Passion, Purpose, and Pressure

December 27th, 2012 § Comments Off on Passion, Purpose, and Pressure § permalink

life its all trial errorLearning what doesn’t work, is the work of a lifetime, but often we approach it by trying to figure out what does work for us. It’s a trial and error process for most – often discouraging, and occasionally rewarding. Most of us stumble through this process and grab the first things that work for us. This works for many people. It doesn’t work well for everyone.

My first round of success in emergency services was fun, rewarding, and quite successful. Yet, at some point I grew restless and bored. I dreamed of bigger things and a life beyond the streets. It was a trip to Mexico that my eyes were opened. When I saw the needs there, especially in EMS, I realized, for the first time, there were bigger fish to fry. The effort I put into improving EMS in the US might create small, incremental changes and result in some quality improvements, but that same amount of effort would greatly reduce mortality and morbidity in developing nations.

As I processed through this reality, I also began to process through some failures in my life. I realized that drinking and partying were not working for me. Bingo! Just like that, I realized one thing that didn’t work. Unfortunately, it took about 15 years to pull out of that trap I’d fallen into. As I found serenity and spiritual alignment, I put less value on a medical approach to lifesaving and more on the eternal spiritual values. This process helped me to better clarify my life’s purposes and passions – and yet, the pressures of life continued to press from all angles.

“We’re told we need…”

We’re told we need money, housing, and food to survive – and beyond that, society tells us we need a big house, nice car, and an impressive job in order to acquire the “success” label. It’s easy to want society’s accolades, affirmations, and adorations – and yet, for some, these trappings are a dead-end.Trial & Error

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have the house, car, and financially successful career, but sometimes the constraints are not worth the benefits. Sometimes there are things far more important than social affirmation. For me, I’ve clearly found that family works very well for me – and I’m unwilling to sacrifice them for the sake of anyone, anything, or any job.

Four years ago some people tried to bully me into putting more emphasis on my career and less on my family. I said no and was fired for it. A year and a half ago I lost a management promotion because my family had needs that were greater than the pressures my boss was putting on me. Six months ago, I walked away from that same job because it was killing me and killing my family. Of course this means we’re losing our house, have no income, and have zero financial security. Now what?

Over the course of the last several months I have received greater clarity on my purpose and passion.

I have a passion for helping men be better men; to enable fathers to be better fathers; and to strengthen families and marriages. From my observations, men have struggled since the women’s movement gained traction 40 years ago. Women needed to stand up and be heard, but one of the unintended consequences is that men, generally, were left confused and disoriented.  In the meantime, they forgot to step up and be true to their roles as husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, and manly men. Just because we better understand the needs of women, it doesn’t mean we have to diminish our own selves.

Men without a purpose, do not engage with life, with their wives, with their families, or in their careers. Too many men lose their families because they don’t stay in the battle. These men are broken, scared, and have forgotten how to be men. They are broken. Broken men reproduce themselves through broken children.

Because of the peace and joy I’ve found through repairing my brokenness, I’d like to help other men find the same serenity. this is my passion, purpose, and calling.

Interestingly, or unfortunately, there are a lot of pressures that seem to keep me from pursuing this passion. A month ago, I began writing a book. In this day and this economy, it takes more than just putting words on the screen – it’s about building an audience and publishing network. More than personal creativity, art, and sharing – there are technical distractions.

But, bigger than this are the personal, social, and familial distractions. Family needs come before the creation of art and the saving of others. If I don’t put my family above my personal passions, than I am still failing – again. This passion, like my earlier passions can never supersede my personal serenity – or my family’s.

Sometimes, like today, I wake up ready to write – but before I know it, other people’s priorities and needs have swept over me and I don’t get to write. That’s OK – it will work out.

“What does it benefit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”

Leadership and Mediocrity

November 7th, 2012 § Comments § permalink

Several years ago, I accidentally watched an episode of Survivor. I’ve never been a fan of “reality” TV, and I’ve always been fairly selective of what I watch. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch a gritty crime series, or enjoy a good, hokie western now and then – but for the most part, I look for media that stimulates my mind. Anyway, I set the VCR to record one show, but apparently missed the cues and recorded Survivor instead.

A couple of days later, I sat down to watch the show I thought I recorded. Instead, the third episode of Survivor: Marquesas came on. I watched it and was amazed at the dynamics I saw being played out. (Try not to judge me, and listen to what I learned) I was immediately taken by one contestant, Hunter Ellisa former Naval aviator. In my ignorance at how this “game” is played, it seemed to me this is the guy you’d want on your team. If anyone knows anything about survival, it would be this military-trained pilot. But before I could say, sensationalism, Ellis was voted off the island.

Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve always been a quiet student of human nature and political science. I was curious to figure this out. Why would a group of people vote off the most qualified person on the island. Over the course of the next 12 episodes, I developed a fairly strong theory.

  • First, Ellis was the biggest threat.
  • Second, he was good, but not stellar, when it came to interpersonal leadership skills.
  • and finally, because of the game, the others didn’t see him as a necessary resource.

The main reason I found this show so fascinating was because of the situation I found myself in at the time. Fresh from graduate school, my wife and I found ourselves pastoring two churches – both small, rural (blue collar), and very traditional. Neither of us are traditional, and though we come from blue-collar backgrounds, we are both well educated. In addition, small churches don’t fit well within our background. In fact, fresh from the seminary, and new to professional ministry, we were all set to change the world.

(As a side note, there may be many reasons to send new, young pastors to small, rural churches – but for the life of me, I don’t believe any of those ideas outweigh the damage this does to the individuals and the organization.)

But, back to my fascinating theory on what happened during this episode of Survivor.

Not only was Ellis smart, well educated, and proficient in survival/outdoor skills, but he was handsome and articulate. Unfortunately, the game is about wilderness survival, it is about political survival.  Knowing how to start a fire without matches, or building a shelter without tools, while nice skills to have, neither are the primary objective. Though those skills can be leveraged towards the primary objective, they are merely currency.

As a new pastor, coming into a church where the Head Elder has held his position since I was six years old, I was completely unprepared for the “game.” I (wrongly) believed the purpose of doing church was to help people know that God loves them. I somehow believe that my ideas, vision, and education would be welcomed with enthusiasm and affirmation. For some strange reason, I thought the people in the church were just waiting to be empowered an mobilized. I was so wrong.

I was so wrong.

Interestingly, we got out of that first situation with our lives relatively intact – just as Hunter Ellis went on to capitalize on his 15 minutes of fame. My entire professional career, I relied upon my expertise and skills to succeed. I was a good paramedic, a good instructor, and a good public speaker. I learned to be a good administrator and a good project manager. Somehow, naively, I was able to avoid the pitfalls of the political subcultures I found myself in. I expected a meritocracy, but after watching this one season of Survivor, I learned that merit is seldom the purpose of most organizations.

Relationships matter. One can use their skills and merit a return on investment, but in a political organization, skills, talent, and experience are merely the currency of membership. Without continuing to build the relationships, and the bartering of give and take, they will soon find themselves bankrupt and without merit.

Unfortunately for me, I tend to build relationships with the underdogs and the disempowered. My compassion and empathy tends to overlook the powerful – for I tend to think the powerful would automatically want to help those less fortunate then themselves. I’m not quite cynical enough to think this isn’t true, but I’m pretty close to believing that if one focuses on the underdogs, they will never have a future amongst the powerful.

According to Wikipedia, Ellis was voted one of the worst Survivor players ever. He was deemed to be too cocky and, ironically, not paying close enough attention to his own standing. As I review my previous political errors, this could be said of me also. I’ve often been labeled cocky, or arrogant. I’ll own that. I do think there is a certain amount of self-confidence involved in that – plus, INTJs struggle with this perception. But still, I’ll own that fact that I’m often perceived as too cocky.

I also own the idea that I don’t pay enough attention to my own political standing. I’m opposed to currying favor, bartering with compromise, and using political standing to gain traction. Of course, this has not gone well in many situations. More than once I’ve had a boss call me onto the carpet to let me know I just made him look bad, or wasn’t supporting his vision of how things should progress. And more than once I’ve explained that I will follow my conscience and do the “right” thing, regardless of what is best for the organization’s survival.

My motive is never the survival of the organization, and always what is best for the individuals affected. As a paramedic and EMS manager, I was motivated by quality patient care. As a pastor, my motivation was to serve the disadvantaged and disempowered. As a voter, I am motivated to support those who cannot support themselves – not myself, or those well above the poverty line.

This is what gets me in trouble. I suppose some would suggest I take a more passionate interest in my own career – but I can’t. It’s would be immoral for me to do so. I could never put my own career, or the standing of any organization above what’s right.

Ellis was good. As I said, he was bright, articulate, skilled, charismatic, and attractive. But not stellar. From my observations, he is a leader and he has good ideas, but not stellar leadership, and not superior ideas. The biggest lesson I learned from watching this season of Survivor is that being a mediocre leader is one of the surest paths to political demise.

If one cannot rise up and be the leader, it would probably be best to blend into the background. Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill I’ve mastered either. Coming into this small, rural, traditional church, with a very established power structure, I thought my position, education, and enthusiasm would trump the inertia – it didn’t. In fact, all of my strengths were actually liabilities.

“I was too focused on doing the right thing.”

