My grandpa loves to take his grandchildren fishing. Some of my greatest memories are on the boat with him. As a kid I tended to get myself into some sticky situations; my line and lure would often get tangled everywhere and anywhere.
Sometimes my lure would wrap around his and start flopping around in the water while heading for the spinning blade of the motor. Knowing that it was my fault, I would start to get nervous and stand up in the moving boat, jump to the side, and dangerously reach into the water.
My grandpa would calmly turn off the engine, turn around, and say: “Whatever You do, Don’t Panic!”
This simple advice has saved my arse time and time again over the course of my life. It might seem like common sense, but the older I get, the more I realize that common sense is often the least common kind. I have seen panic strike many times, crippling people in their work, their investments, and their lives.
Panic and a Movie Set
The movie business is a perfect example of a panic-prone environment. In a state of controlled chaos, there are plenty of opportunities to test your nerves. On one of my first projects, I was working on a ¾ million dollar movie as the transportation captain. Transportation was not my preferred career field, but it sure beat office assistant.
One day I was hauling a two-ton generator in the executive producer’s brand new, four-wheel drive, extended cab F-150 with all of the upgrades. I was taking it to the new set for the next shot when something went seriously wrong.
I checked the rearview mirror and saw the generator bobbing up and down like a buoy in water. I hit the brakes, but the generator kept going. It was unhitched! I felt the truck jolt, slide, and finally slow down with the two-ton monster lodged into the backside of the truck.
The crew medic was riding with me and we both jumped out of the truck and ran around to the back to assess the situation. The tongue of the generator had slammed into the chrome bumper, popped up the truck, and slipped underneath.
The first thing I thought was: “Whatever You do, Don’t Panic!”
One of the set dressers was running towards us; he was the only other person that saw the incident. There were a lot of reasons we should have panicked. If the generator didn’t get to the set, we would be holding up the entire production. If the truck was damaged, I might be fired or have to pay for the damages. Since we were in the middle of the street, we had to get the mess out of the way before we attracted attention.
Calmly, but with a sense of urgency, we started checking our options. We tried pulling up on the bumper, but the tongue just rose up with it. We tried standing on the hitch, but we didn’t have enough strength to separate the two chunks of iron. No one else had seen us yet and we had about five minutes to get to set.
We pulled out the jack and looked for a solid place to put it. The set dresser and I stood on the generator to keep it down while the medic jacked up the truck. It seemed like it would never get high enough. The back left end was up so high that two other wheels started lifting off the ground.
Finally, we were able to turn the generator and separate it from the truck. We checked underneath for damage but the only casualty was a grapefruit sized dent in the chrome bumper. We re-hitched the generator, double-checking the security of the connection, and made it to set on time.
The Problem with Panic
When panic sets in, your brain shuts down; not only the logical part of your brain that provides good judgment, but also the creative part that helps you solve problems. A brain in panic is desperate and reckless.
Panicking at work leads to decisions that you will regret and messes that can’t be cleaned up. Furthermore, when others see you panic, you appear weak and out of control. In times of crisis, people flock towards the person that carries a sense of calm, even if he doesn’t have all the answers.
Panic is the cause for billions of dollars being made and lost on the stock market. When a stock starts to slide, the panicked sell while the calm start to buy. Six months later, when the stock is back up, the panicked buy while the calm start to sell.
How to Avoid Panic
To avoid panic, it’s important to have a deep sense of security that you will be okay no matter what happens to you. This is where spirituality can help a person greatly. Through meditation, contemplation, or exploration of faith, you can come to a belief that there are more important things in the universe than the problems that you currently face.
It also helps to have taken necessary precautions. Make sure your bases are covered. One of the best safety nets I know of is an emergency fund. Even an extra thousand dollars set aside for only the worst possible emergencies is enough to calm your nerves and avoid bad decisions during a time of crisis.
If all else fails, just realize that panic doesn’t help anything. To be cool and collected, you don’t necessarily need the answer. You just need to be calm. Remember that there is no use worrying about a situation that is out of your control. Your best chance of getting out of your mess is to use your brain. Don’t cripple it with panic.
It’s All About the Recovery
After my near catastrophe with the generator, I wasn’t in the clear yet. That dent in the bumper was weighing heavily on my mind. Without wasting any time, I dropped off the generator and drove back to base to find the Executive Producer. I walked straight up to him and told him that I wanted to show him something. I had no idea how he would react. He took a look at the bumper, shrugged his shoulders, and told me it was no big deal.