Success vs. Significance

I was fortunate in my career to have a number of people who helped me along the way. Sometimes they were just there to listen and other times they offered really sound advice that helped guide me in the right direction. Having worked in three states, in three different regions, I have met some great people along the way but one person comes to mind – Randy Bruegman. Randy is now the fire chief of Anaheim CA. and I met him almost 20 years ago. He was always there with great career advice and really helped me deal with my retirement when it abruptly occurred. Following his term as the President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Randy started speaking nationally about the concept of being successful or being significant.

His premise is that some people define success as reaching the top position in their industry, making a ton of money, have a nice house or success can simply mean not having controversy in your life. He then describes what being significant might look like: being a mentor, having an impact on those around you, doing things for others with no expectations in return or simply being significant to others. Most of us in the fire service like to think that we are selfless people and that working in this profession is what makes us significant. Sure, we do get to help people “on the worst day of their lives” which IS significant to them, but would we do it if we weren’t getting paid?

You can go through your whole career without ever knowing if you were significant to someone besides your patients or fire victims. I was given a great gift in these past few weeks from people who wanted to tell me how much I helped them. I heard from the supervisor of one fire officer that I had trained, who was glowing about what a great leader and manager this person was. While he didn’t give me all of the credit, (I wouldn’t have taken it anyway) he wanted to know what I was emphasizing to the young officers and would I be willing to mentor him as he looks at a future promotion. Another call came from someone who I just met over the summer. The military exercises that I participate in put me in touch with people from all over the country. My new friend called me to ask for advice about taking a position in another state. We met while working at the same command post but he was given my name by someone who knew me really well. We spend the better part of two hours on the phone as he prepared for his final interview. He called to let me know he was offered the job and was getting ready to start. He couldn’t have been more appreciative of my advice.

My point here is this: Are you being successful or significant to those that you work with? What you accomplish in your work will pale in comparison to what you help someone accomplish. People find great satisfaction in helping others; I know that I did.

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