You are always one choice away from changing your life. Marcy Blochowiak is credited with that phrase in Simple Truths but many have written similar phrases. I think about this from time to time when it pertains to the choices made that led to the public safety career I enjoyed as well others that my career touched. I think about choices when I reflect back on the phone calls from people who made poor choices and the impact those choices would have on their lives or the lives of the family and friends they had now left behind.
I’ve talked to hundreds of people exploring public safety careers in 911 dispatch. Often, I hear, “I want to help people” or “I want to make a difference.” Many start out idealistic but then face distress within a few years. You may enjoy the job at first. But within 3-5 years, you begin to experience burnout. You complain more, call in sick, and use up benefits. You’re at a crossroads – stay on this path or make a choice to make a change. I faced this as a young single mom. With two little kids, I chose to stay because it provided stability. But I just existed, struggling to find fulfillment. When I switched agencies, suddenly I saw new potential. By choosing to engage, I went from surviving to thriving. We all reach turning points. With wisdom, we can embrace careers that make a difference. Even in distress, we can revive passion.
Over the years some of the stories I have heard about hard choices have caused me to ponder how significant one choice, made by one person, can really be. For example, the story of an employee who made inappropriate remarks in front of subordinates and peers during an after hours work-related event. Formal complaints were made and upper leadership levels, after an investigation, called for termination. The employee’s peers and subordinates called for termination, yet the direct supervisor felt the remarks were fixable and the employee was worth the effort to restore so a suspension was given, and a multi-year last chance agreement was put in place. It cost the direct supervisor the trust of the employee’s peers and subordinates, trust that was never fully restored but that direct supervisor reported that it was the right thing to do and the choice to save the person’s career was worth it. One choice compounded, changed both of their lives; the employee was able to continue in the career, the supervisor never regained full trust from the staff making future decisions harder to implement.
How about the employee hired who made the choice to use the agency equipment to have on-going conversations with multiple on-duty officers? Over a short period of time, the conversations with the officers equated to over 500 pages of printout. One choice, made by several, changed several lives when the outcome of the investigation was provided to the officer’s agencies.
What about when you accepted the position to become a 911 dispatcher? Or you accepted the promotion to training officer, supervisor, director? Did that one choice change your life? You may not think it did, and perhaps it hasn’t yet, but it will. Working in public safety will change how you think, how you act, and how you process events. It will change how you raise your children and how you view the public. You can choose to struggle, or you can choose to thrive. You will hit career lows that you can stay low in, or you do some real soul searching and change directions, revive your career and allow it to take you to places you never dreamed you would go.
Did you know there were other opportunities available, and you don’t have to switch agencies, you don’t have to leave public safety! You can teach, be part of committees, be part of meetings where you can stay up to date on the changes facing your profession, you can help make decisions that will set the direction for 911 for years to come. Just to name a few options available: Equature’s Apprentice Training, National Emergency Number Association (NENA), Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), National EMS Advisory Council (NEMSAC), National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 911.gov, all have programs, committees, and/or training that you can get involved with. We talk about distress and burnout more now than we have ever discussed it before in the 911 profession. But we don’t always talk about how we must make the choice to do something to change it before it overcomes us. We must choose wisely. How do we choose wisely when we don’t always realize that we have reached a critical turning point? It’s a tough call, I personally missed the burnout symptoms in myself and left the PSAP after 38 years, and although it worked out great for me, because of the choices I made after I left the PSAP my goal is to help people recognize it so they can make the choice to stay if that is what they want.
I have long been an Indiana Jones fan. One of my favorite scenes is from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s an old movie, so if you haven’t seen it, sorry for the spoiler alert, but here it is, Indiana is in search of the cup of life, because the villain wants it too for evil purposes, Indi is trying to find it first. Finally they all find where the cup is, guarded by a knight 2000 years or so old. While Indiana watches, held back at gunpoint, the villain pick the cup that will give them everlasting life, as they look at all of the cups glittering with gold and jewels, the most beautiful one is chosen, the villain dips the cup into the water and mummers, “truly this is the cup of the king of kings”, and he drinks. Within moments he begins to age rapidly to the point of death, discovering that his one choice in drinking from a poorly chosen cup causes death instead of life. The knight looks at Indi and says, “He chose… poorly”. Indiana pushes the now skeleton out of the way, finds a hand-carved wooden cup, dips it in the water, drinks it, and the knight says, “You chose… wisely”. Yes, my favorite lines, and I site them frequently. Because isn’t that just like us all, if we choose poorly, it will impact our life for days, months, or years to come. But when we choose wisely, it can benefit us for generations.
Choose wisely, take care of yourself, monitor yourself for signs of distress, and take control of your career. Changing your life with a single choice can be highly motivating and if you allow it to be, it can be the most rewarding experience in your life.
I want to hear about your choices! Tell me your story! If you are willing to share your story, email me at: email@example.com.