To compartmentalize is to separate your thoughts and feelings into separate sections or categories. In your performance, if you ignore the fear of surfing big waves that can be a good thing as long as you have the skills to surf the wave in question and you’re eager to accept the consequences of your actions.
Compartmentalization is not good if you ignore the thoughts and feelings that put you or others at unnecessary risk, like the runner that ignores the need for fluids during a race and winds up dehydrated.
In my practice, I help clients to use nasal breathing to compartmentalize, to settle down and go deep into their decisions to make sure these decisions are consistent with their safety and what they want to have happen.
Let me tell you about someone who taught me about compartmentalization.
Kim King and the ability to Compartmentalize and keep moving forward
Kim King was the master of compartmentalizing. He was a classic old school left–handed quarterback. He was hardnosed, disciplined and extremely competitive. There was never any doubt that he would do whatever it took to win. He was the starting quarterback for Georgia Tech for three years beginning in 1965.
I graduated in 1965 so I never got to know him as a player. But when I did meet him years later, I knew right away he was something very special. In 1982 I had just finished talking to the freshman athletes at Georgia Tech in a large seminar room. Kim walked up and grabbed my arm, “Brad,” he said. “Kim King,” as he reached out to shake my hand. “I loved what you said about expressing fire and passion. You are just what we need here at Georgia Tech.” I could feel his presence and enthusiasm.
Perhaps Bill Curry said it best, “I didn’t know Kim as a player but right after we met, he became one of my best friends ever.” With Kim it was that way. He loved his family and friends. He loved Georgia Tech, and he loved the process that enabled him to work hard, get better and win. Win in business, win in golf, win in hunting turkeys and most of all to win in Georgia Tech athletics.
Shortly after our initial meeting he invited me to sit down and discuss a plan he had that would bring me back to Georgia Tech. Kim promptly stood up at a dry erase board and outlined the very dream job I had for myself. I was stunned. Suddenly I was confronted with the dream I didn’t know was possible.
A few weeks later, Kim was playing golf and in the middle of a routine swing… he broke a rib. In excruciating pain, he was driven to emergency care where he learned he had multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells. The real battle in Kim’s life was underway.
As much as humanly possible Kim fought the disease and maintained his active lifestyle. We talked long distance and he continued to work on bringing me back to Georgia Tech.
On one occasion I flew back to Atlanta to attend a meeting with Kim and the athletic director at Georgia Tech. Kim checked himself out of the hospital for our meeting. While the meeting did not go well for me and my future it certainly cemented my appreciation and respect for Kim.
A week later, as we were talking long distance, he casually mentioned that he was in Augusta and that he had just played his best round of golf on this famous course. Kim explained that it was 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity and he felt like he had the flu. When I asked how he could possibly play so well he calmly explained that he could compartmentalize.
In his words he explained, "My senior year at Tech I played hurt. I simply learned to block out the pain and focus on getting the job done." Looking back, I now realize that he was beyond tough; he performed at his best with his life on the line.
Kim King gave his best effort under the hardest and harshest of conditions, his body racked with pain and the future filled with doubt: he stayed present, always positive, feeling every step, and finding the value and fun in every moment.
“Brad..,” he said in our last conversation, “God has kept me around for a reason, I feel blessed to be alive.” When I thanked him for being a constant source of inspiration his response said it all. “People have given me credit for doing something special in still being alive. It’s not true; I simply did what any of us would do. I did what I had to do to keep moving forward.” The “us” referred to playing football at Georgia Tech. Kim never stopped thinking, feeling, and acting like an athlete.
I really doubt that I could fight as hard for my life as Kim did for his, but what’s important is that he lived his life in the way he believed he should, and for that his life serves as an example of the best way to live.
Thank you, Kim King! You taught me the real meaning of being able to compartmentalize and focus on moving forward in spite, of serious distractions. In the words of Kim’s wife, Gail, “Kim was a fighter, and he lived his life to the fullest.”