Handling a stress episode

I’m sitting behind a long table, flanked by a marketing manager on my right and an entrepreneur on my left. We are an admission jury at an elite French business school. The candidate seated before us has spent the last two years toiling in a high-pressure preparatory school to get ready for this interview and the entrance exams that preceded it.

Right now, he’s falling apart. He can’t collect his thoughts. His answers to our questions are brief and incoherent. He is most likely unaware that he is continuously adjusting his glasses with visibly shaking hands. It’s painful to watch, and I want to give him a chance to reset.

“Take a minute and breathe,” I tell him. “You have plenty of time left.” He pants in distress.

“What’s happening right now?” I ask him. It’s a classic coaching question, designed to restore focus on the current moment. But he’s not fully present yet. Instead, he’s busy tightening his own noose. “I have no right to feel stressed. This is difficult, of course—but everyone else manages okay. I should be able to handle it.”

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