Earlier this summer, we went downtown for Chicago’s PRIDE parade. The event is huge and draws thousands of people to a super small area. While we were there, I had the briefest encounter with a man that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Today, I’m sharing what this man said and how it can help you the next time you’re freaking out and need to calm down.
Let me set the scene for the story. It’s a Sunday in June in Chicago. The city of Chicago is packed for PRIDE. Like any big event, it gets crowded and chaotic as thousands of people make their way into a small area of the city. Matt and I are on the train, and it’s packed. (Like smashed up against people, can’t really help but make a few new friends because you’re so close kind of packed.)
At each stop, as we get closer to the parade, the doors open and a new wave of people crowds onto the train. At every stop, it seems like we couldn’t possibly pack any more people on. But then, somehow, more people cram in. As we approach the stop closest to parade, I start to anticipate the mass exodus out of the train. I knew it was going to be crazy as all these people got off the train at once.
So of course, as soon as we stop and the doors open, people start flooding out onto train platform, beelining for the exit. It’s crowded and chaotic and a bit overwhelming. But then this man, a CTA employee, comes out of nowhere. He swings open a side exit at the station, saying, “Folks, we’ve got another exit open here if you’d like.”
Suddenly, people stop, with a deer in the headlights look. You can see people confused, unsure which exit to use of and where each one will dump them. I watch one lady, flustered and anxious, ask the man which exit to use. He gently but with some volume said, “Folks, you’ve got options. Either exit will work. I’m just opening this exit to help with overflow. You have options.”
Immediately, you could see people calm down. A wave of relief passed through the crowd, feeling less stressed about which exit to take. The woman I mentioned looked instantly calmer, and the employee continued to hold the door open, reminding people of the second exit and calling out, “You have option, folks. “
His phrase kept ringing in my ears, over and over. “You have options.” “You have options.” I hadn’t realized I was stressed exiting the train, but I felt an unexpected calm come over me as soon as he mentioned having options.
So I started thinking about this phrase more. I couldn’t get the experience out of my head. I realized that so often, when we feel stressed or overwhelmed, our brain makes things out to be “do or die.” We think one wrong move, and we’re doomed. We think there won’t be a way out or that we won’t have a chance to bob and weave. Our anxiety convinces us it’s make or break, and this leaves us feeling trapped and scared to make a move.
When I was opening up my practice about a year and a half ago, I remember feeling terrified I would fail. I remember thinking to myself, “What will I do?” “If I don’t make it, I’ll be screwed.” But then, I thought about it, and I realized, that wasn’t accurate. I had options. If my practice wasn’t successful, I could go back to the job I was leaving. I could get a job at another group practice or go back to working in college mental health. Or I could get a job at Starbucks, or bag groceries, or work retail. If I didn’t make it, I wasn’t immediately doomed. I had options. This realization, that I had options, instantly helped me calm down. It gave me the relief I needed to take the leap and just go for it.
No matter what life throws your way, you almost always have options. They may not always be awesome options or your preferred choice, but you’ve got options. Your anxiety and your fear will try to convince you otherwise. And you’ll feel trapped and terrified to make a choice.
So remember the wise words of the CTA employee next time you need to calm down. Look for your options, think through them logically, and remind yourself that you have various routes to choose from. “You have options.”
Need an extra boost to take that leap? Check out these five quotes to help you stop doubting and just go for it.