As mentally and physically healthy individuals and as healthy emergency communications operators, we need to find a balance between work and our personal time. Often understaffed and overworked, operators find themselves fragmented and scattered; two of the larger-life problems Dr. Henry Cloud describes as significant. These problems often lead to blurred lines between the personal and professional causing difficulties in both arenas.
During an August 18th, 2008 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Cloud talked about his most recent work in organizational counseling. "The issues we're talking about here are issues that are universal for anybody. We all have cracks in the armor, both interpersonally and in areas of performance, where we need some answers," he explains.
How the Two Shall Meet
Although it often felt like it, especially on New Year's Eve and during pursuits, my role as an emergency communications operator was not synonymous with me as a person. Many dispatchers, like most first responders, give a lot to the job. Emotionally and physically a person can become wrapped up in the work, only to look back one day and realize they only associate themselves with what they do under the headset. So, many times I've heard the statement, "You have to leave your home baggage outside the gate. Then, you need to leave your work baggage inside." But, how do you do that exactly? It's not as if there is a container inviting us to Drop your Problems in here! on both sides of the door. Realistically, to keep our sanity and our personality, emergency communications operators need to see themselves as separate personal and professional people and work on growing in each area.
Growing as a person can mean so many things. As children, we are living in a constantly evolving learning environment that taught us the things we needed to grow. As adults it seems self-improvement is more difficult. This is really only due to fear of change and uncertainty about what formula we should follow. After all, there are so many single formulas out there. The first thing that needs to be overcome is this idea of a one-size-fits-all formula. Each of us is unique, regardless of the many traits which make up emergency communications operators. We each have natural strengths and weaknesses and different activities and attitudes are needed for us to find a good fit to our personal growth. Carl Jung wrote about this when he identified the process of individuation. The Personality Page, a website based primarily on the works of Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers (creator of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) explains several ways to put personal growth into action.
- Understand what's important to you Growth is about self and what you need to improve.
- Recognize your weaknesses without hiding behind them We all have weaknesses, some of us more than others, but when we accept other people as equally valuable as ourselves, we allow for growth. I particularly struggle with this being a Thinker. I often have to remind myself Feelers are valuable to the scheme of things as well.
- Strive for balance Like the prior statement, I have to work balancing my dominant personality functions with non-dominant ones, but when I'm able to my mental and physical well-being improves drastically.
Of course taking care of oneself includes getting enough sleep, eating well, stress-maintenance techniques and healthy relationships, but these basics are only that - basics. After these are taken care of, self-improvement can occur and realization of what you as an individual need is the key.
As emergency communications operators, we are aware of the differences between agencies, especially when it comes to providing for professional growth. Some agencies have mandatory training once a year; others only when it's needed. One good thing that came out of the tragedies of the last decade is the increase in the focus on professionalism and standardization. This interest led to the implementation of numerous professional development classes. Taking advantage of those classes, through the agency or an organization, such as National Emergency Number Association (NENA) or the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) can be a rewarding way to learn new things and stay on the cutting edge.
A second way to grow professionally is to move around the agency. Some offer different divisions within the bureau, such as training. Many dispatchers have found going to teach at the academy, in briefings or at community events give them a fresh perspective and new enthusiasm for the work they do. Also, consider moving up and becoming a supervisor.
A third way that is available to any emergency communications operator is to participate in what is going on in your agency. Volunteer to be on committees. Assist in training new hires. Read current articles and books on public safety dispatching and leave them in the break-room for others to pick-up. Indicate your desire to be part of things during talks with your supervisor and during evaluations. Often agencies cannot find anyone willing to participate and when they do find someone enthusiastic, many will do whatever it takes to get you involved.
Without taking care of yourself personally and professionally, both sides will suffer. As Cloud points out personal growth must occur to accentuate professional growth and to get the most out of training and experience. Professional growth can increase wellness, due to making you feel great about the job you love. Taking care of yourself personally also makes it easier to deal with necessary confrontations and difficult conversations. Be the best you can be as a person. Be the best you can be as an emergency communications operator. In his 2007, APCO State of the Association Address, Executive Director George S. Rice, Jr. states, "To me, the people who are most successful are those who do what really interests them. There is no substitute for energy and passion." Create that energy and passion by improving yourself. As Socrates states, Be what you want to Appear.