Online newspapers are strange animals. Unlike the paper versions that have a different set of articles every day, online outlets show certain pieces with lots of hits for weeks on end, while the less popular/clickable ones can slip out of view in a matter of hours. So you’ll keep seeing the same headline over and over in some cases, and be unable to locate one you saw that morning in others. In this context, there’s one headline that seems to have been up for months, although it’s probably more like weeks, on one of the online newspapers I frequent. It’s about a [presumed, and presumed female] travel writer whose advice for those of us unfortunate enough to have more prosaic lives is that we just need to “get past fear.”
That’s it. That’s the headline. “[Travel writer name] to [us poor schleps]: Get past fear”
I’ve gotten some pretty useless advice in my time (chronic pain sufferers are constantly–constantly–fielding unsolicited medical advice), but “get past fear” takes the prize. First, fear, in and of itself, is a hard-wired evolutionary response that has served us well at the species level for tens of thousands of years. I’m really glad my ancestors never “got past” fear or I might not be around. Second, advice to just “get” past whatever “fear” means to the travel writer is nothing more than a particularly annoying manifestation of an already swollen category of misguided, inadequate life “hacks.” It’s like telling someone to “get past sleep.” Wouldn’t life be amazing if we didn’t have sleep? Think of all the things we could do! All the leisure time we’d have! It would be so freeing!
And it’s about as likely. Get past fear? What does that even mean? Fear of what? In the context of solo travel by a woman, that seems like really, really bad advice. Fear is what makes you careful. Fear is what keeps you from being alone with strange men, from going on a hike out of cell range without telling anyone, from buying LSD from a bartender you just met. What kind of fear is this woman talking about? Fear of not being able to pay your rent? Fear of being kidnapped? Fear of having an emergency in a strange country where you don’t speak the language?
Or is it the “fear” (if I could put more scare quotes around it without looking stupid I would) of “discovering” “who you really are”? And who is even afraid of that anyway? How is it possible to be afraid of something that, let’s be frank here, is all but impossible in any real sense? How much about yourself that’s available as self-knowledge could you not know already, and how much more is likely to be revealed, EatPrayLove-style, by a change of scenery?
It’s not like you will suddenly discover that you are a completely different person. And despite what most marketing executives would like you to believe, it’s not even a real thing, this “new you” that could be brought about by traveling, drinking organic hard seltzer, getting a Peloton, or buying designer clothes at 70% off. (It’s still the same you, just in a different place, buzzed, in more debt, and in a different outfit.) And even if some unexpected self-discovery was out there to be made, how is that a terrifying prospect? Gee, I always thought I was the kind of person who liked sushi but I’ve just realized I’m not. How horrifying! Well, I better make sure not to have any more epiphanies like that one. I barely survived!
Assuming there is some other type of “fear” to get past in this context that has escaped my literalist autistic brain, I sincerely doubt that a simple admonition to “get past” it is all that was missing from the experience. OMG! I just need to get past fear! I wish someone had told me sooner! This is the answer to all my problems!
As an example, here’s a little personal disclosure: I hate large flying bugs. I can handle flies and small moths, but anything over an inch long with wings is scary to me. Maybe not a phobia in the truest sense, but definitely anxiety-inducing discomfort that increases exponentially with the number of said creatures around. The area where I live is a few weeks away from being beset by a once-every-seventeen-years, biblical surfeit of harmless but extremely large and clumsy flying bugs. I’ve got real fear, unfounded as it may be, about this upcoming event. In fact, my heart rate goes up just thinking about it.
According to this travel writer, I just need to “get past” this fear. (Specific instructions not included, of course.) But you know what? No, actually, I don’t need to do that. I need to go somewhere where there aren’t masses and masses of large flying bugs, which is what I did last time this happened and it turned out great. Unlike visiting old friends, getting past my fear of large flying bugs will not improve my life in any quantifiable fashion, and, worse, would require a significant investment of psychological resources better spent on improving my fair-to middling self-esteem and not losing my s**t about my upcoming thesis project. I do not need to get past my fear of giant insects–or anything else, for that matter–in order to live a fully-realized and happy life. (What I do need to get past is how annoying I find life hacks to be in general. Life is supposed to be lived, not hacked.)
And that’s it? That’s all she’s got? That’s her sage advice after soldiering through all the trials and tribulations life has thrown at her? After all of the experiences, tragic and sublime, that she’s had to confront, move through, and learn from, this is the fresh, novel insight she’s offering to the masses laboring through drab existences of unfulfilled potential? I’ve read fortune cookie fortunes with more depth and purpose. Get past fear? Get past my middle finger. The least she could have written was “I conquered my fear of [X] by doing [Y].” [Y] might not work for me but it least it would have carried some weight in terms of context, in terms of the person doing it, in terms of her unique existence and fear of [X].
There are lots of difficult things in life that we have and do need to get past, the pandemic and resulting fallout being the most present and significant therein. “Fear” of some intangible personal discovery, however, is not among them. On the other hand, fear of something genuinely dangerous, like mountain cats, is a healthy and well-respected survival strategy. My advice? Don’t get past fear. Pay attention to it. Assess and analyze it. Decide if it’s helping you or holding you back and deal with it as such. And don’t go someplace with lots of hungry mountain cats.
Eventually, people will stop clicking on that stupid headline and I will be able to get past it and start writing blog posts of substance again. Now, that is something to be feared.