A few years ago, an old friend caught me off guard when he said to me, “You’re not afraid of anything.” In an instant, I felt stunned, and slightly flattered.
Of all the people I’ve known, he was the last person from whom I ever expected to hear this. Many years before, we dated, albeit briefly. Our relationship ended because our actions resembled like-sided magnets. Pushing against each other at every turn, we let go of the relationship that simply didn’t work. A few years later, he asked me to return to the hospital and work for the EMS unit he ran. Because I respected his knowledge and his ability to lead, I agreed. We’ve remained friends since.
Working in EMS is difficult from the get-go. Working in a male-dominated field makes it just that much harder. Add to this the stress that flows from trying to manage critical medical conditions, and you can be sure that fear has played a role in my life. This friend trained me as a paramedic. He watched me resuscitate patients, hold the hands of distressed family members and challenge physicians. He saw me do what he taught me to do. In all that time, despite all those situations, we never talked about fear.
When I turned 18, I passed the test to become an ocean lifeguard. Although it doesn’t have the waves and rip currents seen in the Pacific, the Atlantic should not be underestimated. One of the seminal tenets of ocean lifeguarding is to respect the power of the ocean. Our captain made clear that a healthy fear of the ocean would make us appropriately cautious. From that cautious place, he suggested that we might just learn a few things, and we might be able to save a few lives. As he predicted, those things happened. And, one more fundamental thing took place: my healthy fear transformed into respect.
What did I ultimately learn? Do the work necessary to transform fear into respect. I’ve never forgotten this lesson. Looking back, I believe I’ve woven this tenet into each job I’ve held.
I have always believed that my friend operated without fear. I never observed him act in a way that suggested he was afraid, but certain comments he made that day suggested otherwise. It struck me as odd that he thought I operated without fear. After my initial surprise at his comment, I responded by saying, “You’re kidding, right? I am always afraid. But I never let it stop me.”
Never let fear stop you. Instead, take that fear, acknowledge that it is a healthy response, and then use it as motivation. Do the work. Undoubtedly, the transformation from fear into respect will follow.