You are the Example

[This is Travis Dotson’s “Ground Truths” column that appeared in the Spring 2013 Issue of Two More Chains.]

By Travis Dotson

When I was a first-year Type 2 crewmember, I looked up to anyone who had already been on a fire. They showed me what to pack and which MREs to avoid. When I first got on the hotshot crew, I watched the vets demonstrate how to “act like a hotshot.” When I rookied as a smokejumper, I emulated those with more “salt.”

Most of those folks had no idea how closely I was paying attention to them.

Who’s watching you? Somebody is. Whether you know it or not, someone is learning from how you behave. What do you want them to learn?

Have you ever heard someone say: “Man, I remember when I was a sawyer. Best job I ever had. Wish I was still doing that!” And you think: “Really? OK, here you go. You lug this stupid thing up the hill!”

It’s a pretty classic exchange. Lots of us have been on either side of that conversation. People who remember their time on the saw as their best job ever are obviously focusing on all the cool parts of the “good old days.” We all do that.

Think about how you feel three-quarters of the way through the season. At that moment, what are your feelings about coming back next year?

Fast forward to when it’s time to get your boots out of storage after skiing, hunting, or traveling all winter. As we grease our boots we remember all the great laughs, awesome fires, and fat checks—not the personality conflicts, endless mop-up, and base 80 pay periods.

People looking back on their saw time usually reminisce about “having no responsibility.” I know what we mean when we say that, but it’s just not accurate.

Recognizing Your Responsibility

We all have responsibility; but not all of us recognize it in the moment. I certainly didn’t for a long time.

I remember when I realized it, though. I was a sawyer on the crew when it finally dawned on me: “Those new crewmembers are watching me. I’m giving them permission to do everything I’m doing.” (And if you knew some of the things I was doing…well, that’s a different story!)

That realization was a real game-changer for me. I had to pause and think about what it meant. To be honest, I didn’t like it, it worried me. It certainly didn’t change my behavior overnight—or much at all, for the most part. But I finally understood what “set the example” actually means.

Just know you are being studied. Lead from where you are. Help a rookie out, do quality work every time, and be smart after hours.

Eventually you’re going to have to deal with the behavior you’ve modeled.

Dig on, Tool Swingers.

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