What Are We So Afraid Of?

Did you know that when you get thrown off of a train in France, they don’t wait until they reach the next station to kick you out? 

It’s true. I was backpacking through Europe in my early 20s – I had a Euro-rail pass, but a ticket was still required for each train trip. The trip I was trying to take – from Paris to Barcelona – was sold out. I needed to get there to stay on my schedule (which admittedly was a pretty loose schedule), so I – along with my traveling companion and two random people in the same situation – decided to sneak onto the train. We spread sleeping bags out in an empty car and sometime in the middle of the night some train guards opened the door. After questioning us (not very successful for them, since none of us spoke French) and examining our passports, they tried to extort us (saying something like we could stay on the train if we gave them $400 – um, don’t they know that people who have bribe money don’t usually need to sneak on trains). When we refused, they stopped the train and kicked us off right there. It was on the top of a steep hill (we had to throw our backpacks down first) and it was about 3AM, somewhere in France. But, I wasn’t afraid. I’m not sure why – I just knew that everything would turn out fine.

Over the years, I’ve had very scary things happen that didn’t bother me, and seemingly small things that have scared the shit out of me. I’ve stayed up worrying over things that weren’t that big a deal and I’ve taken pretty big risks that didn’t faze me in the least. So, it seems like actual fear doesn’t necessarily correlate to what looks scary on paper or to the actual associated danger. That seems weird, right? So I think that what makes us afraid isn’t necessarily the event taking place, but our perception of it.

So what do we perceive happening that is so scary? I think this is different for everyone; but after giving this a lot of thought, I think a lot can be boiled down to this: the more we have the more we have to lose. When I was hitchhiking in God-Knows-Where France in the middle of the night (so glad my mom isn’t reading this haha), I didn’t have a family to take care of, I didn’t own a home, I didn’t have a retirement plan or probably even health insurance. If I had a job I hated, I would just quit knowing that I could easily wait table until I found something I liked. Now, with a family to support, I don’t feel I have that luxury. My kids, especially my oldest with special needs, are depending on me for food, shelter, and medicine. So, I guess that my “more” is mostly about my family (though of course at least some is material that I’ve gotten used to and would hate to give up).

So, what can we do to change our perceptions and reduce our stress and fear? One way is to play the Worst Case Scenario game – where you take your fear and say “okay, if that actually happened, the worst result would be…” – and this is supposed to make you see that your fear isn’t really as bad as you think, that everything would turn out okay. But sometimes it doesn’t right? Your worst case could be living in homeless shelter with your children, or on the streets. Another thing you can do is listen to the advice of the Serenity Prayer (to have the serenity to accept what we can’t change, the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference). I think this is really helpful because a lot of times we can change our situation (we just don’t have the balls to do it – but that comes down to fear too, right?) and when we can’t we should leave it in the hands of God or the Universe or whatever we believe in (but that’s pretty scary too – if we seriously are at a desperate end and have no way to change it). I think a third option (or maybe an option to do together with the other two) is to look at your fear as an adventure. Think about your favorite character in a novel or TV show or movie – that person certainly had some adversity s/he faced (and hopefully overcame!). The movie would have been very boring otherwise. And you aren’t boring! You have to have some adversity in your life as a part of your story – to make it interesting, to show the real you, and to truly tell YOUR story. Instead of being afraid, think of how this story is going to go down in a way that can make you like that favorite character.

In case you were wondering about France, we all got picked up in a car by some really cool people coming back from the bar (I’m sure they were great drivers!). France was the host of the  World Cup that year and the random people I met on the train had a lot of World Cup paraphernalia that they gave to our drivers, so they loved us. They dropped us at the next train station and the cost of the ticket to Barcelona was something like 3 US dollars (definitely making it worth not paying the $400 bribe). As a bonus, one of the conductors on our train was one of the guys who threw us off of the other (I swear! Crazy, right?) – he was so pissed off to see us the train!

It isn’t easy to overcome our fears – to get out of our own heads and the doubts in our minds. But, if we can learn to look at each concern as an adventure on our life’s journey, it can make it them a little less scary.

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