I found myself on my knees, head in my hands, in the dark, alone and trembling...not from the cold but from a gut piercing fear...If you’ve ever been there you know what I’m talking about. It’s not a fear for your life, it’s a fear that this is your life!
It was almost one year ago to the date... I was 44 years old, weary, confused, terribly unhappy and scared. No, I was terrified to the core about my life, my future, and the well-being of my wife and two young boys. I was in my bedroom and alone with my thoughts. How had I gotten to this point? I’d always made what I thought were sound life decisions without waver...college, athletics, a successful sales career, several very rewarding years in the bail bond and recovery business. A good life, full of travel, great friends, a solid family, a loving supportive wife and two beautiful sons. And yet here I was on the eve of another New Year in utter despair and absolute confusion.
“I’d been so clear about what I wanted to do and yet here I was lost, confused and struggling to find meaning in my life…”
This wasn’t supposed to be the plan, I’d checked all the right boxes along the way. I looked around at my friends, most of whom were in the prime of their careers, thriving and prospering. I just felt empty, like something was missing, like a part of me was missing. The road ahead looked less like a well-travelled path and more like a goat trail, long since forgotten, marred by deep ruts and hidden by bramble bushes. There was no sense of confidence in my step and I was paralyzed by fear and indecision. As I friend of mine said, “You’ve lost your mojo.” In reality, I’d lost sight of who I was or perhaps more aptly who I was meant to be.
I remember that I reluctantly accepted an invitation to a pre-Christmas BBQ with friends. I was in no mood to celebrate but these were dear friends and in hindsight I needed an outlet. As I sat in the backyard talking to a fire captain friend I started to pour my heart out, tears streamed down my face as I spoke about the missed opportunities in my life, about my dream of being a paramedic about my deep passion of caring for others and about my uncertain future. He stopped me mid-sentence… the simple impact of the moment and his words will give me chills until day I die. “Stop” he said, “If you want this, I will help you”. Nine simple words that took my breath and changed my life.
One year later, here I am, 45 years old and on the precipice of the greatest adventure of my life. In less than a month I begin the one-year commitment to become a firefighter. I’ll enter the fire academy with a group of 20 somethings full of piss and vinegar and God willing, change the rest of my life. In doing so perhaps I’ll also fulfill my dream of being able to change the lives of those I touch. I’m full of hope, full of direction, full of confidence and full of purpose. It hasn’t been an easy year….hours of preparation, EMT classes, fire technology courses, training, late nights studying, travel and time away from the family. All of this has been done while working to support a family, maintaining balance in my marriage and nurturing the lives of two young boys. I mention this not for one bit of admiration or accolade but only to provide context to how transformative this process has been for me. I couldn’t have accomplished this a year ago, I was frozen. So what was the secret behind the transformation?
I’ve had so many people ask what I’ve done to prepare. How did you get yourself ready? They want to know about the physical training, my diet and exercise, the medical and fire courses, etc.. And while I could talk for hours about the Crossfit training, my conversion to a Paleo diet, the yoga, the running regimen and so on, it really had very little to do with those things. The challenge for me was mental not physical.
Here are the five simple but critical things I learned over the last year that made all the difference in my life and allowed me to stay focused on my dream. Please, take it from me, don’t wait for the new year to implement change in your life. Apply these today and start your own transformation. You too can chase your dreams and change your life!
1) Focus on the future not the past...look forward not back
I wish I’d adopted this philosophy sooner in life. Carrying around the baggage of missed opportunities and broken dreams will drain your lifeblood. We spend so much time focusing on what could have been and inventing excuses for why we didn’t do something or why it’s too late, that we literally destroy future opportunities. Not a day went by over the last 10 years that I didn’t think about a career in the fire service. How different would my life be today had I stopped making excuses for why I couldn’t pursue my dream and then languishing in the guilt of not taking action. Reflect and learn from the past but “always” remain focused on the future. Live and act upon your dreams!
2) Do something small every day
Small steps lead to big accomplishments… it’s how I'm approaching the academy. A year is a long time. If I stop to consider the number of days, hours or missed weekends away from family over the coming year it’s overwhelming. When tackling a large task, focus just on what’s in front of you. Break any seemingly monumental challenge into manageable steps. It’s like the old adage...How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Remember, a 10,000 mile journey begins with one step. Take the first step!
3) Set attainable goals
This is and always has been a challenge for me. I’ve generally tended to bite off a bit more than I could chew. Some call it a drive for overachievement, I think it’s overconfidence. The key here is not to set yourself up for failure. This seems obvious but be sure you can attain the goals you set. Setting goals that are unrealistic and ultimately unattainable only erodes your confidence, it creates a toxic mental state that paralyzes action. For example my initial instinct with the fire academy was to chose the shortest possible path... 12 straight weeks, M-F, 4:30AM - 9:00PM while it seemed like the quickest option, it wasn’t a “realistic goal”. The strain on my family and inability to provide income would have been catastrophic. Ultimately, I chose a one-year academy with a part time option that was still challenging but far more manageable.
4) Give yourself permission to fail, learn and move forward
Failure in life is inevitable. Without failure there can be no growth. If you believe that you cannot fail or that it’s a sign of weakness or inadequacy you’ve already lost. It goes back to my original point… I was so focused on the failures throughout my 40+ years on this planet that I was paralyzed into inactivity, paralysis by analysis. The realization that all that you are and all that you will become rests on your ability to learn and adapt from failure, is both liberating and empowering. Learn from your mistakes, adapt and move on without regret!
5) Enjoy the process - Life is a marathon not a sprint!
The fire academy is paramilitaristic. There’s a lot of pain, yelling, systematic breakdown and rewiring that takes place as we cadets are reprogrammed… “I” becomes “We” and “Me” becomes “Team”. I’d be lying to myself if I believed that the next year was going to happen without some real low points, hardship and agony. But that’s life isn’t it? No one promised it would be easy. It’s a long road with peaks and valleys. You must learn to enjoy or at a minimum accept all of it. It’s the valleys that define who we are and make the destination even sweeter.
In closing, I have two things to say. First, don’t wait for New Years and another round of unrealistic resolutions to begin your transformation. Regardless of the size of the goal or challenge embrace a new mindset, a new attitude and the simple steps above to realize your dreams. If I can do this at the ripe old age of 45, so can you. Second, I have to take a moment and pause to thank all of you who have shown me so much support and provided truly inspiring feedback to my posts over the past several months. You will never know how big a role you played in this process. The words and the actions of all who serve have provided me with unspeakable motivation and determination. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Happy New Year,