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Not Now, Not Yet, Not Ever

June 30, 2008

As a young, ambitious firefighter, coming straight from my father’s employment, I made a statement that was wise and unwise at the same time.  Firefighting and other emergency services are often described as “long periods of boredom, punctuated with moments of extreme terror.”  So, to fill some of those times, we had time to sit around the table and chew the fat.

So, one morning, over coffee and the morning paper, I burst out with the kind of comment that only a 22 year old punk would dare utter in front of people who have dedicated their lives to their profession.

“Well, I’m not going to be a firefighter my whole life – this is a dead-end job.”

This, and other unwise quotes haunted me during my 20 years in emergency services.  Unwise, because it was judgmental and demeaning to those who had no other ambitions or job skills.  Wise, because as one with an entrepreneurial spirit, I knew I craved challenge, adventure, and the opportunity to explore my potential.

Tualatin Valley Fire & RescueFast-forward 15 years and you’ll find me managing paramedic operations for one of the premier emergency services organizations in the country.  Some would think I had it goin-on.  However, I was again growing bored and restless.  By the time my father was 35, he’d already tried and failed at his first business – and came out well into the black!  He went on to head three more companies before retiring.

But why would one want to work for themselves?  Besides the long hours and no pay, one is also never allowed to take a vacation, sleep with the phone turned off, or depend upon a regular income.  At least in the first few years this is true.  If one is successful and is able to scale their business, it may be possible to relax a little and reap the benefits.

Yet, entrepreneurs are notoriously unsatisfied with the status quo.  There is this constant tension between the now and the not yet.  Many self-employed people are never satisfied with the now, the keep pursuing the not yet.  That was my struggle working at a public agency.  The bureaucracy of management, committees, county commissions, city councils, state agencies, and the like became almost too much to bear.

As a street paramedic, at least in the early days of EMS, one could have considerable freedom.  Yet as EMS matured, even that was controlled.  Later, as a leader in the EMS comunity, I sought to empower my paramedics and lead EMS into the 21st century.  But after awhile, I realized, I could only lead as fast as my employer was willing to let me.

Leadership guru, John Maxwell, talks about the law of the lid.  Wherein one is only able to lead as much as their superiors will let them lead.  At 35 years old, I’d had enough and I walked away from a very fruitful and rewarding career in emergency services.  During the last 15 years I’ve dabbled in a lot of stuff.

I was managing technical services at a small university in Southern California.  Then, I was their business manager.  During grad school, I again dabbled in the tech services area before moving into a role coordinating a national conference and some other miscellaneous web development and mentoring.

In the last couple of months, I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as I’m working for someone else, I can only excel in the areas they allow me to excel in; I can only push forward into the future as fast and as far as they are willing to go themselves; and, I have to accept that – or make changes in my career choices.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the job/task/role/career I cannot change;

To change the job/task/role/career I can change;

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’ve spent most of the last 35 years banging my head against brick walls and seeking to change the environment in which I’ve found myself.  I have been successful in many ways.  I could list the contributions I’ve made to the field of emergency services – some continue to save lives around the country.  However, head banging has never brought me particular joy.

Learning to accept my station in life, my role as an employee, and my inability to significantly change any organization has led me to this one conclusion:

Being a Dad is the best role, occupation, title I’ve ever held.  I believe that from now on I’ll let my avocation be fathering.  My occupation is just a way to pay the bills.  Heaven knows how much room I have for improvement as a Dad – probably much more room for improvement here than my employer has (or desires).

I really can’t change my employer that much.  I can’t really change my career field that much.  But I have massive input into my kids and the better I serve as a father, the more opportunity they have to avoid some of my mistakes, frustrations, and addictions.

I love being a Dad and I’m not going to let anything stand in the way of being the best Dad I can be. In fact, if I’d known how cool this Dad thing is, I would have gotten my act together a long time ago!

  1. June 30, 2008 10:24 am

    Wow. That’s some serious food for thought. As a father of seven (it’s a LONG story, and yes, I do know about contraception) and an entrepreneurial spirit, I’m facing a lot of the same things … struggle between pushing/pulling my employer to grow and being a good father/husband. I’m learning to slowly let go of things that aren’t as important in order to focus on the things that are important, and more specifically, within my control.

    Again, wow. Nicely put.


  2. June 30, 2008 12:49 pm

    Well done! It’s reassuring to hear/read from someone else’s perspective that putting family first is the route to take.

    I’m happy to know that we share priorities!


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