Keep Your Eye on the Prize to Find the Courage to Keep Going

Red Sunset

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt 

I will never forget June 20, 1999.

I experienced many firsts on that day: leaving my family behind, traveling by plane, and being surrounded by people talking a different language.

But that day wasn't exceptional for those reasons alone; it also put me on a path of independence and self-discovery that has treated me well ever since.

My dream was simple in my teens: to live abroad and speak a foreign language.

I wanted this because of the hardships of my childhood in Hungary and my desire for a better life. I picked up the philosophy early on around me—put up with what you have because things won't get better, and you may as well accept that.

I did that mostly, but something pulled me back to my dream.

So after I left school, I saved up and contacted an employment agent who found a placement for me with an English family.

I was happy, but my friends thought differently. They asked, “Why would you want to go on your own, being so naïve, socially awkward, and barely understanding the language? What if there was a problem?”

I knew they were right. I had those exact fears.

But my mind was made up; I could not entertain the idea that something might go wrong. I was raring to go.

Saying goodbye to my father at the airport was the toughest part. He faithfully carried my suitcase to check in, but we were both uncertain what would happen after our parting.

Whatever awaited me at the other end, I knew I had to face it.

After landing in London, I travelled 200 miles by coach to a sleepy little village to meet the new family. My mind kept switching back and forth between anxiety and excitement. I couldn't wait to start out on a new adventure, but I was equally aware I’d just left behind everything familiar.

I was counting down the minutes.

What would they be like? Would they have a sign with my name on like in the movies? Will they like my gifts?

By the time the coach rolled into the station, it was already dark.

I grabbed my worldly possessions, scanned the waiting area to see if a family vaguely resembling the description I was given was there. But nobody was there. No boards with my name or curious children and a happy mother pleased to meet me.

The agent specifically said they would be there. I just had to arrive and everything would be taken care of. Perhaps they were held up?

I waited. And waited. Where were they?

Then reality struck—no one was coming.

The time was close to midnight by then; I had to do something, as the station was closing.

I plucked up the courage and approached an attendant explaining in my limited English what I was doing there. I showed him the letter from the family, which showed their phone number and address.

He dialed the number but to no avail. Then he suggested I try a taxi instead, as I could not stay there. I was on the move again. I could see some relief now. Whatever their reason for not picking me up, everything would be resolved soon.

We reached our destination, a quaint suburban house. The driver helped me with my suitcase (after duly pocketing the taxi fare—leaving me with very little money) and rang the bell.

No answer. I tried again by knocking on the door. Nothing. He found a stick and banged on one of the windows, but still, no sign of life from the house.

He was getting agitated. He wanted to go home; he'd done his duty. I was not his responsibility, and so he left me there, without a solution.

My mind was racing. What am I to do now? And where are these people? They are the only link I have to this country, and I cannot even so much as find them?

I felt truly stranded, terrified, and alone like never before.

I went around back to their garden and the only thing I could think of was to sleep on the garden bench. It was summer but I shivered like a leaf.

As the sun came up, I decided to call home and speak to my father. He was in utter disbelief, demanding I come home immediately.

Then I contacted the agent whose frosty reply cut through me: “I’m sorry but I cannot help you from here!”

I returned to the house as the sun was breaking. This time I heard noises from inside. I was banging on the door like my life depended on it. Finally it opened up.

And there she was, looking at me surprised. I trembled as I showed her the letter, and she said they were not expecting me for another week! To this day, I have no idea why she never opened the door the day before. I slept ten hours straight that afternoon.

At long last I felt some kind of beginning to my new life. I had a roof over my head and people to look out for me.

Or so I thought.

We didn’t connect from the start. Without knowing the language, I sensed our moral ground was a galaxy apart. She was barely in the house, and when she was, she gave curt orders without kindness or structure. She also completely forgot about feeding me and paying my wages.

I wanted to get away as quickly as I could. I had to spend another four weeks in that household before I was placed with a new family. 

What a contrast from the previous place! The family lived in a spacious home in a nice area of London. The three children were under five, and we got along well from the start. And learning English from them was easier, having similar levels of comprehension.

For the first time ever, I was introduced to a formal routine where I knew exactly what to do each day. Looking back, this was an unexpected bonus; I learned the value of having a daily structure. This one habit still saves my skin each day.

They took me to all sorts of places—posh weddings and foreign holidays. I also had this amazing city at my fingertips waiting to be discovered.

World famous sights—sights I'd always wanted to see—were now an underground trip away. I also met people from many different backgrounds, which allowed me to gain a glimpse into other cultures—something I never would have experienced had I stayed at home.

My English adventure had begun.

From then on, everything fell into place and I gradually achieved all the goals I set myself before I left home.

Nowadays, I dream in English. I keep studying and improving myself not only professionally but also personally. I could have very well turned back during those first few weeks, but without that I wouldn't be who, or where, I am today.

I truly believe I needed to go through that trial by fire to prove to myself what I was capable of under my own steam. Yes, it was painful and emotionally trying, but isn't that all part of learning and growing to be a better person?

How to Keep Going (When All You Want to Do is Turn Back)

Sometimes we must put up with uncomfortable parts of our lives, because what we label as “problems” might be opportunities in disguise—opportunities that help us get over the darkest of times.

Even when we feel like fleeing and giving up at the first hurdle, doing so would be unwise.

Sure, we may get knocked down a hundred times, but if something is worth achieving in life, we must endure some bitterness—not least because we owe it to the younger versions of ourselves who were so determined at the beginning. To them, anything was possible.

Continuing on is easier if we have the rewards in sight and recognize the hiccups as a part of the journey. They are signs we are heading in the right direction.

Sadly, dreams only remains dreams to most, but if we have the courage to begin and see them through tough times, they become reality.

So jump in with both feet and don't worry what might happen next. The answers are within you.

Photo by gizelle rivera

About Ash Pembroke

Ash Pembroke is the founder of where she shares her insights on how to recover from low self esteem, in order to live our potential. Follow her at

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