Personal Resilience Part 2: Sometimes, Bad Things Happen to You…

In my last post, I talked about how bad things will happen and that understanding and internalizing this truth will help you build your personal resilience.  Today, I want to help you understand that none of us are immune to having bad things happen in our own lives.  To do this, I want to share two stories from my own life where my personal resilience failed me. Continue reading

Personal Resilience Part 1: Bad Things Happen

I was browsing LinkedIn the other day when I came across a post that I think was intended to be “inspirational”, but actually serves to have the opposite effect.  It was a picture of rose-coloured glasses with words that read something to the effect of: “If the world looks better through rose-coloured glasses, wear them.”

Now, I’m all for being optimistic and trying to see the good things in life (there are actually a lot of them once you start looking for them), but seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses is detrimental to personal resilience, and resilience in general.  If you go through life thinking that nothing bad can ever happen, you will be very surprised when something bad does happen.  Seeing only the good things in life leaves you entirely unprepared for the bad things that happen.

And bad things DO happen!  They happen all the time!  Cars crash, people die, houses are destroyed in fires, floods wipe out crops, and millions of other bad things happen every day.  As a firefighter/first responder and emergency manager, my career and vocation both depend on bad things happening.  Lets be clear, I don’t ever want something bad to happen, but that’s where my skills, strength, and experience are so you can believe me when I say that bad things happen all the time!

Understanding this and incorporating it into your worldview is an important first step to building personal resilience.  Just the knowledge that bad things happen sometimes will help you to see the world in a realistic way and better prepare you for the next step in building personal resilience: Sometimes, bad things happen to you.


I want to introduce you to a book that’s been out for over a decade, but still has some excellent advice and ideas to help you build your personal resilience.  If you buy through this link, a portion of your purchase may come back to me to help keep this blog running.

The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles

Building Personal Resilience

Without meaning to, my last couple posts have led me to the idea of building personal resilience.  If we accept that all emergencies are local, then you can’t get more local than an individual person.  If we are to be able to build resilience towards future emergencies, we need to start by building up everyone’s personal resilience.

In my former career as an EMS dispatcher, I was continually surprised by people who would call in and be entirely unable to cope with even the most minor of issues.  Now, as someone who dispatched Fire and EMS for 5 years, and worked in various areas of both Fire and EMS for a decade (sometimes dispatching myself…the joys of volunteering), I admit that my resilience towards emergencies is significantly higher than most people’s. When I say that they were unable to cope with minor issues, I’m talking about people who would call 911 and sound so frantic, I thought someone was dying.  When I finally determined what was actually happening, it would be a small laceration, or a trip and fall, or another relatively minor incident.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear here: I have never once thought that a call I received wasn’t an emergency, at least to the person calling.  I would much rather receive a thousand calls that don’t turn out to be emergencies than not receive a call when someone really needs help.  I’m proud of my work as a dispatcher, and even on my worst day I was always happy to be able to help people no matter how minor the situation ended up being.

I give the above example of people who seemed to have no personal resilience, and seemed to be unable to cope with even a relatively minor illness or injury.  It’s places and people like this where some relatively easy cognitive changes can make a big difference. It’s these situations where I want to start with some relatively easy tips and tricks to help people become more resilient in their attitude towards life.  People who have better personal resiliency in small things are people who will be more resilient in the face of major emergencies or disasters.

I need to acknowledge that I hold many privileges that have helped me be more resilient than others:

  1. I am White;
  2. I am Male;
  3. I come from an upper-middle class family;
  4. I live in a first-world country;
  5. I graduated secondary school;
  6. I was able to attend (but did not finish) post-secondary school;
  7. In the course of my career, I have responded to over 1000 inter-facility non-emergency transfers; approximately 700 9-1-1 calls as a Firefighter and First Responder; thousands of 9-1-1 calls as a Fire/EMS dispatcher; 2 disaster declarations at the State/Province level, 5 years working as a Security Guard, and participated in a major disaster exercise; and
  8. I have thousands of hours of training supplemented by thousands of other hours of personal reading and learning.

