We all know Fear. Fear of physical harm, declining health, emotional anguish, repeating past mistakes, and most notably- Fear of the future and of the unknown.
Fear serves a physiologic purpose. It protects us from harm and keeps us alive. It is emotional and has great potential to take over our body and our mind. However, our brain has the capacity to keep it balanced and in check. A little bit of fear can be soothed over with some rational thinking and logic. Easier said than done, right? I’m sure we can all relate to what it feels like when we let Fear start taking over, and our brain suddenly turns off and goes mute. Emotions run heavy, and Fear starts to make its voice heard, louder and louder.
So what happens when we allow Fear to turn its volume way up?
And what happens when we grab the remote and start turning its volume back down?
If I could pinpoint a time in my adulthood when the volume of my “Fear Radar” was initially turned on, I would go back to the initiation of my academic career in healthcare. As a senior in high school, I took an Internship class with a Family Medicine doctor in my local town. With only a simplistic understanding of Anatomy and Biology, I’d spend my 90 minute class glancing over my Doc’s shoulder as he’d examine patients, order tests, and grunt about all of the documentation Medicine mandated.
I remember him showing me a chest Xray with a small spot in one of the lungs he called, “Community Acquired Pneumonia.” That was the first time I had ever seen a chest Xray before. It was the first time I had ever even heard of the term “Community Acquired Pneumonia.” It was also the first time I had a Doc point to a full-length white coat hanging on the back of the door and tell me to get started interviewing the next patient on the list.
Fast forward to my Sophomore year of college. I was taking classes in order to apply to Physician Assistant Programs. Most programs in the country offered separate Masters Programs, but my University offered a “built-in” program to my Undergraduate degree. I was on track to graduate college a semester early, so I figured, “why not kill two birds with one stone?”- end with a higher degree in less time, while saving money on tuition.
I doubled my efforts to ensure my application was complete and submitted in advance of the deadline. With a sigh of relief, I sat back and waited.
That is, until Fear startled me awake 59 minutes after the application deadline had closed.
For whatever reason, I had a gut instinct to check over my application for completeness. Sure enough, I was missing something. I had forgotten the application addendum: a transcript of my current class schedule.
My application was rejected for incompleteness. I was devastated.
Volume: Crank It WAY Up.
Eventually the time came for Graduate School, and I was terrified of making the same mistake twice. With extreme precaution, I painstakingly reviewed each application in entirety before sending them out in the mail. Thankfully, everything was submitted successfully and I was eventually accepted into a PA Program.
After starting PA school, I was quickly jolted by the expectations and heightened responsibilities mandated by the career I had just chosen. With the support of my 60 other colleagues, I was able to learn and work through the program. At the end of my schooling, however, I wanted to keep learning. I wanted to go into Surgery, but didn’t feel confident or competent enough to dive right in yet.
I heard about a Post Graduate PA Surgical Residency Program (try saying that 10 times fast!). It was a rigorous year of 80-100 hour work weeks and 1/2 an annual PA salary for a shot at the “surgical intern” life of Surgery. A shot at living the life of Grey’s Anatomy! I had to swallow hard when I found out only 1% of PAs decide on continuing into these programs, and anywhere from 1-10 PAs are chosen for each program. Essentially, no one I knew had done these programs.
I would be committing to a daunting year of poorly compensated exhaustion for specialized surgical training…alone.
Volume: Am I Deaf Yet?
Residency was miserable.
I worked almost 100 hour work weeks. I was overwhelmed with autonomy, liability, and the cliched knowledge sensation of “drinking from a firehose”. Returning family phone calls, checking in with friends/ family via social media, heck….reading through my daily mail, was anxiety provoking.
But all of this was temporary.
After three months, my Fears and anxieties with my training program lessened as I gained more confidence and competency in what I was doing. Each month, my Fear volume turned down a notch or two. By the end of the year, I didn’t feel like I needed noise-canceling headphones anymore. My Fear volume was down to normal and well controlled.
What Have I Even Been Listening To?
After ten years of living through a musical “crescendo – decrescendo,” I reflected on the different “Fear phases” I went through:
- Fear of Getting Started
Everything started with donning my Doc’s white coat. Whether or not I knew what I was doing at the time, I needed to put my Fear aside and just put on his coat, walk into that patient’s room, and figure it out as I went.
- Fear of Making a Mistake
Yes, I messed up my initial grad school application. But you know what? It gave me an opportunity to work on myself and make improvements. It taught me to slow down and pay closer attention to details. When I took the time to do this with my other grad school applications, it ended up all working out (and for the better!). Had I not made the mistake on my initial application, I would not have gone to the Wake Forest program (which I absolutely LOVED. Loved, loved, loved) nor met some of my lifelong, best friends there.
- Fear of Being Alone / Fear of the Unknown
You only feel alone in something temporarily. While I was TERRIFIED to start the residency program, I quickly realized that everyone else in my program was in the same boat. That’s what bonded us together. We worked through the Fear of the “unknowns” together.
- Conquering Your Fear
After finishing my residency program, I couldn’t believe the distance I had traveled from where I started. Not the geographical distance, but in the overall growth of my career. Persisting onward, despite my Fears, I was able to conquer big stages in my life that scared me the most.
- Gaining Confidence Over Your Victories
The more I pushed onward, despite my Fear’s attempt at slowing me down or convincing me NOT to keep going, the more control and confidence I gained over my Fears. These were big hurdles in the beginning. However, by pushing onward for the first few months as my confidence and feeling of competency began to grow, my feelings of Fear started to diminish reciprocally.
Having The Courage To Challenge Your Fears
Fear is a physiologic and innately protective emotion we are born with. While its intentions are just, it can get in the way of the direction of our dreams in life. It can stop us at the beginning of our journey when we’re afraid to get started. It can stop us along the way as we may/ may not make mistakes. It can even try to convince us that what we’re doing is too scary to do alone, especially when we can’t anticipate what lies ahead.
Don’t let the volume of your internal Fear keep cranking its volume up.
Get your fingers on that knob and start turning it down, one notch at a time.
It’s time to just grab that white coat, open that patient’s door, and start off by just winging it! You’ll make mistakes. And you know what? WHEN you do…. Whoop-dee-do! Mistakes are inevitable. Chalk it up to a lesson learned and an opportunity to not make the same mistake twice, and keep moving on. When you’re scared to start something that feels unsettling because you feel alone or you don’t know what lies ahead, DO IT ANYWAY. These feelings don’t last long. Put on some noise canceling headphones if you have to, to tune out that cranked up Fear volume.
Down the line, you’ll truly see how far you have come and how much you have accomplished toward a life you love despite your Fears. Go get it!
Be Bold! Share a recent Fear you conquered with other Healthy Habiteers at the Facebook Group!