A work in progress: Personal and professional development is never complete
Your most difficult project will forever be improving yourself – mind, body and spirit
We see a lot of unspeakable and difficult things in the fire service – death, domestic violence, child abuse, suicide. We also deal with a multitude of complex issues – political battles, union/volunteer relations, budget constraints, personnel problems and so much more.
How do we get to the point where we become effective chaos managers without driving ourselves crazy? We get there through the building blocks of education, training, experience and personal development. Amid this work, the hard part is how to manage and balance three competing priorities – family/friends, work and ourselves.
Among all the complex issues and competing priorities, I can unequivocally say that the most difficult project for me to manage is the project of myself. And, yes, YOU will be the most difficult project you encounter during your career – and really, your entire life. The good news: You can control most of the outcomes within the project of you.
Whether in our work or personal life, we are constantly a work in process – we’re never done! If you were a finished project when you came out of the fire academy (the kiln), there’d be no need for further classes, promotions or career development. But that’s not how it works. Coming out of the fire academy should be just the beginning of a single new chapter in your book.
Throughout your career, you take classes, attend conferences and trade shows, write articles, maybe even deliver presentations or lectures. Consciously or not, you are constantly molding and sculpting your life. Similar to the kneading and plying of modeling clay, in our careers, we knead and ply the material to make a form, then massage or chisel the edges to get it where we want it to be, at least for that moment in time. If you’re “done,” then it’s off to the kiln for the final curing. But this is the point: We should always be ready for re-molding or retooling as standards change and advances in business practice happen. We should never claim to be “done.”
Every effort at your molding is another opportunity to take control, to change direction, maybe to stay the course. If we are to improve our outcomes and becomes successful chaos managers, we need to take personal control of ourselves first, through investments in our mind, body and spirit.
I have previously offered you a personal tetrahedron – a tool for success that identifies our mission as the base of the tetrahedron, with the evaluation of the other three sides of the pyramid as your personal 360 – mental toughness (mind), physical strength (body) and moral focus (spirit). YOU hold the keys to controlling the success of your pyramid building experience.
The mission is the same no matter where you go. YOU, however, are as unique as every one of the millions of individual firefighters around the world. That uniqueness will require different skills sets and will manifest in different results. Only you control your words and actions.
Self-control and the public trust
Paid or volunteer, we are public safety servants (yes, servants) who are responsible for helping individuals cope with what may be the darkest and most desperate moments of their lives. This is a heavy weight that requires servant-leaders who can not only think on their feet but also be trusted to uphold the highest of values.
It is unquestionable that a physical wellness program that values your health will help you succeed. I consider the “body” the easiest of the pyramid sides to build. It’s tangible – you can see, touch, feel and taste the things that affect the body portion of the equation.
- From a fitness perspective, functional fitness programs and cardio exercise that prioritize whole-body improvement will benefit you exponentially over traditional free-weight-only workouts.
- From a nutrition perspective, it’s the self-control to limit caloric intake and the “bad” foods that requires your greatest attention. Fewer calories, less sugars and more water will yield the most substantive improvements in weight loss and control. Note: Ensure that you research your plans first and consult a medical professional.
It is important to remind you here that we are supposed to be helping people during their darkest and most desperate moments – and you can’t help them if you don’t help yourself first.
The more difficult sides of the pyramid to construct and control are the mind (mental toughness) and the spirit (moral focus). Use of the sixth sense in us all – the “wall judge” – to evaluate your thoughts and actions is the best advice-on-the-fly that I can give you. As a public safety servant, you should have received the training that tells you what’s right and wrong on the job, then be able to demonstrate the capacity to control yourself from the potential pitfalls that face us daily – inappropriate discussions, HIPPA and investigatory issues, over-indulgence, among others.
Improving the statistics
During a presentation at the “Working for a Fire Safe America” conference, U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell discussed the distribution of deaths and the sudden cardiac event (SCE) LODD post-autopsy statistics below – something we had not previously seen. Dr. Moore-Merrell noted that SCE is the leading cause of acute duty-related deaths.
The research shows that 80% of the of the firefighters who died from SCEs had both heart disease and hypertension. So while our most strenuous of activities (firefighting) accounts for the least amount of time spent on the job (1%), this activity yields the largest percentage of SCEs (32%). As such, it is likely that many, if not all, of those deaths may have been preventable with more attention paid to the physical side of the personal tetrahedron.
Difficult but malleable
No one ever said firefighting – or pyramid-building for that matter – was easy. Regardless, WE have the control, and WE have the responsibility to make progress and differences where we can, whether that’s in our fire stations, among our crews, our families, our communities or, yes, within ourselves. Remember, amid all of the challenges we face, YOU will be your most difficult project – but it’s the one you can actually control.