Opening Keynote Challenges Nurses to Confront Fears

Fear-facer Michelle Poler delivered the keynote address at the Opening Session of Emergency Nursing 2022.

Michelle Poler vividly remembers her first fear. As a 3-year-old, she was a flower girl at a wedding. She recalls worrying that she would not be able to find her mother once she had completed her walk down the aisle. Thus began years of Poler’s life in which she was largely guided by fear — until she decided to face hers head-on in 2015 with her 100 Days Without Fear project.

To kick off Emergency Nursing 2022, Poler delivered a rousing reminder that to achieve continuous growth, people need to directly confront the situations and activities that cause personal discomfort.

“The enemy of success is not failure, it’s comfort,” Poler said.

As a descendant of Holocaust survivors, Poler had an epiphany that her fearfulness was a trait she inherited as generational trauma. While she wanted to break the cycle of pervasive anxieties that affected her family, she also felt paralyzed by these feelings. Seven years ago, a professor challenged Poler and her college classmates to identify one obstacle preventing them from obtaining their dream lives.

“When I realized that fear was the one thing that could keep me from achieving my dreams, I embarked on a project that changed my life for good,” Poler said.

With the 100 Days Without Fear initiative, Poler resolved to do something she was afraid of for 100 straight days. The activities ranged from relatively safe challenges, such as trying oysters or going to a dog park, to more extreme experiences — skydiving or quitting her advertising job. Poler concluded her 100-day challenge by facing one of her largest fears, public speaking, delivering a Ted Talk at TEDxHouston.

As she confronted each of her fears, Poler would record her experiences and upload them publicly to YouTube, which she acknowledged was a fear itself. Unexpectedly, the project went viral, with celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Lil Wayne and Zooey Deschanel sharing her story with their millions of followers.

“I started to receive messages from people all over the world saying that thanks to my project, they were inspired to go after their own fears and change their life, which was not something I was expecting because I was not trying to inspire anybody,” Poler said. “I was just being fearful on camera every single day, embarrassing myself doing a very personal project.”

Poler realized why her message resonated so strongly during Day 95 of her challenge. Her task was to jump off a 25-foot cliff into a pool of water. When she got to the front of the line, Poler froze. She was ready to find another fear to confront when she noticed a little girl next to her was also visibly frightened but ultimately decided to take the plunge. This inspired Poler to follow and complete her daily goal.

“That day I learned the important difference between fearless and brave,” Poler said. “If you think about it, all those little kids jumping fearlessly, I couldn’t relate to them. So, I was not inspired by them. It was that girl who showed me her fear, and then showed me her courage, that inspired me to take action.”

Poler closed the lively 55-minute presentation by challenging the audience to consider what they were willing to get uncomfortable for.

“When we ask ourselves, ‘What’s the best that can happen?’ we get to see through our fears and focus on the rewards,” Poler explained. “That’s the only thing that will encourage us to take action.”

The Opening Session was live-streamed and will be available to registered Emergency Nursing 2022 attendees in the on-demand library through Jan. 31, 2023, on the online meeting platform shortly after the conference’s conclusion.

Register Today for Emergency Nursing 2023

 Registration for Emergency Nursing 2023 is still open! Level up with ENA and thousands of your emergency nursing peers in sunny San Diego on Sept. 21-23. Attendees can look forward to immersive experiences with hands-on learning opportunities, high-quality sessions, networking events and can’t-miss celebrations sure to propel their careers onward and upward.