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An Irrational Fear of Drowning

I have recurring nightmares during which I am struggling to come up to the surface of a pool before I run out of breath. I’ve asked people about those dreams (professionals, not my neighbor or my pest control guy), and everyone says the same thing…I’m under stress at the time and I am struggling to get to resolution. Makes perfect sense.

When I visited the beach with my family in late July, my daughter asked me to play this game with her, where we both allow our feet to touch the bottom of the 8-foot pool and then jet back up to the surface. We would time each other to see who could do it fastest. When you’re looking down into a pool, 8 feet doesn’t seem very deep. After all, I’m nearly 6 feet tall. She was pretty quick with her turn. But then it was my turn. And the first time I did this little game, I thought I was going to die. I hated it, and when she saw me come to the surface in a panic, she asked me what happened.

I’m not an Olympic swimmer. I can, however, keep myself from dying in a pool (usually by standing up, since our neighborhood pool only goes up to 4 ½ feet). But in deeper water, I can avoid death, at least for a little while. So, where does that irrational fear come from? I’ve never been traumatized in water; I’ve never had a near-death experience in a pool or the ocean; and I used to love to jump off the high dive. I can’t explain it, except to say that I think my stupid dream has scarred me for life.

When I started my CPA firm in 2002, it took me nearly two years to experience anything resembling predictable profit. The reality and palpability of the fear I felt on some days, walking to the mailbox to check for payments from clients (referenced in this blog post) and hoping I had enough cash to cover payroll, was stifling. But it was real. I actually had a cash shortfall and payroll was due. There was no dream sequence here. For me, walking cold into networking events was hard. I hated doing that (and still do). But I did it, even though my heart felt like it was working its way outside of my rib cage. The struggle was real.

Irrational fear takes hold when we wake up with a quickened pulse for no apparent reason. I’ve experienced this, and if you’re a business owner, I know you have as well. There are days where we have a difficult time putting one foot in front of the other and making things happen. I’ve lost days to irrational fears over the course of my career, and it’s no joke.

I think irrational fear has its place in the life of the entrepreneur. It’s what makes us continue to strive to be better; to be more profitable; to be a bigger influence in our communities and in our clients’ lives; and to build something that will outlive us. The trick is to figure out how to avoid paralysis when the irrational fear strikes.

For me, I kept trying to touch the bottom of the pool and come back up without freaking out. I didn’t quite get there, but some day I will. Or maybe I won’t. And that will be OK, too. The good thing is I’m not afraid to keep trying.

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