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Let me begin this month’s visit with you by asking a simple, but ultimately profound question. What is the most valuable commodity that you I have available to us? Some might say money, while others might suggest love or health.
Might I suggest that it is time? Time is something that can never be replaced. It is something that there is only so much of. Many of us seem to live life as though there were no end to it. Sadly, that is not the case. Someday, the bell will toll for each of us.
Are you using your time wisely? Do you have goals set out for yourself? Are you making any progress toward them, or are you flailing about in search of whatever seems popular this week? Quite simply, life is a series of tasks that are accomplished on a daily basis. Some of these are fun, others are not. However, they all fall into three distinct categories:
- Must do
- Should do
- Nice to do
I realize that this is a fairly simplistic view of life, but I think we need to look at it in this way. When things get complicated for us, frustration tends to set in and we toss up a bunch of excuses or avoidance mechanisms. So I shall try to keep this little discussion as simple as possible.
First, look at the must-do things. Our first priority should be an active devotion to those we love and the respect we owe to our family and our faith. I am not advocating any religion over any other faith. I am suggesting that each of us has to believe in something outside of ourselves and our control.
How often do we ignore these responsibilities? I suggest that many times our priorities are out of whack. Let me share a lesson. I spent many years working a variety of jobs to make ends meet. I also spent a great deal of time on the road working to grow my place within the fire service. I now know that I can never replace those moments away from my family. They weigh heavily on me, as they are a part of the price I paid to be where I am today. I suggest that you ponder the level of commitment you wish to make to the fire service.
Would I do things differently, if I could do them over again? I don’t know. What I do suggest is that there could have been a better balance. That is my lesson to you. Do not just do things because they are there to do. Weigh the impact of what you wish to do against the cost to you and your family for that course of action.
For most of us, work falls under the must-do category. I can think of no one in my circle of acquaintances who is independently wealthy. Many people think that since I am receiving a pension, I have no need to work. That is not exactly true.
I know just how much money I will get from the state each month, and I know how much I must spend each month to keep the Carter family afloat. There is a difference. I must of necessity write, lecture and consult in municipal fire protection. Fortunately for me, I enjoy each of these activities a great deal.
Unfortunately, for many of you, the working world can serve as an area of stress, anxiety and turmoil. It is a must-do event that provides the necessities of life for your family and you have to do it. You work with people who do not have your high regard for work and dedication. You may work with people who do just enough to get by. That is a simple fact of life.
Problems are problems the world over. How you handle these problems is up to you. Be yourself, and try not to let others control your emotions. This is not easy, but let me assure you that if you fail to try, you will surely fail to live a happy and healthy life. Problems left to their own devices will only get worse. Trust me on that one.
The world of should-do things is quite simple. Here are a few examples:
- You should be nice to other people.
- You should be honest.
- You should be polite.
- You should share what you know with others.
- Do the right thing.
Are these tasks really all that difficult to accomplish? Why would any of you ever start out the day thinking about how nasty you can be? While you cannot control the actions of others, you can control your own. It is really that simple.
A great deal of what I am doing now falls under the general heading of nice to do. It is really nice to be able to play my tuba. Each of the bands with which I am affiliated has its view of what it wishes to accomplish. Playing for four different groups allows me to play a wide range of different types of music.
My world of music is a great place to be. I do not need to be an expert. As the tuba player, I am supposed to be the solid base upon which the band builds its sounds. I do not have to be the best in the world or the most knowledgeable. My job is to be faithful, attend the rehearsals, play my part correctly, and crack a few jokes now and then. No more, no less.
One area of my life where I have greatly extended myself involves the Masonic world. I took on the critical role of leader within my local lodge. I served as Master of Wall-Spring Lake Lodge #73 of Free and Accepted Masons. I stepped into a leadership role that required me to attend not only my own lodge, but each of the other lodges in the 17th Masonic District on a periodic basis. I took on this duty as part of my personal belief in perpetuating the tenets of this ancient and honorable fraternal organization. I did this gladly.
How many of you have created a busy life for yourself? I have found that it is really quite easy to fall into my easy chair and do nothing. Unfortunately, when you choose to do nothing, you end up living a life with little real value.
There are times when I think that I have bitten off more than I can chew. As I meet myself coming the other way on the road of life, I ponder whether I should slow down. The choices are quite simple: hectic or boring. There is really no comfortable, middle ground in this life.
As long as I have Friday night and the weekend to myself, things will be all right. I structure each day around a particular work topic. I try to maintain office hours in a strict manner.
I guess the key is to decide how much we can do. We must then begin doing it. If something seems to be stressing you, work to remove it from your schedule as time permits. When it starts to get real busy, I am tempted to use a particular word from the English language. Perhaps each of us should ponder adding that word to our vocabulary. That word is quite small indeed, consisting of a mere two letters. And the word is “NO.” There may be times when we should haul this word out of the dictionary and use it to slow the pace of our lives. Maybe I will learn that lesson someday.
The key to living a balanced life is to recognize the three parts as specified above. Be sure that the must-do tasks and responsibilities are accomplished. That is known as taking care of business. Work to improve the completion rate on your should-do list. Try to become a better person. Finally, as time permits, look to your list of nice-to-do things.
All of these actions will require a conscious choice on your part. There are only so many days, weeks and years available to each of us. Waste not one precious moment of your allotted number.
Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., will present “Fire Department Staffing & Funding” and “Chief’s Leadership Program” at Firehouse Expo 2005, July 26-31 in Baltimore.
Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is a former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Dr. Carter is an associate professor at Mercer County Community College and a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. A fire commissioner for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is a Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through his website at Dr.Carter@HarryCarter.com.