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Oct. 20, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. - I had a conversation with a fire chief recently that I’m still pondering. The meeting had been arranged by a mutual acquaintance, and it provided me with a fascinating view of myself.

October 17, 2014
By Jennifer Grigg

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Oct. 20, 2014, Port Severn, Ont. – I had a conversation with a fire chief recently that I’m still pondering. The meeting had been arranged by a mutual acquaintance, and it provided me with a fascinating view of myself.

Even though I enjoy my job in planning and building (I have gained valuable knowledge that helps me in my role as a volunteer firefighter, and always strive to put my best foot forward), I’ve come to realize that my passion is still, and always has been, in fire.

It was time for me to start asking questions and figuring out why I’m not following my passion full time.

Once I started asking, I seemed to get ideas about what to do next.

I looked around for someone who seemed to be an obvious goal setter, and simply asked for a few minutes of that person’s time. I didn’t have to look too far.

I knew the person would be a good resource because she is a chief administrative officer (which was obviously a goal she set for herself at some point) and has just achieved another goal of training for and running a half marathon. She has also been quietly and confidently changing little things behind the scenes that have added up to major accomplishments overall.

She gave me some valuable pointers, such as updating my LinkedIn profile to better reflect my career aspirations – with a picture of myself in uniform rather than my fire-hall wedding pic – and posting my resume on there too. Although she wasn’t in a position to offer me a way back to my full-time passion, she was genuine about encouraging me to follow my heart and do what makes me happy. She would want that for any of her staff. She also offered to set up a meeting with a fire chief she worked with at a previous municipality and who she thought could give me some valuable feedback.

And all it took was for me to ask.

I had no idea whether the CAO would be able to, or even inclined to, take the time to chat with me, but I had nothing to lose, and much to gain. I suspected she would be happy to offer any advice she could, and she not only did that, she went above and beyond by arranging a meeting with someone who she knew could play a key role in helping me find what I was looking for.

We are surrounded by people who are already doing what we aspire to do; they possess the qualities and attributes that are inherent in achievers who routinely set and achieve their goals. They may also be the link that can put us in contact with someone who can help show us the way, share their knowledge and experience, and offer feedback.

My intention was just to ask a question, ask for some advice. Who knew where it would go from there.

I spent almost an hour speaking to the fire chief, someone who I had never met. Within the first few minutes, he said to me, “You come across as having a sense of entitlement”.

I was at a loss for words. “Wow,” I thought to myself.

He then said, “You might not like what I have to say, but I’ll be honest with you.”

Once I got over my initial shock, I understood completely where the sense of entitlement was coming from. In a moment of brutal honesty with myself, and this almost-stranger in front of me, I admitted that I was still hanging on to the fact that I had been the first fire prevention officer in my department, and  still held on to the hope that it would happen again one day.

What surprised me even more though, was that I was completely unaware of  what I was projecting. How many interviews had I been in during which I had presented myself in such a way?

Another fascinating tidbit that came out of the meeting was that I was leading with my resume when I talk to others, and this wasn’t even an interview (although it felt like it a few times). He said that I seem to lack the passion for the profession. He didn’t see it in me and I certainly wasn’t overflowing with enthusiasm for all things fire-service related.

I thought to myself, “You obviously don’t follow me on Twitter.”

But there is much to be said for walking the walk and talking the talk. Which I clearly wasn’t doing. At least, not consistently.

He told me that I need to decide how committed I am to my goals. This I get. Somewhere along the way, I formed the belief that I had missed my golden opportunity at a career in the fire service.

Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services, 2004. I had finally made it. It was the highlight of my career. I was the first female fire inspector hired, and couldn’t believe I how lucky I was to have gotten that far. Although I got along great with my peers and progressed well under my captain’s tutelage, I found the nearly two-hour commute four days a week and the 10-hour work days difficult. I had two young daughters at home and hated to be that far away from them at such a tender age. My husband at the time tried to hold down the fort but neither one of us was coping well.

That was it. I left the job after six months, with a glowing recommendation from my captain, whose nickname was “Sid Vicious” by the way, and my tail between my legs. I knew at the time that it was the right choice for my young family, and for me, but it left a scar in my soul and cemented a belief that I blew my chances at a career.

I have no regrets about putting my family first. I have no regrets at all, because everything is a learning experience and it has all gotten me to where I am now. However, I am very thankful to be letting go of the belief that I blew my shot at a career.

When I told the fire chief about my Mississauga experience, he saw things in a very different light than I would expect of a chief. He told me that the fact that I committed to my family in the way that I did says more about me (in his opinion) and the type of person I am, than my resume would. He said he would never fault anyone for putting family first. It was clearly the right thing for me to do at that time.

In his words, he puts more weight on who the person is than on what the resume says. He wants to know what makes a person tick, what motivates and inspires them, and if they have heart and a love of the fire service. He’s more likely to go over the resume after he gets to know a person, and has decided that he wants him or her on his team.

How profound. In my personal life, I lead with my heart. In a job interview, I lead with my resume because I think that’s what the people interviewing me want.

It does my heart good to know that there are chiefs out there who want you to lead with your heart. And if I wasn’t so busy trying to impress people (by showing them my resume) instead of just being me (and showing them my heart), I’d be living my passion full time already.

Lessons learned: lose the sense of entitlement, reframe the Mississauga experience, and lead with my heart, my passion, my fire.

Thanks chief.

Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. Email her at jhook0312@yahoo.ca and follow her on Twitter at @georgianbayjen


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