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The Brick Wall Syndrome: A Barrier to Clear Thinking

Many years ago I spent a great deal of time immersed in the literature of our professional field learning the many varied facts and ideas necessary to succeed in the civil service promotional world.  One of the texts which I frequently used back then was the fine publication on forcible entry which was published by my friends at the International Fire Service Training Association.

Some of the most profound thoughts in the world can come in the simplest of all packages. For example, one of the very first sentences in the text on the ways in which to force entry into a building read something like this, "…TRY BEFORE YOU PRY".  I would imagine that their thinking was simply that you and I should never overlook the obvious in any situation.

I want you think about this simple phrase for a moment. "Try before you pry." Can you imagine how many times this little gem of wisdom has been overlooked by zealous firefighters around the world?  Conversely, can you imagine just how many home-owners have returned to find their doors safe and sound after a minor emergency because of those among us who knew this short phrase and applied its wisdom when needed?  In this case you can see that a little bit of knowledge can go a long, long way.

Let us now offer a little analogy along these same lines. Perhaps it might be able to help you accomplish your goals a bit more easily.  Or provide guidance during the turbulent times we frequently face in life.  Many times during our lives we are faced with what appear to be insurmountable problems.  Maybe it is a lost promotion, the loss of something you had greatly prized for its intrinsic value, or a family tragedy.

Regardless of the situation, we are challenged to live through it and emerge from the other side.  Please note that we did not say “emerge unscathed,” for many times we are changed by the force of circumstances.  What I am suggesting to you is that you need to view your problems as opportunities for growth.

Let me give you a personal example.  In my case, I have decided that I am not really overweight.  It is just unfortunate that I am a bit short for my weight.  If I were 7'2" tall, I would not have a weight problem.  Do you think that I am suggesting that nothing be done about the problem of weight control?  This is not the case at all my friends.  What I am attempting to do is make the best of a bad situation.  There have been times when I have been so hung up on weight control, that it diminished my effectiveness.

Did this stress and job-related impact help me?  No not at all.  The reverse was quite true.  But when I was focused solely on the brick wall of my weight-related dilemma, I lost my focus and failed to get my job done.  Time which could have been on something positive was wasted bashing my head against the brick wall of my weight.

After growing to maturity under the scrutiny and control of the all the thin people in the world, I have decided to enjoy the remainder of my time here on this earth on my own terms.  When I peered around the brick wall of weight-related prejudices, I came to see that many good things were possible.  Can you imagine the problems which might have eaten away at us if we had not come to terms with the “Brick Wall Syndrome” of our alleged volumetric dysfunction?

What are some of the job-related brick walls you might face?

  • A boss we do not like
  • Coworkers with whom we cannot get along
  • No more promotions
  • A nagging injury.
  • Lost election.
  • Co-workers we hate
  • A promotion we did not get

I do not want you to get the idea that I am some kind of “Little Mary (Harry) Sunshine,” living in a world where all is well.  I am simply re-stating an age-old cliché which tells us that if someone tosses you a lemon, you should think about getting some water and sugar and making lemonade.  You can then begin to wonder to whom you can sell the lemonade for a profit.

You must learn to be flexible.  You must first learn to spot the weak seam if you want to give the brick wall a shot.  If you cannot break through a brick wall, I suggest looking for the end of the wall, and simply going around it.  It may be that you can scale the wall, by education, political connection of sheer personal magnetism or tunnel under it.

And if all else fails, pauses for a while.  Get yourself a comfortable chair, preferably a Lazy Boy, and sit down to study the wall.  Learn to enjoy the view.  Better yet, have a series of close friends join you in sitting and watching the wall.  Eventually, the wall may collapse under its own weight, and you can emerge rested and ready to carry on the battle.  During the warm weather months, I move this process out into the world of my front porch.

I am urging you to begin devoting a lot more time to the world of thinking.  Let me ask you to remember that you always have the choice of how to handle a brick wall situation is in your hands.  You might not have built the wall, you might now want to maintain the wall, but a wall it is none-the-less.  What I am suggesting is that how you handle it is totally up to you.

It is your prerogative on how to handle things.  And if you are like me, you may be tempted to try and lead off with a hard head.  This has never worked for me.  Let me ask you to please fight that urge.  You will avoid stress, avoid ulcers and ultimately you will probably live a lot longer. 

The brick walls of life which will come into your career will go away.  You cannot control the wall.  However, you can control your response to that wall.  That is how I am suggesting that you approach this.  Here are the steps:

  • Assess situation
  • Place mouth in neutral
  • Engage brain
  • Develop solutions and alternative ways of doing things
  • Use the one which seems best.

Above all I would urge you to abide by the old Latin motto of Non Illegitimi Carborundum.  Which is to say, "…don’t let the bastards grind you down."  Take care my friends and be sure to stay safe. 

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. You can reach Harry by e-mail at