Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Looking back over my career—heck, even my life—I would have done so much differently. But of course I, like most other teens graduating high school, thought I knew it all and had plenty of time. I remember not being able to wait to graduate, get a full time job, get an apartment and start my life. While most of my friends went to college, I settled down with my high school sweetheart, got married and started our family.
For a short time, I worked for the county as a receptionist until I saw an ad for a 9-1-1 operator with the city. Instantly, I was intrigued and knew I wanted to do it. I applied, sat in radio one night and was hooked. So for $6.21 hour, I started my career in public safety. The city was a small agency and we didn’t have supervisors or a manager. We fell under an operations sergeant who was there Monday through Friday. Of course, we weren’t his only responsibility so we were on our own most of the time. You can imagine what it was like—a room full of women left to their own devices! I felt sorry for the three men who worked with us—they were probably overrun with waves of estrogen.
I had so many ideas to streamline processes and improve efficiency, and desperately wanted to move up. But sadly there was really nowhere to go. When our sergeant retired, they handed us off to several different lieutenants who really didn’t want us or know how to manage a bunch of civilians. We always called ourselves the red-headed step child who no one wanted. We were a different kind of animal and every year we had to start over with a new supervisor and all the promises of “things will be different this time.” We seasoned operators knew it would never change until they gave us someone who was totally committed to communications and not forced to supervise us.
I finally decided that if I was going to get anywhere in the public safety field that I needed to make a change. Don’t get me wrong—if I had never worked there I would never have gained the experience to make me the dispatcher I am today. I would have also never worked with and meet the most hardworking, amazing people I know. This move was for me, which brings me to my point: I needed goals.
I get really aggravated with myself when I look back and realize how much farther I would be today if I had just set some career goals and stuck to them. I was 40 when I moved to the county. Here I met some even more amazing people. I talked about my training coordinator last month, saying that she has encouraged and helped me over the last several years meet some of my goals and even make bigger ones that I never would have even thought of pursuing. I now have the luxury of extra training, special projects and participation in committees and conferences.
What took me half my adult life to learn, I would like to pass on to you, particularly you young ones just starting out:
Love what you do: First of all, if you’re doing this job for a paycheck, then you need to find something else. If you’re miserable at work, believe me when I say you’re probably making everyone else miserable too. This profession is way too important for someone to not have their heart and soul in it. Too much is at stake for you to come in and do whatever it takes to just get by. If you love what you do, then it won’t be just a job to you. My favorite saying is, “9-1-1 isn’t a job, it’s a calling.” And I truly believe that. Not only is the public depending on you, but so are your co-workers and their families, your supervisors and your department. Don’t let them down.
Set goals: I know this is something you’ve heard all of your life, but it’s true. Set short-range goals that are easily attained, then set long-range goals. Make sure they’re realistic. Nothing will break your resolve than setting a goal, getting half way there and then failing. Make sure it’s something that’s doable and reasonable. Make sure it’s something that you can gain on your own, so that you don’t have to rely on anyone else to get you there. It’s your life and your career.
Surround yourself with positive people: It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the drama and negativism that seems to infest the departments around the country. If you follow others who have a negative outlook on life or work, you’ll soon see that you won’t be going anywhere soon. It’s been my experience that most of the time the grumblers, complainers and whiners are still sitting in the same chairs they were when they started out and aren’t likely to see any changes any time soon. Positive people will encourage you, cheer you on and compliment you—not drag you down. Just look around, you’ll pick them out of a crowd easily. Find yourself a mentor who will be your biggest cheerleader.
Communicate your aspirations: Talk with supervisors and managers about your desire to advance. Seek out advice from those who have walked ahead of you. If they’re great managers, they’ll be happy to help you along your journey. Most great managers and supervisors had a mentor to help them along. Most departments have a career development section on their annual evaluations. Your supervisor can help you develop your career goals.
Go back to school: I wish I had had the motivation to go to school right out of high school instead of playing catch up now. Ask anyone with a family and fulltime job who’s trying to go back to school for a degree, how much fun it is to accomplish this. If you’re lucky enough to have a tuition reimbursement program at your department, please take advantage of it. It can only help you in the long run.
These are just a few examples of setting career goals and investing in your profession. Just remember how important you are and how critical what you do is. Whether you’re in the field or in the communication center, you’re amazing and not everyone can do what we do. Individually, you’re great, but together we can accomplish anything!
Be safe, my family.