Preparation and a willingness to do what now seems uncomfortable are the keys to overcoming fear of failure and achieving success, retired attorney Gareth Caldbeck, a member of St. Johnsbury Academy's Class of 1967, told the school's students Thursday as he returned to his alma mater to deliver a Chapel Talk.
"I know what that fear is," he said, describing his battle to overcome a fear of public speaking early in his courtroom career. "I was terrified that my colleagues in the legal profession, including judges, wouldn't give me any credibility and that I wouldn't be able to do my job in the courtroom as well as I wanted to."
Later, "I learned that I could be afraid and successful at the same time," he continued. "When you feel fear coming on, welcome it as an opportunity for you to move to the next level. Have the courage to leave your comfort zone" and attempt what now seems impossible.
"Recognize fear for what it is -- a nuisance," he concluded. "Celebrate your little Great Acts."
Caldbeck's battle against potentially crippling adversity began while he was an Academy student, he said in an interview after the Chapel presentation.
After a family tragedy early in his high school years, "I wasn't the student I could have been in terms of classroom achievement," he said. "It was a very difficult time for my whole family, and it definitely had an impact on my life at school."
Looking back on the experience, Caldbeck credits mathematics teacher Lucille Byrne, English instructor Jack Easterling, basketball coach Len Drew, and track coach Raymond Frey as "very important people to me during that period of my life."
"Coach Drew, in particular, helped give me the encouragement I needed to keep trying for success in life," he added. "That meant the world to me."
After graduating from the Academy, he earned his bachelor of arts degree at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wis., majoring in philosophy and psychology, then enrolled at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, where he was awarded his law degree in 1975.
Caldbeck then returned to his home state, first serving as a law clerk with the Vermont Supreme Court, than gaining additional experience at the Langrock and Sperry law practice in Middlebury, before teaming with his wife Diane, also an attorney, in 1978 to found the Caldbeck & Schweitzer, PC firm, headquartered in Shelburne, specializing in medical negligence, products liability, personal injury, and civil litigation.
Before retiring in 2003 and moving to Naples, Fla., he also served as president of the Vermont Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
His retirement years have hardly been idle, however.
He has also written and published a book, titled "Words to Remember, Mine and Others," containing inspirational "lessons about life" found in quotations from literature and historical figures. "I've been writing children's stories for a granddaughter, too, so I may publish those at some point," he added.
Meanwhile, he serves as a judge for mock trial competitions at Ava Maria Law School, in Naples, helps teach high school students about law, and has coached boys and girls youth basketball teams.
"I love coaching and teaching," he stressed. "I want to open up young people to their potential. They need to believe in themselves."