We were able to escape Rock Springs and serve in an area that was more akin to our passion and vision, but barely. If we had stayed much longer, we might have faced the same fate we experienced in Scappoose. Although I had an intellectual understanding of the dynamics, I never really applied them. Now, in retrospect, I realize this is what led to my demise in Scappoose and later at AMR. I was too focused on doing the right thing (whether my perspective of the “right thing” is correct, or not, is irrelevant to this discussion).

In Scappoose, I was all about reclaiming the marginalized members, looking out for those who didn’t feel comfortable in traditional church settings, and building connections within the community. What I didn’t realize is that none of those tasks should have been at the top of my list of priorities. Oops.

At AMR, I was focused on better supporting the paramedics and EMTs – knowing this is the surest way to achieve quality, and compassionate, patient care. My focus was on patient care and caring for our employees. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that AMRs goal was profit.

Ellis appeared to focus on survival, but because of his superior skills he was deemed a threat. I now realize that some deemed me a threat also. Whether the threat was to their power and control, or to the status quo, it really doesn’t matter.

I wonder what would have happened had Ellis bartered his skillset for position and standing within the game. What would have happened if I had taken the time to establish my position and standing, rather than pursuing the vision within me?

Or here’s a better question: What if society valued ideas and creative vision, rather than pretentious political gaming?

“As you begin to interpret your failures correctly, you will take your first giant step toward maturity.” ~Chuck Swindoll

One Thing at a Time: an example from EMS (part 2)

August 26th, 2012 § Comments Off on One Thing at a Time: an example from EMS (part 2) § permalink

(Continued from here: For years we have been trying to do more with less. We, as employees, entrepreneurs, and parents seek to multitask and get more done in less time. The Great American Dream was to increase productivity and leisure time – but that hasn’t worked out so well. We thought we could systematize industry and agriculture, and allow ourselves shorter work weeks and more time to pursue self actualization.)

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Being a paramedic has helped me in this area:

Fire Department paramedics, 2000As an emergency services responder, I often have to multi-task. I’ve found however, that I can not multi-think. There’s a difference and I believe it applies to other professions and to parenting.
When I’m treating a critical patient, I will often try to be as efficient and quick as possible. This may mean simultaneously setting up an IV, applying EKG leads, and directing my partner in tasks. Yet when it comes to assessment, I have to narrow my focus. When I listen to lungs, I have to concentrate on that. When I’m reading a 12-Lead EKG, I have to focus on a systematic method of interpretation. If I try to listen to lungs, while calculating a drug dosage and reading an EKG, I’m likely to do one of these very poorly – with very negative outcomes.

If I don’t arrive, I’m not doing anyone any good”

It’s the same when I’m responding to a call. From the time the call first comes in, my first task is to determine the address, map it (whether on paper, the computer, or in my head), then to respond to that address safely and quickly. Certain calls will compete for my attention and distract me from arriving safely and quickly. If I don’t arrive, I’m not doing anyone any good. I have to arrive – which translates into safety – and the quicker the better. But distractions reduce my odds of arriving.

When the dispatcher tells us there is a baby not breathing, or another terrible event, it is easy to let one’s mind get ahead of itself. I start thinking about the tragedy unfolding, the parents, the child, the crying, the pain – and suddenly, I’m not watching traffic like I should, I make navigation errors, and I’m not being safe, or quick. I have disciplined myself to think instead about the task right before me – responding safely and quickly. Then, once we are on the road, and the traffic and geography allow, I will think about treatment options, review drug dosages, and plan for rapid assessment and treatment of my patient. But until I arrive on scene, I always make safe and rapid response my priority.

Here’s how this applies to parenting:Vader geeft baby de fles / Father feeding the baby

You work so you can provide for your family, not the other way around. Your family does not exist so you can have a career. You do chores around the house for the sake of your family – your family is not the cause of your chores. Everything you do is for you and/or your family. Your family is not a distraction from those things – you do those things for your family.

your kids are the reason you’re running these errands…”

So, if you’re at a soccer game, be at the soccer game. A Quick call from a coworker is to be expected – but keep it quick. Set good boundaries with your colleagues and don’t let them dominate your time with your family. The same with evenings and weekends.

When you’re in the car and running errands, remember, your kids are why you’re running these errands – they are not making your life harder – they are the reason you are here. Don’t subordinate your kids to your tasks, prioritize your kids above your tasks. Be available for them as you run your errands, drive around, and take care of household tasks. There may be times of silence, but you will be amazed at how the quality of your times together improves.

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(to be continued…)

Part 1 – Multitasking

Part 2 – An example from a paramedic

Part 3 – Don’t say, “I’m just too busy.

Part 4 – What we did

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