A few posts ago I talked about resilience, and how we as an organization and culture are promoting it. Today I’d like to approach the concept in a simpler, more personal way. That is to say, I think there are three areas where we, as individuals, can become more resilient in our personal and professional lives – Diversity, minimizing exposure, and creating a skilled “team.”
When I say diversity, I don’t mean the politically correct phrase that is based on your genetics – I mean diversity of thoughts, actions, methodologies, tactics, habits, and the like. I’ve been lucky in my career and personal life to have learned there’s more than one or two ways to approach any kind of problem or task. It’s important, I think, that we all expand our knowledge base so that we know more than one way of doing our day-to-day tasks, whether it’s how we dig fireline, load helicopters, or sharpen a saw. So long as the end result is the same, being able to improvise when things don’t go as planned is a huge boost to resiliency.
How can we become diverse as professionals? It’s pretty easy actually. A retired FMO once told me that he had all of his people take classes and get qualifications in what are generally considered “secondary” positions in the Incident Command System – things like Base Camp Manager, Status Check-in Recorders, and Timekeepers. His reasoning was that at some point in our careers, many of us will be injured, and get put on light duty, and being able to fill those “secondary,” non-line-going positions would allow you to continue to contribute to the fire effort, as well as keep earning overtime if you weren’t able to head out on the line in an arduous position. I think this is a brilliant idea, and one that many of us need to take advantage of.
It’s also as simple getting a detail to another region of the country, in a specialty you may not be as experienced in. The more ways of doing things that you see, in different places, the more “slides” you’ll have in the back of your mind that you can draw upon when things don’t go as planned. I love having that “ah-ha!” moment when you’re trying to solve a problem, and a solution pops into mind from prior experience.
The same idea hold true for our personal lives. Learn a few different ways of doing things, even if it’s as mundane as trying a new route to work, or drive across town. Go and experience another culture, even if it’s just a road trip to another city or wild place for the weekend every now and then. The more you know about other people, other places, and other ideas, the better off you are.
Exposure to hazards. Basically, you want to minimize your exposure to any one hazard. This is a pretty easy concept to implement. Many people have probably already heard about diversifying investments to minimize risk, and it’s the same idea here. Just as lodgepole pine forests can be incredibly susceptible to pine beetle attacks when all the trees are the same age, we can be fragile when we all have the same weaknesses, whether it’s shared biases, shared ignorance, or even just shared backgrounds. As I mentioned above, diversity is a great tool to reduce exposure to any one hazard.
A small way that I practice minimizing exposure is in how I pack my IA gear. I try to split up my “survival” gear into a few different places – rain coat (and coffee packets!) in the line gear, warm puffy jacket in my flight helmet bag, and sleeping bag and small camp stove in the overnight pack. That way if I happen to get separated from any one or even two items (like my overnight pack and flight bag), I still have a bare minimum of gear in case I get stranded in a sudden rainstorm or even snow, as can happen in the late season in Montana and Idaho.
It’s the same old story about not putting all your eggs in one basket, and we can all think of ways to apply that in our personal lives.
Finally, make sure others can do your job if you can’t. I addressed this a little bit in the last blog entry, talking about authority to lead, but I think it bears repeating, this time with a different focus.
A great way to make yourself, your crew, and your family more resilient is to mentor others around you. Not only will those you mentor gain knowledge, life skills, and qualifications, but you’ll get better at the things you’re mentoring them on. Make sure that your module, your crew, and your family have the skills to succeed without you, whatever those skills may be. This will free you up to pursue your own goals when opportunity arises, and it can give enormous peace of mind to know that your family or your crew can handle whatever comes their way, be it a challenging fire assignment or a broken pipe at home.
The more people in your life that you can empower with skills and knowledge, the better. Helping others to succeed in life is vital, because you never know when you’ll need others to help you succeed.
That leads to a final point. Resiliency isn’t about being the strongest, the best, or the toughest. It’s about doing what you need to do to endure hardship and recover from it. It’s about being able to accept help when you need it, and being available to help others when they do. This is one reason why I love fire people – when a true crisis hits, we come together to endure and recover. There’s a reason why, after Hurricane Katrina, people learned to seek out the “green pants” if they needed something. We are capable of resiliency, personally and professionally, on a level that most people will never have to know, and it’s on us to keep improving our ability to rise to the occasion, no matter if it’s professional or personally.
Stay strong, stay fluid, stay safe, and be resilient.
Until next time…