Once upon a time, fear led me to not only derail my whole career but also spend a year in prison. Here is what I learned.
Fear is a really handy survival mechanism that kicks in when your brain senses danger. This helps us to get our butt into gear and get out of the situation pretty quickly, the problem is, fear often doesn’t know when to stop.
Fear can hang around long after the real danger has passed, lingering at the edges of your consciousness, polluting even the most everyday tasks. It is this lingering fear that has the potential to paralyse you but equally it can be the making of you, as it presents creative and interesting ways to survive and develop.
Many moons ago, a traumatic incident left me with a whole heap of people-related, lingering fear. Over time, this fear made me jumpy, nervous, paranoid, short-tempered and downright bone-tired. It had started to affect my job and I was at risk of turning away from my hopes and dreams, battening down the hatches and admitting defeat.
I was tired of living in fear, in order to salvage my career something had to be done, and fast.
I knew that for me to overcome my fears, I would have to do something so big that it would carve a human-sized hole right through the centre of it, a hole that I could walk right on through never looking back.
For this to work I needed to face a very real danger and it had to involve lots and lots of people.
I began wracking my brain trying to think up scenarios that would fit the bill, until one day I picked up the local paper and the answer was staring me in the face. “Prison Officers Wanted – Apply Today”. I didn’t even hesitate; it was the perfect combination of danger and people to make me face my fears.
Throwing caution to the wind I put my career plans on hold, stepped away from my job and enrolled as a trainee prison officer knowing that it would be a temporary side step, just for a year, a minor detour from my career path if you will.
I went through the weeks of training, throwing myself into every self-defence and hand-to-hand combat class I could. I would make copious notes on how to diffuse situations, manage my own fight or flight responses and how to predict human behaviour. Before I knew it, I had graduated from training and was proudly walking the landings of an all-male category B prison.
What started out as a tool to help me overcome my fears had become the most interesting and exhilarating year of my life. I learned so much about myself and how body language can insight and diffuse. I learned the importance of team work and about what drives people to act the way they do, I gained valuable insight into lives that are so different from my own. Most importantly, I learned how to understand, control, and embrace my own fear making me a better officer, colleague, parent and friend.
The thing is, what started as a year out and a way to salvage my career actually became the making of it. What I learned at the prison feeds what I do every day. Today, I can write with feeling, with humility, empathy and understanding. I can walk into a room with confidence and know that I am in complete control of the fear that once paralysed me.
Fear is created for many different reasons and displays in many different ways but the one thing that is consistent for everyone is the power it can have over you. It doesn’t have to be a severe crippling fear, even an insecurity or an anxiety can have an effect on how you carry yourself, how you work through day-to-day tasks and how you are perceived by the people around you.
Don’t let fear, insecurity or anxiety derail your career, if it means taking a step off your path for a while then so be it. Finding a temporary job that challenges you and helps you to gain some perspective like I did could just be the making of you
However you do it, find a way to seize control. Throw your shoulders back and stand up tall, defy fear and challenge it to face you in all of your powerful glory. You will find that you have in fact been in control the whole time and fear be damned if it thinks you are a push over.
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