When I was younger, my dad was a firefighter. I remember it clearly because I had my 4th birthday party at the fire station. A little while later he became a paramedic. He never spoke much about the things he saw, but I know they weren't pleasant. It can't be easy responding to a car crash in the middle of the night, and then come home and carry on like you hadn't just witnessed the death of someone the same age as your son.
I was always grateful, and impressed, that no matter what he encountered, he never grew flustered. As you can imagine, he was always the first person called in an emergency. Somebody's hurt? Call Dad. Somebody broke a bone? Call Dad. You need an ambulance? Call Dad. When we were young, my cousin fell into the pool. Nobody noticed, except my Dad, who strolled over quietly and picked him out, stopping him from drowning. Always calm, always reliable. Always the first person to call.
In a great article, titled Good Medics Don’t Run - (ironic, I know) - the author says:
"I think running in EMS (emergency medical service) is downright dangerous. When pressure mounts and events demand an instant response, I suggest you slow the heck down... Moving fast makes your heart beat fast. When your heart beats fast you don’t think so good."
He goes on to tell the story of climber Alex Honnold whistling as he free-climbs a mountain without ropes, hundreds of feet in the air. In a video, Honnold says, “If I get an adrenaline rush, something has gone horribly wrong.”
Adrenaline isn't just something you want to avoid when walking a tightrope, but in any important situation. Adrenaline gives you a bad case of tunnel vision. It makes you forget the big picture, the overarching goal, the system at play. The alternate to adrenaline fuelled decisions is to slow right down. Find calm. Think things through and communicate them clearly. Everything gets easier, and the people around you find their groove, when adrenaline is kept at bay.
I'll never forget the feeling that would wash over me when something went wrong and I knew that my Dad was a phone call away. It's not that he always had the answer, but rather that he'd be calm and that we'd figure it out, which empowered me to do the same.
Calmness is a superpower because it makes everybody around you better. If you can bring it, you become indispensable.
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