safe anymore, I didn’t want anyone handing me stuff on a platter, I didn’t want to live by anyone else’s rules.

I wanted choice.

I wanted freedom.

I wanted the order and peace that comes only when you are 100% the master of your own fate.

I didn’t die on the street corner in Tokyo, even though the possibility felt real on that pivotal day, and in the weeks and months ahead. Rather, I chose life and adventure. After finding my way to a small(ish) seaside city, I was unexpectedly welcomed into the first-ever cohesive family unit I had ever known, learned that personality goes a long way as a general life skill, and that happiness and success are mine to define.

Since then I have traveled to all 7 continents, over 46 countries and lived in 7 different ones besides my own. I’ve jumped out of airplanes and dived with sharks (in Africa, and no cage, y’all).  I’ve sailed across the South China Sea on a Chinese working ship and slept near the foot of Everest.  I’ve lounged deep in the Ugandan jungle with a family of mountain gorillas, sailed across the world’s roughest ocean passage and been to Antarctica 21 times. Yes, twenty-one times. Facing my fears head-on had set my adventuring soul free.

Since then, everything about who I am, how I live, the way I run my business and help my clients, is rooted in freedom.  Everything.

Freedom from the cages we construct for ourselves, both physically and mentally.

Freedom from old or ‘common sense’ ways of thinking.

Freedom to access the courage it takes to become all that we want to be in this life, and accepting nothing less.


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Heather Thorkelson

Heather Thorkelson is a location independent business strategist and serial entrepreneur. She spends her time helping creative souls all over the world build livelihoods that support their own personal version of freedom, outside of the traditional rat race, with proven practical tools and mindset strategies. Follow her on Instagram or Facebook to see where she’s at, and what she’s creating to help you achieve your own Republic of Freedom.

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