My Attempt to Respond to “Fear”

fear, roller coaster, scared, emotional roller coasterI am sitting at Starbucks, fearful that I have not been productive enough last week. So I am using the day to alleviate that fear and to write. When I come here, my routine is always the same, even though I need to change it. I log on to the wifi, check MSN for headlines in case anything momentous happened over night, check email, and check Facebook. The last check is the one I need to discontinue, except for today!

The first post came from a friend, an actual friend, not a virtual friend: Kelly Raymer. And it was a link to his latest blog post, I am guessing, sitting in a coffee shop on the other side of town. I was going to comment on it, but I had too much to say. Here is his post: Fear.

His musings on fear in his own life resonate with my own fears, including his fear of running out of money, which continually occupies my mind when I lay in bed at night, the kids are asleep, the dog is curled up in my legs, and my mind is free to roam.

But I have come to understand this fear. The reality is that I have never run out of money. I have never shied away from taking that extra job or project in order to make more money. I have always managed to figure it out. And probably craziest of all, there is no imminent threat of running out of money. Key word being imminent! The threat is five years, ten years from now.

What I have come to understand is that it is irrelevant what my financial situation is – I am going to be freaked out about running out of money! It is a terrible curse. That is the only way I can describe it.

I have my theories as to why I am this way. And here is where I would like to blame my parents! Haha. No, I am not going to blame. them or anyone else. But an understanding of my dad’s life really shows that I could not think any other way about money. I love this story!

family, dad, father, Great Depression, farmers kids, Cresbard, South Dakota
My dad with his siblings. This must have been around 1931. Starting with the boy in back and moving clockwise, Uncle Keith, Uncle Bob, my dad, Aunt Margaret.

My dad was the youngest of three brothers (and one sister). The oldest, Keith, was born into a very well-to-do family in Cresbard, South Dakota. His father was the judge, and they lived on a profitable farm. From the stories I have been told, the family was well-respected and prestigious. The second son, Bob, was also born into this life. Then, the Great Depression hit the country. And just as many other families did, they lost everything. In fact, they had to move to Minnesota to live with their mother’s parents on their farm, surely humiliating and difficult for their dad. It was here that my father was born. He grew up on a farm that did not have electricity or indoor plumbing until the 1950s.

What I find fascinating is that these three children were impacted dramatically differently by these events. Keith, I understand, was around 16 when his dad lost the farm in South Dakota. So he left home and joined the military. (Side note: he ended up a POW in WWII and on the Baton Death March!).

My memories of him are that he was one of the happiest, full-of-life people I knew. He was certainly the most colorful and fun of anyone in our family. He always had a drink, a cigar or pipe, and a good story. His laughter still echoes in my memories of Christmases growing up.

Bob was 8 or 9 when the family lost everything. He lived the life of a little boy who wanted for nothing to one who literally had nothing. It is no surprise to me that he ended up a socialist. Yep. A self-proclaimed socialist. He was an actor, who actually made a living acting in New York, and lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Greenwich Village amongst multi-million dollar brownstones. When I would visit him in my early twenties, he proclaimed his beliefs in the need for economic equality.

And then there is my dad. He was born into the Depression and into a family that had nothing. Is it any surprise that his philosophy was that you should NEVER spend money unless you really need something? And by the way, you really don’t need anything. But underlying this philosophy is that you should not spend money because there is never enough and you will run out.

family, brothers, Great Depression, family
As adults! From left to right: Uncle Bob, my dad, Uncle Keith.

So my dad, a comptroller for ITT went to work with long outdated wide ties, button-down shirts with frayed cuffs, pants with holes in the pockets, and jackets with coffee stains. Certainly, considering his position at ITT, he made enough money to buy new clothes. But he convinced us he didn’t.

My mom was a stay-at-home-mom and was rarely provided money for anything she did not justifiably need. My sister and I watched this and absorbed this, unknowingly.

I don’t blame. But I do understand where my fear came from.

When I got divorced, my biggest fear was that I would not be able to survive financially. This is not an uncommon fear. However, my husband did not work, and I was the sole supporter of the household (one of many reasons the marriage did not work out!). I sat at my desk, day after day, working and reworking my budget. I laid in bed, night after night, replaying stress nightmares of money calculations. But in reality, once he moved out, I had more money than I ever had. I had not realized how expensive he was!

It doesn’t matter. I have one daughter in college and a son who will be starting in a year and a half. I lay in bed paralyzed with fear that at the end of this I will be destitute.

Old habits die hard, and unfortunately I have passed along this fear of running out of money at least to my daughter. During her first year of college, she was so stressed about money that she calculated how much we were paying for each class meeting. She was upset when the school called off classes for snow days, and she could tell me exactly how much those snow days cost us.

So to Kelly, I get it. Fear and worry are black holes, sucking our time and our enthusiasm for life. I know intellectually that my fear of running out of money is irrational. Could it happen? Of course. In fact, some of the wealthiest people have lost everything. We just have to believe that through our minds we can always reinvent ourselves and always provide for ourselves. The wealthy are willing to take risks because they trust that they can always make more money. For some reason, we don’t trust that.

And I also understand the contradictory fearlessness you feel in writing. I feel the same way. I trust that I have all of the ideas I need to create stories. I guess I just don’t trust that someone will pay me for them! But I have heard many times (not from my family, of course) that you should follow your passion, and the money will follow. So that’s what I’m currently using to combat my financial fears. That and positive affirmations, denial, yoga, walking the dog, sleeping! Hey, whatever it takes!

And I just keep plugging away.



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