Diving In (or… How to Manage Fear)

“Courage is the resistance of fear, the mastery of fear. Not the absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

This is, hands down, one of my favorite topics. I was able to delve into it once again during my last team meeting, when we discussed the importance of public speaking as it relates to the safety profession. Just the mention of public speaking was enough to invoke grumbles and grimaces. I had given a homework assignment to each member of the team to create and present a short, 10 minute presentation on a safety topic of their choice. The presentation would be critiqued by the team. They had a few weeks to prepare and it was now show time. They were visibly shaken and probably would have taken any excuse not to present their topic. Sensing their discomfort, I took the opportunity to share the following story.

Years ago I live in the very awesome town of San Marcos, Texas. Home to Texas State University and just a few miles south of Austin / north of San Antonio. In San Marcos resides Aquarena Springs, a natural spring that feeds the San Marcos River. At the spot where the spring water flows out to form the river is a small waterfall known to locals as the spillway. One of the unique things about the spillway is that, due to being so close to the spring, the water maintains a constant temperature year round. It was always a sight in the winter to see steam rising from spillway. Being in central Texas, we always got more out of the spillway during summertime. When temperatures reach over a hundred degrees, that water felt ice cold. It became an almost daily event for Ben (my brother from another mother) and me to meet up at the spillway for at least a quick dip if not a leisurely swim at the close of the work day. There were two ways to enter the spillway. One could get a running start at the top of the slight hill and dive (or jump) off of the retaining wall into the 8 or so feet deep crystal clear water. For the not so adventurous, there was a spot where you could slowly wade into a shallow cove, then work your way to the deeper pool. Ben was raised in and around San Marcos so he was used to the cold water. He always chose option one. He would run, head long down the hill and let out an excited whoop just before his head broke the surface of the frigid water. Yours truly was not so bold. I opted for choice number two and slowly waded in, much to Ben’s disapproval, which he was not shy about voicing. What ended up happening every time, was by the time I had reached a point of comfort, Ben was ready to get out of the water and head home. After one particularly long work day, I had decided that I would take the plunge from the retaining wall. As Ben and I arrived, and he took off running, I slowly walked to the wall. Toes on the edge, I stood there like Clark Griswold ready to dive in the pool after Christie Brinkley (this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy). I stood there looking at the water, wanting to already be in it but unable to make the leap. Suddenly, something clicked. I realized that while jumping into the water was initially going to be uncomfortable, a few seconds of discomfort would quickly give way to a half our or more of relaxing in some of the clearest, cleanest water I’ve ever seen in nature. I could take the long way in but by doing so I was extending the discomfort and lessening the reward. That made no sense to me.  I took a deep breath and dove, head first, into the ice cold water… as I did every time after that.

sanmarcos_spillway

I know… it’s not exactly the same as jumping out of an airplane but the basic principle is the same. If you want to get it done, you have to just dive in. When I was an instructor with the fire department I would get asked by at least one person from every recruit class, “at what point do you stop being afraid”. Most of the time that question was asked before recruits either had to climb the tower ladder, enter a confined space in a self contained breathing apparatus with zero visibility or during live fire exercise. Arguably three of the most unsettling aspects of fire fighter training. My answer was the same every time, “never”. I climb a ladder the same way I did the first time, one rung at a time. I entered a burning building the same way every time, one foot in front of the other. I overcame my fear of confined spaces by making my world small and “bringing it into my mask”, then just moving forward. Sometimes only by inches but dammit, I moved forward. The moral of the story is… just go. Dive in. If you can do that, you’ve already overcome the hardest part.

Jocko Willink does a MUCH better job of explaining… Click the link below to watch the video!

How to Face Fear and Step Into Bravery

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