Personal diversification: How to build and balance your personal tetrahedron

We must expand our focus beyond being a functionally proficient firefighter to foster our intellectual, spiritual and creative sides


We spend a significant amount of time and energy, justifiably, concentrating on fire service diversity, ensuring all our members have the same rights and opportunities. But how much time and energy do we spend ensuring that we diversify ourselves? Your personal diversification will surely impact your life, both personally and professionally.

In a previous article, “How to maintain mental strength and focus in times of crisis,” we considered the role of a personal tetrahedron for firefighter success. Specifically, success depends on the presence of physical strength, moral focus and mental toughness, with our service-oriented mission as the foundational element. Building the stability among the sides of your tetrahedron requires intellectual, spiritual, functional and creative stimulations that some may consider the “softer” qualities of being a human being. Regardless of what you call it, being solely focused on function will not only make for a boring life but will also lead to a lopsided personal tetrahedron primed for lopsided growth and/or collapse.

Let’s now consider each component of the personal tetrahedron to determine how you have balanced your priorities.

"Crafting the diversity of your life experiences and your capacity to mold those experiences into a well-rounded individual will be one of your greatest challenges," writes Chief Bashoor. (Photo/Getty Images)

Creating balance

Building physical strength is straightforward – a combination of structured exercise and diet combine to reduce fat, build muscle and improve strength. There is plenty of material to focus the development of your physical strength. Check out Aaron Zamzow’s articles for a variety of workouts and nutrition advice.

By contrast, the other two components – ensuring a strong moral focus and developing mental toughness – are the more complex areas where we must focus our attention. So, where do we begin? Building our personal tetrahedron depends on nurturing the intellectual, creative, emotional/spiritual and functional sides of your psyche.

Functional: Likely the factor most relatable to our professional, functionality is critical but does not make us whole. A firefighter who spends all their time at the fire station may be a proficient and dedicated firefighter, but likely lacks the life experiences that will help round out their moral focus and mental toughness over time. The function of what we do is critical to the success of the mission, but functionality alone only carries you so far.

Intellectual: Feeding your intellectual and creative needs involve the fruits of your education, your professional development and your personal growth. This includes the books and articles you read and/or write, the classes you attend and/or deliver, and the problems you identify and solve. You should notice how each of these examples have two dimensions – the active and proactive responses. We should treat every one of our active experiences as an opportunity for a proactive (some may say reactive) response.

For me, nearly every article I read, every class I attend and every interaction I have becomes a lesson that leads to other opportunities – maybe an article like this or the idea for a conference session. Early in a career, this looks like asking questions – not repetitive questions, but questions that build on the development of understanding and growth.

Creative: Fueling your creative side may manifest in any number of activities or experiences. Maybe you’re the firefighter who manages your departments GIS or mapping efforts, public education campaigns, or designs all the shirts and challenge coins. While the functionality of what we do builds toughness by proxy, having the energy to feed our creative side helps build our mental toughness.

Let’s not lose sight that creativity comes in many paths and should not be limited to on-the-job creativity. Do you have a secondary business as a woodworker or a landscaper? How about hobbies focused on something totally different from your work in the fire service – perhaps singing, dancing, drawing or painting? Whatever it is, find that creative component within that helps build your experiences.

Emotional/spiritual: While our emotional and spiritual side will do the most to mold our mental toughness and moral focus, we tend to pay the least attention to this part of the tetrahedron. This is the part that helps you deal with the traumas of life, whether believing in a higher power or the connectedness of the universe as a way to gain strength in difficult times. This is also the part that prompts you to hold the door for the elderly, makes your insides melt when a child is in pain, and bow your head when a minister says it’s time to pray. Most of us package this side of our tetrahedron in a crusty outer shell, cracking it only occasionally to let something out or, more likely, to let something else in. Managing the emotions and spirituality should be a two-way street of emotional-intelligence management (stuff in – stuff out).

I’m reminded of the “trouble tree” story I’ve heard before: Following a rough day at work, a firefighter heads home, the weight of the world on his shoulders. Upon arrival at home, the firefighter stops at a large oak tree in the front yard. He touches the tree and spends a few seconds with his eyes closed, letting go of the day’s stresses, then goes inside the house to greet his wife and kids. The tree serves as his “trouble tree” – a ritual where he can leave the troubles of the day behind. It’s a simple gesture to remind him to shift his focus to his family at home.

Personal diversification

In a commencement speech at American University in 1963, President John F. Kennedy captured the essence of this discussion. Although his reference was likely about the avoidance of war, I believe the quote applies nicely to the need to balance our personal tetrahedron: “So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Directions to building your successful tetrahedron will not be found in a book of directions or a how-to class. Crafting the diversity of your life experiences and your capacity to mold those experiences into a well-rounded individual will be one of your greatest challenges. You may need to work on stimulating your intellectual, emotional/spiritual, creative and/or functional sides. After all, each of us is merely a mortal, but you can succeed in this journey.

So, how will you diversify you?

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