How Authenticity and Compartmentalization Can Co-Exist

I’ll write more about it someday but for now I’ll keep it simple: my Dad passed away last year as a result of injuries sustained while riding his motorcycle. After his accident he was medevaced twice. The first was in the same type of helicopter I fly. This experience taught me that not only is my job important for helping people and saving lives, it is just as important for the family of the patient. The care my Dad received at the scene and from his medevac crews allowed him to survive his initial injuries. It also allowed my family the opportunity to come to his bedside to be able to say our goodbyes and be with him when he passed away. Being with him was a tremendous gift. He’s actually a big reason for this blog because he was a huge proponent of living life fully. Living a Big Life a not only a way to celebrate life is it also a way to honor his life and ideals.

An Emotional Moment

Things got personal for me recently. This spring we sold my Dad’s airplane. It was a hard thing because so much of my Dad was part of that airplane. I have many fond memories of flying with him and he was a huge influence on me becoming a pilot. Two days ago while flying I recognized the call sign of the airplane as it was departing a local airport. The new owner was heading in the same direction that my Dad always used to fly. My eyes filled with tears and my throat tightened. I wanted to pull over and sob for a bit. But that’s not really an option in a helicopter. I was mid-air and had a patient to get to the hospital. I had to compartmentalize.

EMS Personnel Need to Compartmentalize

Being able to compartmentalize is important in the EMS industry. We need to be able to separate our feelings from the situation. This is the hardest to do when things are “personal.” What might be personal for one person won’t be for another. We don’t know what exactly will be our triggers but EMS personnel know that when things get personal they need to take a break and process the experience. Even so, compartmentalizing isn’t a good idea as a day-to-day practice. Burying ones feeling isn’t healthy. But it can be best option in the moment.

You Can Compartmentalize and Still Be Authentic

This might seem in opposition to living an authentic life, something Big State, Big Life promotes. Jonathan Mead wrote an excellent post on his blog about living a life in which all aspects of our lives are aligned and in congruence. I couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compartmentalizing now and again.

Having a Big Life means doing things that are intimidating and vulnerable. It will take you outside of your comfort zone. You might feel like hiding and playing small. That’s perfectly okay. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself in the moment. Then come back and talk about it. We’re in this together.

How do you recognize when you are compartmentalizing? What are the benefits of doing this? What might it cost you? How do you remind yourself to revisit the upsetting situation and process it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Lynndeen says:

    Yes, at times I realize I am compartmentalizing. It seemed to be the only way to survive when I was working full time. Now, I am feeling like I can attend and be present most of the time.

  2. I thought that compartmentalizing was something spies and soldiers did. After reading your blog I think I do it all the time. My kids need my emotions to stay fairly steady so that they know we’ll be all right–whether it’s a scary moment on an adventure or bad news.


  1. [...] back, I would have never guessed I’d be flying an medevac helicopter, leading a mentoring program, or writing for Alaska [...]

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