• Marc Aloan

Lost and Found

(Photo: Texas Hill County)

I’m not quite sure exactly when it happened. I cannot pinpoint a single time, day, event, or call that did it. Sometimes I sit in silence and stare at the wall, television, or sky waiting for some magic billboard to appear and spell out the answer in big neon lights. My mind runs through events, large and small, that I think may have been the culprit only to end up even more lost than I began. The more I think I figure it out, the less I seem to actually know and understand. No matter how many minutes, hours, and days I spend trying to find the answers, the result always seems to remain the same. In many ways it is lost, gone, and forgotten, a phenomenon that seems to get worse as I acquire more of it. So, what am I searching for you might ask? Well, simply put, my confidence, which seems to become more of a mirage with every small glimmer of hope of its return.

In all honesty, I have never been a very confident person. Perhaps that explains why I am so competitive and rarely satisfied, always worried about what people may think if I slow down or stop to take breath. When everyone else is enjoying the small things, I feel as if I am in the shadows analyzing and strategizing how to make something better or take the next step instead of appreciating the present. However, there was a time in my life where there was much less doubt, self-awareness, and concern for what others thought of my actions. In those days I laughed at those who dare tell me I couldn’t do something. I balked at those who disagreed or pushed back. I didn’t shy away from doing what I felt was right. And then over time, something changed.

What initially seemed to be nothing more than a more calculated approach at things turned out to be pure indecisiveness. Essentially, I had somehow lost my confidence. I began to let my failures define me instead of my successes. I allowed people to control my actions by letting them imply that they had some type of rule over my hopes and dreams. You could argue the change had more to do with maturity than it is does confidence, but I think many of my choices would probably suggest otherwise. We could chalk it up to experience, responsibility, and discipline, but those too would fall just short of the mark. Every decision, choice, and encounter made out of arrogance and ignorance produced another wound to fester and another opportunity for others to squeeze and eat away at my confidence. And like many before me who have battled the same peril when I got to the edge of the cliff I chose to jump, as if all hope was lost instead of simply turning back to where I came from.

(Photo: WQED)

The more I have thought and dwelled over my apparent lack of certainty and clarity in my life, the more I have come to realize there is only one person to point the finger at for making me feel this way, and unfortunately, he is the one looking back at me in the mirror every day! I used to blame others, but I now understand that the fault is typically my own, as it has been the entire time. Nobody has ever held a gun to my head and forced me down the roads less traveled and dark corners I chose to explore. The job certainly didn’t do this to me, and if anything has been a pleasant distraction from much of the aftermath of the way I have went about life. There was no call, moment, or single event that led me to not trust myself, but instead wave after wave of selfish bullshit that I arrogantly pinned on everyone else’s shoulders but my own.

(Photo: The Ellsworth American)

There are few darker moments in our lives than realizing not only do others not believe in us, but we don’t believe in ourselves either. Most never get off at such a desolate stop in life, basking in the loneliness of themselves. However, the more I see and hear about others in public safety choosing to remove themselves from the equation instead of trying to solve it, the more I feel the need to share the realization that many of us are going through our lives and careers in a way that suppresses us into our darkest hours without anyone on the outside being the wiser. While most may not even be able to notice the empty shell of the person, and firefighter, we have become, the hard truth is that when we lose our way EVERYONE loses in the end.

The first thing to go is our trust in others, which seems like an obvious choice. When things start to spin out of control, clearly it must be those around us who are to blame. We can always get new friends, confidants, role models, and supporters. We can lean on a different guy or try our hand with some of the new members who weren’t around to bear judgment on whatever thing has not played out the way we thought it would today. We can continue to ignore our shortcomings and burn bridges to the islands we end up putting ourselves on. We can hide and hope nobody sees us for what we really are, or in most cases have unfortunately become. But this is ultimately a game of Russian roulette as eventually there is no one else to turn to that hasn’t heard our tale. Nothing gets solved doing any of these things. The only real outcome is those few, real people in our lives that choose to stand by us for whatever reason are left disappointed yet again. We are too blind in our own arrogance to see their outstretched arms trying to save us from ourselves as we close off the very doors that could have led us back to our former selves, and we drift further into the sea of indecision and second guessing.

