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Cornerstone: Fostering resilience in trying times


April 29, 2008
By Lyle Quan

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Throughout our personal and professional lives we have all encountered the anguish of being uncertain about a decision we have made. Whether it’s trying to decide on moving to another community for the benefit of our family or taking a new position at work, we must all deal with these decisions and need to be comfortable with the outcome.

lylequanThroughout our personal and professional lives we have all encountered the anguish of being uncertain about a decision we have made. Whether it’s trying to decide on moving to another community for the benefit of our family or taking a new position at work, we must all deal with these decisions and need to be comfortable with the outcome. Many of us in the fire service have agonized over decisions we made on the fire ground or back at the station when dealing with personnel problems. We second guess ourselves, go home and lose sleep over those decisions.

Uncertainty is not something to fear, rather it should be something that we acknowledge and embrace. Uncertainty, in many ways, is like our “fight or flight” reaction to a situation that doesn’t require a split-second decision; it makes us think about possible options. By understanding this, we can manage this uncertainty through several methods.

Let’s look at two books that will help us understand and control this form of apprehension, whether it’s in our personal or professional lives.

The first book, Embracing Uncertainty, by Susan Jeffers, deals with the personal conflicts we encounter and how we need to understand what uncertainty is and how to deal with the uncontrollable. Yes, I said uncontrollable; this is what causes much of our anxiety because we in the fire service feel that if we can’t control something then we have lost the battle. In fact, good incident commanders understand that some things are simply outside of their control. So, what is the option? In essence, incident commanders don’t give up because surrendering simply is not an option at an emergency scene. Rather, they regroup and deal with the problem from a different angle. By doing so the incident commander demonstrates the ability to be flexible and conscious of the fact that perhaps we can’t save the original structure but we can definitely save the units on either side of that structure.

It’s up to us to make the best of a bad situation. And, quite simply, this is what we need to do in our personal lives: understand that we cannot control everything but we can react to situations in a manner that will help us make the best of them.

In her book, Jeffers quotes Bertrand Russell who once wrote that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” Jeffers points out that we cannot know everything, and by accepting this fact we can create a level of freedom and understanding that pushes us to honestly learn more. The book has numerous exercises to help readers ease the pain in their brains and learn to relax and enjoy life. One of the more refreshing points Jeffers notes is that through time, generations have thought that the speed of change in technology and other facets in their lives was almost too much to handle. Yet, today, we look at those past times as more relaxed, saner times that were less hectic and less confusing. So 20 or 30 years from now will the next generation think the same about our wildly hectic times?

Embracing Uncertainty is a book that helps readers relax and deal with those tumultuous times in our lives. I’m sure you will find this book quite refreshing and even comforting to read.

The second book, by Phillip Clampitt and Robert DeKoch, titled Embracing Uncertainty: The Essence of Leadership builds on Jeffers’ book by taking us into the realm of our professional lives and helping us better understand how we can make uncertainty work for us in a positive way.

Clampitt and DeKoch note in their book that, “ . . . there are many benefits to squarely facing up to the uncertainties of life. In fact, the chaos, complexity, and speed of change in modern organizations require that effective leaders become masters of embracing uncertainty.”

Clampitt and DeKoch continue to explore the sources of uncertainty and by doing so help readers understand that there are methods for dealing with these issues and finding some closure. As I read the book, I kept finding myself thinking just how simple and yet profound some of the suggestions were. The authors use real-world examples to make their case for embracing uncertainty.

I have found these two books not only refreshing but of great assistance to me during times of uncertainty. As such, I keep them close by to remind me that we all stumble once in a while and that’s OK; it’s how we regain our footing that makes us who we are.

These two books will help us create that resilient approach to uncertainty. Most of all, let’s not forget that in the fire service and in our personal lives, we have a strong support mechanism in our family and friends.

Embracing Uncertainty
(2003) is published by St. Martin’s Press and can be purchased through Chapters Books and Amazon.ca.

Embracing Uncertainty: the Essence of Leadership (2001) is published by M.E. Sharpe, Inc. and can also be obtained through Chapters Books and Amazon.ca.

Lyle Quan is the deputy fire chief – administration with the Guelph Fire Department in Ontario. A 26-year veteran of emergency services, he is a graduate of Lakeland College’s Bachelor of Applied Business: Emergency Services and Dalhousie University’s Fire Service Leadership and Administration Programs. Email: thequans@sympatico.ca


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