All of that being said, the things I’m going to talk about over the next few posts are things that apply regardless of privilege (or lack thereof).  These won’t be product or equipment reviews, but instead things to think about and ways to look at the world that will help you as an individual become more resilient.  I may look at products and equipment in the future, but that’s not the focus of this personal resilience series.

Resilience and Sustainability

I work in a unit, which is part of a branch, which is part of a division, which ultimately answers to an oversight body.  Yes, I know that’s vague, but one of the conditions of me being able to write about the things I do is that it be obvious that I am speaking solely for myself and not for any larger body of which I may be a part.  So, vagueness wins the day for the moment.

One of the neat things about operating as part of a larger organization is that I am privy to some interesting learning opportunities.  One of those took place this past week when we had a speaker in to talk about personal resilience, especially in the context of change.  Given that change is a constant in just about every industry, this wasn’t a bad topic to talk about.  Our speaker was engaging and knowledgeable, and working through some of the exercises she gave us as a group meant that we could learn more about each other and how we work individually and as a group.

This session fed nicely into the larger thinking I’ve been doing around the relationship between resilience and sustainability.  Specifically, I’ve been pondering the question of whether sustainable systems are inherently more resilient? In the context of the presentation last week, which was about work/life balance, the answer is undoubtedly yes.  One of the things that I’ve always known is that I am infinitely more resilient when I have chosen a sustainable balance between work and leisure (though my wife sometimes wishes the balance was a little different).  Giving myself permission to sit down and just “be” in the middle of a crowd or a busy day is something that I have had to learn to do.  It has made me more resilient though.

I can’t be sure that applies to everything, though.  Is my food source more resilient because my wife and I planted a garden this year? What about my power or fuel for our vehicles? Is our health care system more resilient when it is more sustainable?  What about our government?  I suspect that the answer is yes, but I don’t really know.

What I do know is that I have more to learn, and more to research, and that I still don’t even begin to know the things I don’t know yet.  So, I’m always learning.  I want to learn from your experience…what do you think? Are systems, organizations, and people inherently more resilient when they are sustainable?

All Emergencies are Local

This seemingly benign precept of emergency management is one of the hardest to grasp for many people.  I know it was hard for me to wrap my head around, and I started at the local level.  How can something like Katrina, 9/11, or Fukushima be local?

It took me a long time to understand that no matter what the scope of the emergency, the impact was always local.  Whether it was a medical emergency, natural disaster, or nuclear meltdown that comes across my pager, the impact is always local.  Working at the strategic level, this understanding now helps inform my thinking about building capacity and resilience at the local level.  It doesn’t matter how much capacity or how resilient I am if there is no resilience or capacity at the local level.

So, if all emergencies are local, shouldn’t that be where we are spending most of our efforts?

Just some thoughts on “Local” thanks to today’s daily prompt!

via Daily Prompt: Local

Always Learning

Welcome to my journey of learning and growth as I make my way through this beast we call Emergency Management!  I’m working in an Emergency Management role at the State/Province level in North America and trying to learn the ropes as I go.  One of my big challenges is that I’m not formally educated in Emergency Management (I know that’s not necessarily a bad thing), but I’m the type of person who wants to know as much as I can.

So, that brings me to this blog…One of the ways that I have always learned best is to take something I’m wrestling with and try to reframe it and put it into my own words.  This site will include my thoughts and musings on my personal studies, emergencies and disasters, and other relevant things as they come to mind.  Some of the posts will be things that I’ve written before and published elsewhere (usually LinkedIn), but most will be new thoughts specifically for this blog.

So, hi! Take a look, see what you like, and drop me a line!

Oh…and this picture? WordPress dropped it in as a placeholder in the hopes that I would put another picture in its place, but I kind of like this one so I’m keeping it!