Passion doesn’t know retirement: It’s a learned and lived trait

How fire service leaders can work to sustain passion throughout their career – and beyond


I’ve heard before – and I agree – that we don’t have to do this job. We get to do it.

I’ve heard many non-public-safety workers say something along the lines of, “This job was the only thing I could find,” but I’ve NEVER heard that from a firefighter.

New firefighters are passionate about the work. While firefighters certainly have many varying motivations for where they work, few, if any, do this job out of desperation. Still, for far too many, somewhere along the way, that passion fades.

New firefighters are passionate about the work. While firefighters certainly have many varying motivations for where they work, few, if any, do this job out of desperation. Still, for far too many, somewhere along the way, that passion fades.
New firefighters are passionate about the work. While firefighters certainly have many varying motivations for where they work, few, if any, do this job out of desperation. Still, for far too many, somewhere along the way, that passion fades. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Learned and lived passion

As I worked at a public hurricane-preparedness event recently, someone asked me if I was looking forward to retirement. There was no hesitation in my “yes” response,” but I immediately followed that up with, “but I still look forward to these events, too.” And it’s true. For me, service has been my passion from Day 1.

I started volunteering at the age of 16, began volunteering at Dispatch at 17 and went full time at Dispatch at 18. Then when I was 21, I signed up to take the tests for the police department, fire department and the Secret Service. I was in the police and fire department processes and was supposed to show up on Saturday to take the Secret Service test. On Friday, the fire department offered me the job – and the rest is history.

I’m not from a fire department family. My dad was a preacher and mailman, my mom a teacher. The passion for service to greater causes – the passion exhibited by my parents – was not lost on me. And I saw that passion could be sustained through a career to retirement … and beyond.

Of course, when I accepted the fire department job, retirement was the LAST thing on my mind, and frankly, it is just about the last thing on my mind at the moment. Passion doesn’t know the word retirement. It was always there – and it always will be, for me.

Change will always be a constant in our lives, but for the men and women of the fire service, passion can also be a constant. You’ve either got the drive to sustain passion or you don’t. That is not to say that it is innate or that people are “born with passion” – hardly. Passion is a learned and lived trait.

There are always other people and events that can impact your passion, both positively and negatively. The positive experiences will continue to fan the flames of your passion, while the negative experiences can snuff the moments that breathe life into your passion. It can be positively infectious to follow passionate leaders, however, I do caution people to follow the passion, not the person. It is easy to find negativity – it is much more difficult to be passionately positive.

The bottom line: You must understand the value of your service and value the understanding of your mission. If you can bring those pieces together, you’ll understand the passion that I have for what we do as public servants.

Sustain your passion

With this in mind, here are six ways to stay passionate about what you do:

  1. Learn and understand the true value of what you do – understand your impact.
  2. Set goals, embrace change and the differences all others bring to the mission.
  3. Practice THE PROMISE.
  4. Take breaks, but always come back.
  5. Don’t be afraid to take reasonable risks or to try new things. We ALL like the feeling of comfort but remember that comfort leads to complacency.
  6. Surround yourself with passionate people.

There are no “born leaders.” There are people who learn to embrace the lessons from failure as equally as they embrace success.

You want to be a passionate leader? Then make sure you’re a life-long learner who values service, values people and values the mission.

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