Fear, by far and away, is one of the most significant barriers to success.
Like most people there have been times when I rose to the occasion and worked through my fear and other times when I backed away. Fear likes to whisper in your ear “you are not capable,” and “don’t trust others”.
Years ago, I served as a police officer. One morning I was driving my police car and saw movement from the corner of my eye. It took a second for me to realize a crying child was chasing me and appeared to be covered in blood. I hit the brakes and backed up.
I shot my best friend
The kid told me that he and his friend were playing with a gun and he accidentally shot his buddy in the neck. I clearly remember him saying “I shot my best friend.” Seeing how much blood was on the kid in front of me it was obvious I needed to move quickly. However, it is almost never a good idea to go into an apartment by yourself after someone has been shot. People sometimes lie and that includes kids. It could have been a domestic dispute. There may have been no wounded kid at all.
My gut said “go” and so I ran up multiple flights of stairs, whipping around on the handrails of each landing to propel myself to the next level. I crept into the apartment with my heart pounding. Had I made a big mistake?
On the floor was a dying eight-year-old.
The boy’s neck injury was extraordinary, and he was bleeding profusely from deep in his neck. I knelt down, cradled him, and thought “he is going to die right here.” Looking all around I directed the other kid to where he might find towels or rags. I was using my bare hands to apply pressure.
It was summer and hot as hell in the un-airconditioned apartment.
Sweat was rolling off my face and on to the face of the kid. He was silent.
I then noticed he was looking at my badge and he reached up and touched my nameplate. GORMAN was the only word on the small piece of brass.
It is odd that sometimes, when under tremendous stress, your thoughts and time seem to slow down.
I remember thinking that the only thing that stood between the child and death was me – GORMAN who was wearing a badge. I was terrified by the sight of his neck, but I realized if he was to live I needed to find a way to stop the bleeding.
I ran down those stairs cradling him with one arm and caring for his neck with the other. I then handed him off to the ambulance crew that had just arrived.
And I became a real police officer that day just a few months after I turned 21.
I became a real police officer when I learned to contain my fear.
Why Was I Afraid?
Fear, or any emotion for that matter, comes after perception. When I saw the extent of the child’s wound, I perceived it to be more than I could respond to – and I essentially did nothing for a split second. I forgot I was there to save him and instead thought it was going to be sad when he died.
However, when he was looking at my badge and touched my nameplate, my emotion went from fear to determination. The kid’s actions reminded me of who I was supposed to be and deep down wanted to be. My perception changed and so did my thinking. This was not a kid about to die. This was a police officer saving a kid from death in front of his best friend.
My ability to contain my fear was based on how I perceived the situation and that impacted my emotions. I am not implying that I was not still afraid, I was, and of the heart pounding and hands shaking variety. But I did what I needed to do.
5 Fear Busters
Below are five personal observations regarding this topic. I am not a mental health professional so please consider them with that fact in mind. The list:
1. Diet & Exercise
I am starting with Diet and Exercise since I have come to realize that it is a significant driver of how I feel day-to-day. There is no need for me to outline the avalanche of data about the need to be physically fit. What I can share is that when I am exercising regularly issues fall into their true perspective and my days go better. We were not made to sit all day. We were made to move. We didn’t evolve into having opposable thumbs so we could hit the spacebar.
Relatedly, eating well is important but is harder than working out. As a consultant I travel a great deal and it is easier for me to find a hotel gym than a healthy meal. Nonetheless, with additional work the number of unhealthy meals that are consumed can be decreased when on the road.
2. Context and Doubt
As I was helping the wounded child; my courage only emerged when the context of how I saw the situation changed. Understanding the reality of the situation is key.
3. Living in the Present Moment
I tend to live in the future. My mind is always looking 6-12 months or more down the line. In many ways this is good but it also allows the “now” to be taken for granted.
Good ways to live in the present moment are to wake up early for reading, journaling, or meditating. The app I prefer is A Simple Habit. There is a huge array of material on the app and it touches upon a wide variety of ways to participate.
Throughout the day and when feeling stressed, relief can be found by walking, undertaking a five-minute meditation, or simply talking to others for a few minutes. Not too long ago, I downloaded an app that has a little chime that goes off every twenty minutes. Stand, stretch, sit back down. It seems to help in keeping everything in perspective.
A key to dealing with stress is knowing the conditions that seem to generate your fears and identifying what exactly you fear at that moment. I remember driving and listening to the 7-Habits of Highly Effective People. At one crucial point in the program Stephen Covey points out that while we have no control over how others act, we have total control over how we choose to respond.
This was a pivotal moment in my life. It may sound like I am a TV personality trying to convince you to make a gift of $125 to your local PBS station so you can get the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - but that short section of his presentation changed my life in many ways. I don’t always do it, but I do always know it.
5. Everybody doubts
More people need to give the benefit of the doubt to other people and the situations in which they find themselves. You still need to be careful but a charitable careful.
Over the years I have attended meetings where various factions were baring their teeth before we even started. Usually, as the meeting unfolded tensions receded. Prior to the meeting there were communication gaps which were filled with suspicion. Talk to people before things get out of hand.
Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Fear is inevitable. You will never get away from it but you can learn to diminish or eliminate it. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed. Work on it, little by little, each day.
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