Staying Calm Under Pressure: A Super Skill

If you can master the ability to stay calm under pressure, you can excel in a lot of situations. Keeping your cool is vital at work, raising kids, driving, and especially in emergencies. It's like a super skill. My father is exceptionally good at staying calm under pressure. I learned this one evening during a family dinnner.

Even at 7:30pm the night is hot. That's what happens when you go barbecuing somewhere in the South Pacific in the middle of summer. You can almost taste the grilled chicken from the remnant fumes simmering off the grill. Dinner is served!

The family gathers around the picnic table. We take a deep breath and begin to eat. In just the first bite, my father freezes. He tries to swallow and lets out a little gag.

We ask him what's wrong, and he shakes his head not knowing. One of us gives him a glass of water, and still, no change. My father raises up his hand, excuses himself, and says that he has to go to the emergency room. What?!

Staying Calm Under Pressure

When I first heard those words, I scrunched up my face in doubt and confusion. Was he serious? Is it really that bad I think to myself? It's not like he was convulsing or anything. “Shall I drive Dad?” I ask.

Nahh,” he responds and tells me to enjoy my meal. Dad lumbers to the car and drives his usual slow self away, careful not to run any stop signs. If he was in pain or scared it was not obvious. But for him to think he needed to go to the hospital, he sure was calm under pressure.

Five hours later at about 12:30am I hear a car pull up to the driveway with a loud car door thud seconds later.  The brakes, oh how those brakes squeak, reminded us to replace them. I rush downstairs and ask Dad if everything is OK. He pulls out a little plastic vile, starts to jiggle it back and forth, and reveals a prideful grin.

“What's that Dad?” I ask incredulously.

“This son, is a site to see!” as he opens up the vile and pulls out a piece of gauze. “Come look closer.” As I inched my way closer to the vile I noticed something long and grey. “This son is a once inch steel bristle from the steel brush we used to clean the grill! It was lodged in my throat!”

“Holy sh*t Dad! You weren't kidding when you said you needed to go to the ER.”

“Nope.” My dad then proceeded to carefully lay the metal bristle back on the cotton gauze, and back into the vile. Like saving a bullet from a bullet wound, Dad will always save this thorn.

Financial Independence

Many of us really thought he was faking his injury because of his demeanor.  It was almost surreal how calmly he excused himself from the picnic table.

If you had an inch long metal bristle piercing the front side of your throat, and couldn't swallow, what would you do? Would you be able to stay calm under the pressure of the situation? Or would you be screaming your head off and freaking out? I've had contact lenses disappear into the back or the bottom of my eye sockets before. That instantly puts me in a frenzy.

Dad would be the perfect candidate to shoot a real life Animal Planet commercial on what TO DO when a grizzly bear attacks. Without witnessing countless examples of his Zen-like responses, I'd be less balanced.  My face would probably contort more when people are late. And I'd probably panic more at things outside of my control. For this, I'm thankful. My dad's ability to stay calm under pressure is inspirational.

Of all things, independence is what I've learned most from my father. He gave me the leeway to do whatever I wanted in life. All the while he also exposed me to a myriad of his interests, so that perhaps some would rub off on me one day. He never forced me to choose, but instead gave me the freedom to make the right choices.

Thanks Dad!

My dad showed me not to count on handouts and to believe in myself. When he drove himself to the emergency room and waved us off, I was reminded of independence once again.

Thanks Dad and Happy Father's Day!

Further Reading:

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23 thoughts on “Staying Calm Under Pressure: A Super Skill”

  1. Financial bondage

    I pretty much had no dad growing up. He died at an early age. I do recall him teaching me how to tie my shoes. That is about it.

  2. Belmont Thornton

    My father taught me to be courageous! He had always showed me the path of honesty! Your post is lovely! Thanks for sharing!

  3. nice story. Yikes, if that happened to me I definitely would have panicked and probably made a scene lol. I’ve never had to go to the ER for myself luckily so I think if ever the first time comes I will be freaked out.

  4. @Dr Dean
    Indeed we are blessed with good roll models.

    @Money Reasons
    Sounds like a good Dad. It’s always funny how original inventions are used differently from its intended purposes. YouTube for example was concocted as a dating website first!

    Good thought! Perhaps not the wisest thing to do you’re right! I guess he may be a little stubborn, but we didn’t have any idea what was up, and he looked pretty normal. He insisted on going alone and not bothering anybody either, so we obliged. Next time, maybe not, seriously!

    @Little House
    Very cool you have two dads! More the merrier!

    @Rob Bennett
    Hmmm…. I think we are all scared to die. And the more scared we are, the more we do our best to live life the fullest now.

    @Money Beagle
    Thanks MB! Glad he is OK too.

    Yes, he is quite calm in the markets. Hopefully that makes him a less emotional investor and doesn’t capitulate when things are bad, and sells when things are good. I’ve never talked to him about his stock portfolio performance though. Perhaps I should.

    @Jaime @ Eventual Millionaire
    Work for yourself, I can relate, b/c he tells me that all the time too! Perhaps one day for me and very cool for you now!