From there we begin to start contemplating other causes of our growing indecisiveness. The rules, the department, the equipment, the victims, our friends, our upbringing, and even the weather are all easy targets. There is always a reason why we couldn’t do this or resorted to that. There is always SOMETHING else to blame that is easier to swallow than blaming ourselves. Where we once made decisions and choices, we now make excuses and apologies. We grow angry and vengeful as we feel everyone else is out to get us. Our work suffers, our home life suffers, our friends suffer, and ultimately our citizens suffer. Still, at the end of the day we seem to forget that we are suffering too. And so, we take things one step further and instead of making no choices, we make the wrong ones instead.

(Photo: International Firefighter - MDM Publishing LTD)

Things can get pretty scary and difficult after that. One questionable choice seems to start the row of dominoes down the path of self-destruction. Fighting battles that don’t need to be fought, pushing people away instead of trying to draw them in, and ultimately making ourselves look bad by trying to make ourselves look good. It is remarkably easy to dig a hole; getting out on the other hand is exponentially more difficult. Every time we try to pull ourselves up, we seem to dig down just a bit further than we had started. Every bit of light at the end of the tunnel somehow gets cloudy before we make it there. Then one day we find ourselves battling the realization if we don’t make some big changes quick, we will never escape ourselves.

We must understand that the only person that can throw our confidence away is us. We are usually our number one saboteur. Sure, there are always going to be people out there who want to see us fail, but that’s life. We waste so much time and effort trying to impress people who don’t really give a fuck about us and all we get for it is a bunch of doubt in return because in the end, none of us really have any control over what anyone else thinks of us. We can be sinners or we can be saints, it is of no consequences. Regardless, there will still be people who want to burn us at the stake because they are in a phase of their own struggles where someone else is the problem.

Everyone has a past, some skeletons, and the haters to go with them. Sometimes we just have to roll with the punches of the peanut gallery and let people think what they want to think, no matter how true or off base it is. The sooner we remember that no one is perfect, the easier life becomes. What we don’t realize is that our flaws are exploited in our heads much more often than they are in the heads of our detractors. There is a name for this feeling; it’s called guilt. It eventually becomes ironic how our critics never seem to realize that their spiteful remarks and attacks are actually more of an icing than the actual cake itself. They never stop to consider that aside from the convenient moments we are exposed to their watchful eyes and judgmental minds (where they hold everyone but themselves to perfection) we are already at war within our own heads, constantly beating ourselves down for every flaw, misstep, and bad decision we have made. They don’t account for the fact that we are usually so bloodied and beaten by the time they reach us that all they are really doing is adding insult to injury and rubbing a little salt in our wounds. Such shallow, self-righteous people could never possibly believe that we are capable of tearing ourselves down to shit without any outside assistance whatsoever. But we are, and we do, because all growth is accompanied by pain, present company included.

(Photo: Gatehouse News)

When we are struggling to find our confidence again, the best way to find it is to impress ourselves, but not in a selfish way. Put all the mistakes, fuck ups, and errors back in the past where they belong, because in the present they only stand to hold us back. We must draw a line in the sand if we are ever to win the war we are waging against ourselves. We tend to waste our energy trying to repair things that cannot be put back together and forget that the end game is ultimately improvement and development, not forgiveness. We, and everyone around us for that matter, are much better served by focusing our attention on how we can better ourselves going forward instead of allowing the ghosts of things we cannot undo to haunt us forever, poisoning our potential and future.

For anyone who has tried to do so, this is an undertaking much easier said than done. Just as with anything else in life, something worth doing generally doesn’t come easy. In fact, it is usually the path of easy that gets us in these predicaments to begin with. Attack your confidence the way an athlete would attack theirs, in small chunks. You don’t go from a slump to home runs without a little time in the batting cage. Sit down, size-up the problem, and establish some goals. Figure out all the possible things that are preventing your success and prioritize their correction. Determine what you are so scared of and figure out a way to overcome it. Understand what is in your control and more importantly what is not. Sometimes the only solution is to simply let it go and move on. There comes a point where we must stop punishing ourselves because all it will accomplish in the long-run is punishing everyone we deal with going forward. Instead of succumbing to the bullshit, use it as motivation to push yourself to be stronger than when you started. Although it may not seem like it, we and we alone hold the power to fail or succeed. While people can stand in our way, nobody can take away our drive and ambition except us!