We seldom see the trajectory our lives are taking while in the midst of making the decisions that set that trajectory. You decide to go for ice cream instead of coffee and you reconnect with a childhood friend at the coffee shop. You reluctantly say “no” to a new job, fearful that it was the wrong decision, and the next day an amazing position drops in your lap. You take a last-minute grocery trip and you end up with a puppy being sold outside the store that becomes a lifelong friend. The same has repeatedly been true for me. When looking back at those decision points in my life that at the time I thought were minor ones, I can now see through the lens of retrospect that they were 90o turns towards bigger and better things.
I was a Covid casualty. My career had stalled - I was no longer a responding member of the fire service and a new job I had accepted at a fire academy disappeared along with that academy’s ability to keep its doors open during the pandemic. A follow up job saw the same thing happen with the second wave of Covid, and an investigation into the possibility of opening my own fire academy revealed that it was well beyond my means. I was floundering.
One day, probably feeling a little sorry for myself, I began scrolling through the various fire-related sites and emails I get across my feed. One email caught my eye, and I opened an ISFSI message indicating the rollout of its Mentoring and Coaching Initiative. I didn’t know it then, but I was looking for inspiration. I was looking to be involved. After a conversation with the mentor program’s Committee Chair, Chief Jesse Marcotte, I was paired with a mentor – Chief Tony Correia.
My first conversation with Chief Correia, (or Tony as I get to call him now as he’s become a friend), was not just engaging and robust, and he didn’t just validate that my thought processes were on point. It was, in the end, a conversation full of “light bulb moments” for me. I unabashedly want to change the fire service towards hiring for character. (We don’t. More on that in another article). In that context, our talk generated several ideas I could chase down, a number of new paths towards opportunity I could take. One thing he suggested was to reach out to Firefighter Jamie Rychard, a thought leader in the area of firefighters as “tactical athletes” and the need for mental performance initiatives. Tony had been in conversations with Jamie and noted that my ideas ran parallel to his.
As with Tony, my conversation with firefighter Rychard led to another opportunity - my inclusion in an ad hoc committee I wasn’t previously aware of. It’s a collection of fire service leaders forwarding the idea of “character based leadership”. It’s peopled by a number of the fire service’s foremost, so to say I was humbled is understatement. Not only was my inclusion in the group a professional highlight, but the group’s members have become both friends and coaches. They urge me to pursue my ideas, and so I have solidified my resolve to fully flesh out them out.
Other boons that have grown out of my participation in the ISFSI mentoring program have included my ever-burgeoning list of professional acquaintances, (a critical list to have if you want to grow professionally, and to forward your own ideas) my appearance on several podcasts and a couple of international roundtables, and two new positions, one of them a dream job. (Ironically, as I wrote this last line, my phone pinged with an offer to be on another podcast. Yet another chance to initiate conversation on my thoughts on hiring for character).
I don’t remember why I sat at my computer opening emails when the ISFSI mentoring one came in. I may have just wanted to sit with a cup of coffee and sift through some messages to “catch up”. I don’t know what state of mind I was in that made me open it or why I clicked “yes” to participate. But again, we seldom see the trajectory our lives are taking amid making the decisions that eventually set our course. Something I do see in hindsight though: the ISFSI gave me the great gift of Chief Correia, which in turn altered my own career path. I didn’t see the path of personal connection and fulfillment I’m on now. I’m not even sure I would’ve had the wherewithal to run with my possibly industry-changing ideas without the support and urging of my newfound network. But I do know it started with a great mentor found through the ISFSI’s Mentoring and Coaching Initiative.