Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Life of Work, Love, and Play

Work, love and play are the great balance wheels of man's being. - Orison Swett Marden (Raging wildland fire in shades of purple, orange and blue)
A career in wildland fire comes with its share of challenges. The biggest may be the ability to manage a life of work, love and play. Emergency responders and their families are well aware of the personal sacrifices made to accomplish the mission.

Many wildland firefighters are young and may not have families. I was one of them. Until I was 35, my priorities were school and work. I didn't take the winters off like many of my friends. I bounced between fire and education for 17 years, finally landing a permanent full-time fire job in 2000. Time has flown by as I look back on my career and start planning a path to retirement. 

The quote I chose for this blog is from Orison Swett Marden: "Work, love and play are the great balance wheels of man's being." I have a difficult time with the word "balance." Balance, to me, is an illusion. We make personal choices between the who, what, and where we devote our time. The demands of each element continually conflicts with the limits of time. We only have 24 hours in a day; and even though we can multi-task, we can really only do one thing at a time. Especially if we want to do it well.

As I reflect back, I have no regrets. I love my life in wildland fire and deeply care for those in my sphere of influence. But a life of true love didn't come until I was 35; and children never came. My empathetic soul has me feeling for those who have families and love. I see my fellow fire brothers and sisters struggle with managing work, love and play, especially when fire seasons grow longer each year. Finding inner balance and serenity is an important part of this crazy life journey.

So how do we manage a life of work, love, and play? I use a fire triangle analogy. In order for fire to thrive, oxygen, fuel, and heat (energy) must be present. Take any one of these away and the fire dies. The amount of each determines the size, intensity, or complexity of the burn. The same holds true for work, love, and play. Ignore any one element and it dies. Give too much to any one element and you affect the others. Finding inner balance and serenity requires we make constant adjustments. There is no one recipe for success; each person's life is different. We have different purposes and passions, but we all need a mixture of work, love, and play to thrive.

One of my favorite biographers, Doris Kearns Goodwin, shares a few lessons on the subject using analogies from past presidents. Take a few minutes to listen to her story.

He (Erik Erikson) taught us that the richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms:work, love and play. And that to pursue one realm to the disregard of the other, is to open oneself to ultimate sadness in older age. Whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication, is to make possible a life filled not only with achievement, but with serenity. - Doris Kearns Goodwin
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper

I challenge you below to take a deeper look into your life. Determine if you are okay with your priorities. Fierce ambition may be a good thing in the short term, but can you sustain it for the long term? Can you thrive by focusing on only one of the sides of the work/love/play triangle?
  • What allows you to transcend your surroundings?
  • What would you like to accomplish that will live on in the memory of others?
  • Does your purpose transcend the areas of work, love, and play?
  • Are you content with your priorities? Is your family content with your priorities?

About the Author:
Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

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