  5. Money Reasons

    My dad taught me to stick to it and just do it! He also told me it’s okay to fail, and we talked about all the great people in history that have failed before succeeding!

    We also talked about how many of the wonderful inventions out there failed at their original purpose, but we humans found out ways to use them in other useful ways…

  6. Great post (and blog) but I have to object to this line

    “He showed me not to count on handouts”

    the word “handouts” is incredibly politicized. when a big company shows up to town, before any construction begins they’ve usually negotiated for themselves a generous package of tax credits from the city or state government. just because this does not evoke the image of an unemployed person getting a check in the mail “while their lazy [insert ethnicitiy here] arse sits at home” doesn’t make it less of a handout. (aside- i don’t know anyone in the US who enjoys being unemployed. that check allows them to look for productive employment instead of being a fast food worker to pay the bills.)

    1. That’s quite a response Saad on my use of the word “handouts”. Do you think you are politicizing it by saying it is highly politicized and highlighting race, government, unemployment and so forth?

      Did something happen to you to create this type of response? Very curious.

      1. Happy to respond-

        No, nothing happened to me. And you bring up a good point, that by pointing out the implications of “handouts” that some folks see, I’ve possibly raised those same flags in the minds of others who might not have seen it that way initially.

        That being said, achieving career or financial success is a combination of personal drive (large part) and also getting help along the way–help that we haven’t paid for up front so it can be classified a “handout”… I can’t explain everything in this small box but feel free to email me if you want to continue the discussion.

  7. Kevin@InvestItWisely

    Wow, that is incredibly zen. I wonder if him driving off was the wisest thing to do, given that it could have dislodged and choked him, but I’m glad that he’s ok!

  8. Wow, that’s pretty amazing. Your father sounds like an amazing man.

    I’m lucky to have two fathers. My step-father taught me independence, how to work hard, and suck it up. My father taught me creativity, gave me the passion to learn new things, and how not to handle your finances! My two dads are amazing men and I am deeply grateful for both of them.

  9. I remember when my father was scheduled to have bypass surgery and they came in to tell him that it would be delayed by a day. I could see the relief in his eyes. I was amazed because, even though I am a scaredy cat about everything, I had never seen my dad try to put something like that off.

    It taught me that we are all afraid to die, even if we avoid talking about it.


  10. Money Beagle

    That’s quite a story. Glad to hear that your dad was OK! I don’t think I could remain that calm in the face of something like that being lodged in my throat.

    My dad is a great role model and now that I have a kid, I embrace many of the things my father taught me and can only hope I’m as successful at passing them down to my son.

  11. I’d like to read a blog by your dad, Sam. He’d be very calm in the markets!

    My father taught my so many things, almost all of them ‘un-sexy’ — the value of enjoying the moment, the impermanence of things over people and emotions, and like your own dad he encouraged my deep curiosity about the world.

    I wrote some of them up at Frugal Dad:

    He wasn’t perfect, and there’s much I would love to have been able to teach him. But I definitely got the best of the deal. :)

  12. Single Mom Rich Mom

    Loved the story Sam!

    My dad taught me how to work hard and save my ass off. Also taught me not to spend any money at all, but I’m trying to ignore that.

    It was my mom that taught me the vial / vile thingy. Just kidding Sam. :-)

  13. Great story, Sam. Your father sounds like one heck of a guy.

    My father is much more frenetic and panics very easily. But he is very smart and remembers scientific details out of many esoteric reference books. He always impressed me with his depth of knowledge.


  14. Wow, what a story. Glad he is ok!

    My father taught me that the only things that matter are what is in your heart. He really made it sound like a second brain.

    He also told me to work for myself, which I highly appreciate now!

    Thanks Sam for making me remember. :)

  15. What an interesting story, and what a great guy!

    My dad taught me that it doesn’t take money to be happy. He showed us that being a family, and staying a family, is important. I learned the importance of laughter, and how to find joy in even the smallest things.

    My dad passed away this past February, so this is my first ‘Father-less’ Day. What I will always remember about him is how happy he was just to have a simple hamburger, or how much he lit up when I came to visit. I miss him a ton.

  16. My father also taught me the importance of edution. He said education was the best wealth he could give me and no one else could steal it from me.

    When I was in high school, he used to wake me up at 5 before he headed out for his morning walk. Many years later, I found myself still waking up at 5 without an alarm! I love the early morning hours because I get so much done.

    I don’t remember my father ever scolded me, but I always remember he taught me to be grateful. Thank you, Papa, for everything!

    1. Suzan – I agree with your dad 100%. Education is the key to so many things, and namely FREEDOM! If we can educate ourselves on the myriad of things, we gain the power to do what we want.

      I didn’t realize your dad would wake you up at 5am! That must have been tough in high school. Waking up at 8am in HS was tough.

      Sounds like you had a great dad for never scolding you. May also be a reflection of what a great daughter you are!

  17. My father taught me the value of an education and the benefits of being a life-long reader.

    He was always trying to improve himself, and provide for his family!

    Sounds like we were both blessed with good role models.

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