April 8

Facing Your Fear from a Fighter Pilot


Facing Your Fear from a Fighter Pilot

By Deborah Johnson

April 8, 2022

911, change, courage, facing your fear, fighter pilot, ground zero, Iraqi freedom, Kim Campbell, myelin sheath, pivot, visualization

Facing Your Fear

Picture yourself in an extremely intense situation and then imagine how you would respond when confronted with facing your fear. One of those intense situations could be sitting in the cockpit of a plane as a fighter pilot. To add to the intensity, now imagine that you’re being shot at. This happened to Kim Campbell, who was a fighter pilot for twenty-four years. She has been in intense situations supporting our troops on the ground, starting right about the time of 9-11 attacks.  Understandably, pilots were kept very busy after this time where over 3,000 Americans were killed at Ground Zero in New York.

There are principles that Kim gained from her experience that can help you in facing your fear and you won’t have to get behind the cockpit of a plane. However, you do have to take hold of the controls of your life, especially in challenging situations. We all face fears. That’s a normal part of life. But how we respond in the face of fear can make all the difference in how we come out on the other side of that fear.

At the start of Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Kim’s F-10 fighter jet was hit over downtown Baghdad. She heard a loud explosion and she immediately knew what had happened. She now had split-second life or death decisions to make. Your decisions may not feel as drastic as Kim’s, but they could still have a great current and future impact on your life and business. To help you in facing your fear, we’ll cover three principles: preparation, visualization and action.
Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Facing Your Fear from a Fighter Pilot with Kim Campbell 4-19-22
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Facing Your Fear with Preparation

There are situations in life where you don’t have time to think about being scared. When you’re being shot at, whether with a rocket over Baghdad or with financial challenges or manipulation, the time you spend in preparation will help you respond in the best way possible.

If honest, everyone faces some sort of fear or hesitation when trying something new or when put in charge of a different project. Preparation for those times can come in various forms. When learning to drive, you spend time in a simulator preparing for multiple situations that can and usually will happen on the road. Pilots do the same thing with simulators. Some of the games we thought our kids were wasting time on as they sat for hours in front of a screen have actually helped prepare them for quick responses, especially digitally.

Exact repetition of correct responses will help you respond in the best way possible when an emergency situation arises. In music, the time I spent preparing was crucial to facing unusual performance situations. However, there have been certain situations where preparation wasn’t possible. Like the time I started performing a concert and realized the tuner had removed all the bass note hammers on the grand piano for repair.  Normally I’d realize this in sound check, but the piano was not checked as there was a group on right before me. I had to quickly adjust my arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The pit in my stomach while trying to get through my arrangement was uncomfortable, but I was able to keep my concentration level steady enough to least perform the piece. Though the few humorous phrases I inserted throughout did keep the audience engaged and laughing! Gershwin would have been proud as he had a sense of humor!

Facing Your Fear with Visualization

Visualization is a great way to prepare for unexpected scenarios. You may not have a commanding officer preparing you for the time you may be shot down in an F-10. However, you can create your own situation, imagining yourself faced with a difficult conversation or event.

Visualization is a very helpful tool in getting ready for executing a skill, a speech, a sales presentation, or even a performance. (See: How Do You Prepare?)If you are a performer, imagine yourself on a stage in front of an audience and allow yourself to feel the rush of nerves and adrenaline as you walk on the stage. You can even create a pretend stage and practice there. Put yourself physically in the exact position, even if you’ve cleared a makeshift area. Many professionals do this at all stages of their career.This works whether seated or standing. It’s also effective for sales presentations or reports.

Visualization is also very powerful in memory work. I had a piano instructor who told me that he memorized a lot of his literature while working with the railroad. He’d bring the score and visualize himself playing it, hearing it in his head as he saw his fingers moving. With consistency, he was able to keep up with his concert work as well as his job. However, this doesn’t discount the number of technical repetitions he still had to put in for a top performance!

Facing Your Fear with Decisive Action

What holds us all back from moving forward is fear or lack of action. It takes courage to try something new, lead a team or even lead ourselves. When anxiety and stress enter as two of the close companions of fear, there are parts of us that wants to give up. It may be hard to move forward now, but it will only get harder with inaction.

It takes work and practice to act with courage. Kim shared the technique she learned as a fighter pilot called chair flying. It’s a visualization technique where she would think through stressful situations so when they came, she already thought about them and went through the motions of her response. Thinking through and even visualizing the worst-case scenario will at the very least help in the automatic response when put in difficult situations. You may still panic but can tell your body to act immediately.

Facing Your Fear to Learn and Change

Fears of nervousness and anxiety don’t seem huge, but they wear on us. Not facing them is failing to grow and in some situations, you can put a whole project or team at risk. When action is necessary, it can feel like your feet are lodged in quicksand and won’t move. That’s why the repetition, training and visualization are so very important to have in your muscle memory to be as prepared as possible for those moments. I talk about the myelin sheath in chapter nine in the book Music for Kids. With repeated deep and perfect practice done the right way, each new layer of myelin adds skill and speed.

Stressful moments don’t just happen once, but over and over again. How we continue to respond helps us handle all of life, which has its unexpected twists and turns. Also important is taking time off from the busyness of life and stress to meditate, reflect and just be a person. (See article: Perspective in Life)

When taking that time for you, you may find this intentional act to decompress will help you in other areas of your life, whether as a parent, leader, entertainer or a pilot. As human beings, we need to take care of ourselves to be able to give even more to those around us. You may never sit in a cockpit and be shot at physically, but you can be the pilot of your own life as you courageously face what is in front of you.

You can be the pilot of your own life as you courageously face what is in front of you.

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,239 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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