I’ve never conquered fear. But it has also never conquered me, and we visit each other regularly.
The 42-stich scar over my left eye came from a glass hitting me in the face during high school. I almost lost my vision, and sustained permanent nerve damage. People rarely use the term numbskull these days, but in my case it is literally accurate. For years after this accident, I was afraid of the sight of broken glass, but even worse than that was the sound of breaking glass. No matter what I was doing, hearing those thousand simultaneous chimes of hard glass exploding into tiny razorblades stopped me cold. Heart racing, hands sweating, mind blank. . .
Sorry, what were we talking about?
When I first began working in a glassblowing studio, this fear came with me. A glassblowing studio might sound like a crazy place for a person with this phobia to be working, but it wasn’t as bad as you might think. Glass over 1400° F doesn’t break, and the pervasive growl of the furnaces masks the sound of the occasional shattering vase. I was able to mostly maintain composure. That is, until the day when we ran out of glass to melt—the factory that supplied us closed down and we had to find another source. At about the same time, the Jack Daniels Company discovered that Tennessee Drinking Jars (mason jars with a handle) were far less popular than they had hoped in homes without wheels. Mr. Daniels donated a truckload of country kitsch to our studio.
But the jars needed to be broken into pieces that would melt easily, so my new job was crushing 12,000 jars. Simply dropping a jar on the ground created too large a debris field and resulted in uneven breakage, so my technique was to unpack each jar (there were nine in a case), hold it in a gloved hand, and hit it with a hammer. It was like punishing each individual jar for its lack of style. At that rate, breaking 12,000 jars would take 30 hours.
Eventually, I discovered I could break all nine jars at once by slamming an entire case violently against the concrete floor. It took some practice to get the box to land flat enough to break every jar, but the most important variable was the force of the slam. This new technique allowed me to break all of the remaining 12,000 jars in under three hours. At the end of those three hours, the jars were reduced to an easy-melting pile of cullet and I had so much glass on me that my skin shimmered like a new highway sign at sunset.
A Pleasant Surprise.
Later that night, I was attending a party when someone beside me dropped a glass. I didn’t even flinch. No adrenaline, no sweating hands, no reaction like the previous four years. Somehow, breaking twelve thousand Tennessee Drinking Jars had re-wired my brain in under a day. Hmm, I thought, that might be useful.
Can we rewire our brains? It made perfect sense once I thought about it. I became afraid of the sound of breaking glass in about a quarter of a second (or half a day, if you count the surgeries.) There was no reason the opposite should not be possible. I have found dozens of practical applications of this discovery over the years. I have now come to actually enjoy:
- Public Speaking
Almost everyone in St. Louis complains about the humidity, for example. But not my friend Chuck. Chuck likes it, and one day we got into an argument about how humid it was. Chuck won that argument not by listing all the benefits of moist air, but instead by my realizing that he was happy and I was miserable.
I’m still working on a way to enjoy long meetings and lawsuits. The point here is not to enjoy everything, but to take a few things that are unavoidable and make them a net positive instead of a net negative.
What does this have to do with business? Energy.
The energy you are able to bring to any problem is critical to its solution. Recovering from a failure – and with any serious problem there will be dozens of failures – requires some energy. In fact, I keep a personal energy score and try not do too many things that drain me, even sometimes associating with certain people. The goal is to always have excess energy for any problem, even if you have to rewire your brain to get it.
What is your broken glass, and how can you learn to enjoy it? You’ll solve more problems once you do.