It’s easy to use the word “passion” in this business. It’s easy to have the stickers and the T-shirts and everything else that makes for good marketing in this business. What’s hard is to actually be good at it.
For those who know me, reference me as “the passion guy.” I created a class about incorporating passion in your leadership. I have been writing about passion and how it’s a double-edged sword. Being passionate about something is to truly believe in what you stand for, who you are, and what you do. Our passion can get us into trouble. I have been accused of having too much passion. As much as I can go on and on about the two sides of the sword and how being cognizant of the positive side will bring you success and help you move through adversity, I won’t; instead, this blog is about being good at it and not using it as a buzzword.
I am 35 years old; I have been in this business for 17 years and have much to learn, though that’s just it: I treat each day as a new topic and I learn something new. I have just 12 years of combined volunteer and career leadership “experience,” which I put in quotes because development is off of training and experiences--the “s” makes the difference in that word. I created a class that I have been told is a leadership development class, but to me it’s just my story. As a firefighter, I am a student of leadership. I watch other leaders, learn from them, pick up on what works and what doesn’t, and evaluate everything they do. I take my experiences and my training, and my intuitive nature of observing others as they lead, and then compare it to how I lead and what works with my people and what doesn’t. I take each of those daily lessons, those small moments, as self-development. I may not be an expert on leadership, but my experiences have assisted me in validating what I write; what I teach; and, more importantly, why I teach it.
All of this said, what sparked my interest and got me “passionate” about this blog was the latest illustration from our amazingly talented brother Paul Combs, the one of the helmet with the button on the rubber strap that says, “I’ll be an expert in anything to be famous,” and the sticker that reads, “… and I have stickers.” I love this illustration. I messaged Paul and thanked him for it. I love it for many reasons. The first reason is where I will be humble: I compared that illustration to myself and connected where that could apply to me. I quickly accepted that humility and redirected my focus to what I do: spread a message and share my story. Yes, I am honored to speak with some of these amazing leaders and, yes, it is an AWESOME feeling to have my blogs shared, but that’s not why I do it. Writing and teaching to me are an outlet, a way for me to let out what is banging around in my mind, whether it was directed at myself or something I discovered while watching an interaction between a leader and his people. I am very passionate about my beliefs because I support them with facts, which are gained from the experiences I am offered and the training I receive. I spoke with Chief Bobby Halton about how I felt about this topic, and he inspired this month’s blog by simply saying, “It’s easy to be passionate, but are you good at what you’re passionate about?” I consider every conversation with that guy as a privilege to gain new knowledge about this business that we love so much but also about myself. So, here’s where I’m going with this, and some people might not like it, so full disclosure: I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I don’t have as tough a skin as Paul where I can filter through the hate mail, but I’m sure after this blog I might get some, but this needed to be said.
Are you passionate? What are you passionate about? Dig deep and find the truth to that answer. My answer is that I wanted to find self-value. That seems vain, but at least I’m being honest. I felt that growing up in the shadow of my older brothers, I didn’t have my “thing.” I loved the fire service since I was a little kid and wanted to try to make my name doing that; sadly, I wasn’t that good at being a firefighter, either. I have opened more than one compartment looking for a tool that I should know where it is, I got scared in a high-rise fire once when I got turned around with no hose to follow out, I’ve sucked an entire bottle (yes, I call them bottles--I’m from Jersey) while trying to vent a roof with an ax. (Come to think of it, why did I use an axe? That’s what the saw is for … but that’s for a different blog.) I have been written up, suspended, and had people question my status in this business. When I was given my shot to prove that I could do it right and worked my way up to becoming a leader, I learned fast what being selfless was. I learned that my mistakes were going to be shadows that came along no matter how well I would do. My passion is to make my mark in this business, to prove to those who doubted me, those who believed in me, my family, and myself that it’s okay to love what this business offers. My question is, do you have a story like that? Can you honestly say that you are passionate about building a better fire service, or selflessly leading others? Or is it that the word passion is sexy and it looks good in a mission statement or a slogan or on a sticker. Most importantly, if you are in this business to sell stickers, hats, shirts, etc., and you’re good at it, go work for a marketing firm. If you want to be a celebrity, go audition for a movie or reality show. If you have a class about leading, make sure you’re good at it first. All the Facebook shares and retweets in the world can’t cover up the fact that you aren’t passionate for the right reasons, you’re passionate about being famous.
It’s obvious that I was very passionate about what I wrote, but you see, that’s just it: Passion is genuine, it’s fuel, it’s everything we are and why we do what we do, but you can’t be passionate about something if you’re not good at it. As a young instructor, this topic is dear to me, because I have to prove the validity of my program (which was developed off of my experiences and not buzzwords) on an everyday basis. It’s frustrating to try to spread your truth when someone else is sharing 100 times and handing out 500 stickers a day with some sexy phrase and even the misuse of the word passion written on it.
Special thanks to Paul Combs (Drawn by Fire) for allowing me to use his illustration for this blog.
Passion in Leading, LLC