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Fears Conquered

Your dreams may be another person’s nightmares.

By Penny Righthand, CLU, ChFC

Years ago, my dentist told me my vacations kept him in business. That’s because I almost inevitably broke a tooth the week before I left on some big adventure trip. His dental hygienist suggested I wear an unattractive piece of plastic in my mouth to sleep. Both the dentist and I objected; he, for fear his business would suffer and I, for fear my marriage would suffer. Nevertheless, the hygienist won out, and I haven’t broken a tooth before a vacation in years.

My travel anxieties recently surfaced anew, however. I had a two-week raft trip planned down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for early September. It had been planned for two years. While I voiced only excitement about my then-upcoming trip, my visits to various doctors increased in the months preceding the trip. My stomach hurt. My hip hurt. I had headaches. Thankfully, nothing showed up on all the tests and x-rays, and it was finally time to leave.

Wild and magnificent
The trip was unbelievable. The water was wild, the canyons were magnificent. Not a thing bothered me. Before the trip, I imagined being thrown out of the raft and swept by the raging river into a deep black sucking hole from which I would never emerge. I imagined being with the same 20 people day in and day out on small rubber rafts, on narrow canyon ledges, in cramped campgrounds, until one of us lost our cool and threw someone into the river in the dark of night. I imagined mosquitoes searching me out, personally, for a tasty treat. And I imagined the underwriters back home forgetting about my cases, and the stock market crashing again.

Once I was out there, though, there was nothing to do but be there. The people were wonderful, and all of their fears were different from mine.

I imagined mosquitoes searching me out, personally, for a tasty treat.

There were seven guides—young women and men ranging in age from about 27 to 45. Some of them had fearlessly guided rafts down the crocodile-filled Zambezi River and led trips down rivers in Ecuador and Mexico. One guide was still recovering after he was bitten in the leg by a brown recluse spider.

One day, we were paddling a particularly flat stretch of river and people started asking me how I got into my financial advising business. So I told them the whole story of my life as a student nurse, a psychiatric nurse, a wife, a mother, a hippie, a divorcee, a journalist, a fired journalist, a freelance journalist and a marketer of business systems. Four hours later, I hadn’t gotten to the financial advisor career part because people kept interrupting me, asking fearfully how I could go through so many changes and come through seemingly unscathed. It didn’t seem remarkable to me. It was just my life. To me, their lives were adventuresome and fearsome.

Bumps in the night
But as it was, they all had their own fears. Issues that to me were mundane. A couple of guides had just gotten married and bought a house. They were terrified about how they were going to survive if they had children and couldn’t guide on the river. He, at 43, had never held a full-time job and was always available to crew a river trip on the spur of the moment. She, at 32, was ready to have a family.

Another was 45, had never been married and was beginning to think about how long she could make a life on the river. She’d managed large groups of rafters down rivers in countries where she didn’t speak a word of the language. But how would she create a life on land? In a house? Settle down? How would she do that?

One guest was terrified about her mother passing away, but not before she’d used up her entire fortune for long-term care—at the rate of $14,000 a month.

“Heck, I know how to deal with all of that,” I thought. So we paddled down the sometimes lazy, sometimes raging river and talked and learned that what is easy and natural for one person is terrifying for another.

I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor tomorrow, but I think I may cancel. I’ll need that money for my next adventure.

Penny Righthand, CLU, ChFC, lives in the San Francisco area. Contact her at 70 Washington St., Suite 220, Oakland, CA 94607, or at


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