Balance is Personal

By Kelly Woods, Director, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

How do we live our best life?

How do we navigate the delicate balance between being the best employee while also being the best partner, parent, child, friend, or any other important role that we occupy while still saving a few precious moments to focus on our own self?

It turns out the answer to this question is tough to pin down. The number of scenarios that result in the optimal work/life balance is exactly equal to the number of individuals seeking to find it. It’s complex. It’s personal.

In a previous job, I remember returning from a 120-day detail in August. My first weekend back at my regular job I was designated as the office Duty Officer. This was my first stint in that capacity all summer. The first time my phone rang that weekend, my son burst into tears. He knew the dreaded work phone was back and would be a constant and unwelcomed companion at the dinner table, on our hikes, during our conversations, and for all our adventures for the remainder of the summer. He was devastated and I was heartbroken.

It was my duty to answer the phone, but what about my desire to be present for my child?

Being assigned to fires often means missing holidays, birthdays, wedding anniversaries and many other family events. (U.S. Forest Service photo by Stuart Palley on the 2017 Thomas Fire.)

The demands of life are certain, and desires are persistent. The issue is when the demands continue to outcompete the desires, or the desires routinely dominate the demands. To reconcile this always seems to require sacrifice for someone. At times, work wins. Other times, the opposite is true. It is a reality with which we all live.

Because there are no one size fits all solutions, one of the best things we can do is to share our lessons with each other. We can learn creative ways others are carving out their best life and apply, modify, or support those opportunities within our own spheres.

The truth is that we all have to make hard decisions. If we rely on our employers to develop policy to facilitate balance for us, we are almost guaranteed to be unsatisfied. No rule set or requirement holds the magic key. It’s up to us to find the balance for ourselves.

In the Fall 2021 issue of Two More Chains, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center intentionally entered this conversation and offered some perspective. Check it out if you haven’t. Let’s keep the dialogue going.

2 thoughts on “Balance is Personal

  1. We still have a long way to go on this one. I just finished a detail working for a career fire person who left his family for Years to pursue the next promotion more than once. When I wanted to get home on wet weekends or ask for telework when the local fire season was done so I could be present for my family our relationship rapidly eroded. I chose family first and my detail was cut short. I hope we can find the personnel and leadership to keep moving toward caring for our own by affording employees space to be a healthy and present member of their family. Until that is a reality on the ground for everyone down to the new seasonal we will suffer a continued exodus of young talent and lack in quality recruitment.

  2. We have a long ways to go in a proper work/life relationship. While we have plenty of supervisors out there that push work first, there are plenty that say personal life first. Trying to mentor young firefighters in realizing that yes, contrary to what you think, you do have work obligations that need to be followed through on. Supervisors that push work to the back burner quickly forget their leadership responsibilities at the detriment of their organization. It’s great to push personal life first, but lets not forget our employment obligations, and stop using “personal life balance” as the excuse whenever their work obligations fail.

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