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"This is not my emergency." My Mantra for Stressful Situations

by Colleen Barry, CEO of Gibson Sotheby's International Realty

Fire ExtinguisherI wish I could remember who said it. I was listening to a podcast and the interviewee said that her advice to anyone who comes upon a medical emergency — a car accident, a heart attack, etc — is to say to themselves, “This is not my emergency.” She said that helps to put the situation in perspective so the helper doesn’t make bad decisions in haste or put themselves in an even more dangerous situation.

I thought this seemed very wise. I, myself, have come upon several medical emergencies in my life — car accidents, falls, seizures. In each case, I tried to remind myself to remain calm so that I could bring what is needed to the situation.

I learned this 20 years ago from my flight instructor. Vladimir was a close friend and a brilliant teacher. I didn’t have the money to earn the hours required to get my pilot’s license. But, I still had the great joy of adventure in earning several hours. In a few of the lessons, Vlad would tell me cautionary tales of pilots who had perished because of panic — in small planes and in huge commercial jets — they would lose all perspective when they realized something was wrong. But, in many cases, it could have been fixed and all souls saved, if they had been able to remain calm.

“This is not my emergency.” It’s become a mantra I say when I enter into stressful situations. These could be situations where conflict is inevitable or already exists. It could be situations where I am about to disappoint someone… or myself. It’s a gentle reminder that this moment is not the end of the world. It’s a bump in the road and one better faced with all of my wisdom and patience; one where I can have a better outcome if I’ve not attached myself to the outcome I fear.

Fear is our friend until it’s not. Fear protects us from dying needlessly in the frothy waves of an angry ocean, or being mugged in a dark alleyway. But that same biological response sometimes muddies clear waters. “This is not my emergency” clears them again.

Part of this comes with the wisdom of age and experience. I’ve learned to trust myself — that I will do what I can to bring about the best possible outcome. That allows me to remain calm — as long as I remind myself to do so.

“This is not my emergency” is a gift. I just wish I could remember who gave it to me.

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