Panic vs. Urgency


Does anyone else have flashbacks, from previous experiences, that are applicable to something you’ve experienced recently?  I have and I’d like to share it.

Back in my younger, and much more physically fit days, I was a lifeguard.  That may be hard for some people to visualize, now, but it’s true.  During those 5 years, I had a total of 9 saves.  Some people may look at saves as heroic, but I looked at it as a failure.  There was something I failed to do that led that child or adult needing to be saved.  That’s a story and thought train for a whole other article, though.  My thought here is the difference between panic and urgency.

As a lifeguard, your job is to safe guard people from harm.  (whistle blow)…”quit running”…….(whistle blow)… “don’t do that on the slide”…..(whistle blow)… “Get off of your younger brother’s head”……we’ve all heard those exclamations if you’ve ever spent time at a pool.  We’ve also probably seen, hopefully only in movies, someone in trouble.  Their head’s barely above water.  They may be screaming or gurgling “HELP!”  Their arms are flailing about slapping the water.  They reach for anything that can save them because they are panicked.  They aren’t thinking clear, they’re only thinking of survival.  They do whatever it takes to keep their head above water.  In some cases this MAY work, but most times the ending is predictable.  Their head goes under for the last time.


When a lifeguard sees someone in trouble, the adrenaline starts to pump.  Their instincts kick in and a sense of urgency overcomes their senses.  The job is to save that person.  As a last resort, they enter the water and begin to swim, calmly but fast and powerfully with a sense of direction, clarity, and urgency…keeping their eyes trained on the person in trouble as to not lose sight of them.  There is a sense of purpose.  The stakes are high.  Everything is on the line, even their OWN life.  Remember what I said earlier about the drowning person only thinking about survival?  All too often we hear the story of the victim AND the rescuer drowning.  The lifeguard must think clearly, plan the rescue, and execute the plan for the save to be successful.  If it doesn’t work, initially, the lifeguard backs away, reassess the situation, and jumps back into action.


“Great story, Rob.  So you were a tanned, toned, long haired lifeguard…”  I didn’t say that, but now that you bring it up…….I digress.

We’ve all been in a business or personal situation where we panic and just start throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the problem.  This will be successful for a short time, but your breaths are still limited.

If you take that same situation and apply the lifeguard approach to the problem, you’re more likely to succeed long term.

There is a difference between urgency and panic.  When you have a sense of urgency, you swim harder and with purpose.  When you panic, you’re flailing about reaching for anything that’s floating by.

Would you rather be the victim or the lifeguard?


Written by Rob Woodruff
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