By Mark vonAppen
All of my life I have been known as a bit of a trouble maker. I have pushed limits and challenged authority. In the process, I have trampled a path that few have chosen to follow. Sometimes it’s a lonely place. I feel like I have no home, I find my place where I ramble.
The limit pushing and challenging of authority continued after my appointment as a career firefighter. Until recently, I struggled with this identity, pushing forward and standing in front with a huge bulls eye on my back only to have the organization punch me repeatedly in the face. I began walking the fence as I tried to be a crowd pleaser, attempting to appeal to everyone. In doing so, I have felt reined in, put in a box, metaphorically bound and gagged (my emails are still screened). I felt average and frustrated. I was out of the flow path.
No more. So here it comes.
Respect is far more important than approval. I start trouble over matters of principle, not in a sophomorish attempt at capturing the spotlight. I have never stirred up trouble simply for trouble’s sake. I am outspoken on issues that I am passionate about, usually regarding education in the fire service, high standards of performance, and treating people right. On these issues I will not waiver, my standards will not be compromised. If that alienates some, so be it. If you agree with what I say, but not how I said it, so be it. If you don’t like me, so be it. I own it.
“I am outspoken on issues that I am passionate about, usually regarding high standards of performance and treating people right. If you don’t like me, so be it. I own it. Respect is far more important than approval.”
Comfort zones are for people whose jobs are predictable, they are safe and cozy for having them. Our job is neither safe nor predictable so personal comfort levels must be pushed and the boat must be rocked. Occasionally, people have to be dumped out of the boat in order to learn if they will sink or swim when on their own. Finding a way to get comfortable being uncomfortable is the only way we can successfully navigate the fireground, a place where consequences are immediate, unforgiving, and sometimes irreversible. This isn’t a game, and it’s not cool to be stupid. We can’t have scared, stupid firefighters.
What’s cool? Learning.
What’s cool? Coaching.
What’s cool? Leading.
If you lead you’re automatically a target. Being in the flow path is a dangerous business. Often you find yourself on your own. I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way, making a lot of mistakes because I put myself out there. Change is occurring, I can see it. In order to continue, change requires those who push. Sometimes it might seem like you have no shot at winning, but you’ll never know unless you try.
I am proud of what all of us have been creating through this movement of, “We’ll do it on our own together.” I will continue to push and I will continue to grow. This thing is fully involved and I’m standing directly in the flow path; who’s with me?
Why do we start trouble? Because somebody has to and there is a lot more work to be done.