We decided to take this trip in 2003 and gave ourselves a few years to save as much money as we thought possible to finance our adventure. In the three years leading up to our departure, I am fairly certain anyone hearing of our project dismissed it as a wild dream. When we handed out our resignation letters, superiors, colleagues and friends were overall impressed and thought us a little cracked pot for it. Who in their right mind would have the audacity of quitting two well-paying jobs and giving away most of their belongings for an uncertain and dangerous life on the road? To state that my immediate family was beside itself with worry is a gross understatement. No insurance company would cover our risk – not even Lonely Planet.
On the road, the voice of fear spoke to us regularly.
Fear: Where are you headed next?
Us: The neighbouring country.
Fear: Oh, be careful out there. You’ll get mugged and left for dead in a ditch.
We heard it in Italy (about Greece), in Greece (about Bulgaria), in Bulgaria (about Romania). Well, you get the point.
For me, learning to shift out of fear happened in Italy on a Sunday evening in mid-Winter, a full month after we’d started from the Gare du Nord in Paris. That morning of February 19th, 2006, we’d packed the saddle bags and mounted our bikes at 9:40 AM. We made a 2-3 hour stop at a laundromat in the Tuscan town of Follonica – to travel on bicycle is to wage constant battle against dirt, grease, and sweat (an exercise in humility if there is one). The laundry done, we accidentally joined a Carnival parade while trying to find our way out of the city. I have this hazy memory of cycling on a closed road bordered by a crowd waiting for the next float to come by. We eventually got on the Strada Provinciale delle Collachie (SP158), a road bordered by park land between Puntone and Roccamare. The magnificent Italian stone pine forest broke the winter winds blowing from the sea.
We’d pitched our tent at an organized campground the night before and it was clear that we’d be wild camping this coming night.
Let me be clear about one thing: I was raised a good rule-following little girl that respected authority. Professionally, I valued order and due process above all else. Camping illegally was not part of my definition of living a “good” life. Pitching our tent in a bush bordering public roads caused me a great deal of anxiety. What if someone found and told us off? Where would we go in the middle of the night? What if someone called the state police or worse, the Carabinieri? We carried no firearm, no drug and no alcohol. In they way of weapons, we owned a few pocketknives for meal preparation. Why I feared an intervention from the fourth branch of the Italian Armed Forces is beyond me – but that is exactly what fear does, it alters perception of reality beyond rationality.
In any case, the sun started to get low around 4 o’clock and it was time to keep our eyes peeled for a suitably inconspicuous spot. The all-too-common ball of fear started to form in my throat. We were approaching a tunnel when Yanick pulled off the paved road and lead us on a dirt path to the top of the tunnel. We found a clearing just large enough for the tent among the tall grasses and shrubs.
The wind was fierce on the overpass and the temperature dipped considerably once the sun disappeared behind the pine canopy. I cooked dinner. We ate without a word – it was hard to hear each other in the howling wind, before putting the tent up in the near-darkness. We would not be visible to anyone bar a helicopter flying by. Yet, the fear of the Carabinieri weighed in my stomach like a brick.I slipped into my sleeping bag, cold and tired after cycling a mere 42 km against side winds at 13 km/hour, when a thought crossed my mind: “I am done with this. Let the Carabinieri come and take us to the station. At least, it’ll be warm.” And like that, I started wishing that they found us. I imagined welcoming them with open arms. I had my back-up plan; The outcome I feared turned into opportunity and I slept like a log until morning.
After facing my fear and finding the opportunity in it, I decided that hope felt a lot better than the brick in the stomach. Every time fear showed its face, I looked for the bright side of my worst-case scenario and felt better; it worked every time. It works to this day.
Explore the worst-case scenario and look for the benefits it offers. There is nothing to fear when there is something to gain.
Embrace curiosity and your inner scientist. Every experience can teach us something, regardless of the outcome. When challenged to adopt an objective view, enlist the help of someone you trust that can provide another perspective.
Anchor yourself in the present moment. Unless you are being held at gunpoint, fear usually stems from past experiences or the unknown of the future. Focussing your attention on the current moment, practicing full engagement will reduce fear.
Take reasonable chances; fearlessness doesn’t have to mean recklessness.
Fear is the elastic band tied to you belt. It is keeping you in your comfort zone and getting in the way of reaching your true potential.
It’s time to cut it off.
Fear in the workplace is often unconscious, rising from tension between organizational culture, “how things are done around here”, and one’s own beliefs and values.
Culture at work defines what success and failure look like, how we relate to each other, how influence and power are gained and manifested.
Fear is born out of a desire for self-protection. It is normal to want to keep what we have and leaders most often fear embarrassment, poor performance, making mistakes, losing position, status or influence.
Learning to shift out of fear (or any other emotion holding you back) is not only liberating, it contributes to create confidence from within, show up more authentically and creating trusting relationships.