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January 7, 2004
Without a destination, any road will get you there.....
By Chief Ronald Richards
Have you ever headed out on a trip but really didn't know where you were going? We've all done that. The proverbial Sunday afternoon drive when the car seems to take on a mind of its own. No real destination. We take in the scenery. Stop for a bite to eat a roadside cafe, get some gas and somehow find our way back home. Now wasn't that fun? Sure it was. Relaxing.... no pressure. 

Certainly differently than having to be in center city at 11 a.m. on a Monday morning to discuss a project worth 15 million dollars. You don't lollygag getting to the meeting. You take the quickest, most direct route, cross the "i's" and dot the "t's". Why....? because this is serious stuff. You need to have a plan, a contingency. You need to be prepared.

This process starts fairly early on in a young person's life. How you approach things that are fun and games is different than how you approach things that are deemed "important" by others. In your formative years, you are expected to make decisions early on as to what you want to do with your life. You start to make many of those choices in your early teens when you select an academic or vocational class schedule in junior high school and high school.

Not long after, you'll be pressured to make other choices. What are you going to do after you graduate high school? Military service, trade school, college, or maybe you'll just hang out and get a job. You may still not know what you want to do, but often are influenced by external factors such as family, friends or a character you saw on television!

There are a few individuals in any business, actors, athletes, public speakers, who are born with a special gift, to go out and perform without practicing. They are the exception to the rule. Most people have to study, work hard day in and day out to develop those skills so they can compete. What's the problem with that? Most people get bored. 
Many are lazy. Many are not willing to make the sacrifice. They want instant changes. Why do you thing there are so many fad diets out there? Everyone wants to be skinny in one day without any effort or sacrifice. We all know that not the way it works. We all want to have some highly recognizable position, get paid well and have all that the world has to offer with no or little effort. Unless you have a rich uncle, that probably is not going to happen. Instead, most people take the traditional approach. Go to school, get a good education, and get a good job. Still at in your early 20's it's difficult to say, " this is what I want to do with my life....."

So, what goes wrong? You get complacent. You don't set goals and therefore you accept whatever comes your way. You have to settle for the mediocre job because you weren't  willing to put for the effort in school to get the good grades that would have put you in better position than your counterparts... Whoa is me.

Many times you lower your expectations because you are faced with a challenge and rather than meeting it head on, it's easier to avoid it and hope it will go away. Try managing your expectations to keep your dreams alive and continue your pursuit at a reasonable pace. Again, it seems like a contradiction to what we've all heard at one time or another. But, actually, there is a way to keep your ultimate goal in sight, while managing your expectations, so that you can keep your sanity and still achieve success in life.
Fire service goals

What are your goals for the fire service?  Will you be satisfied riding the step fifteen years from now?  Probably not. You probably would like to be an officer? So what are  you doing about it? Are you waiting for your uncle to get elected mayor so he can appoint you as chief or are you going to take advantage of all the opportunities that are  available to develop you skills and broaden your horizons?

Start working on that roadmap

As you lay out a career path for yourself, there are some important considerations. First, write down what you hope to accomplish and how long it will take. Take training and courses that will help you attain your first goal. You can't wait until a job is posted listing special training or experience requirements to react. You need to plan ahead.

Secondly, talk to your elders. Don't reinvent the wheel. Talk to others who have traveled the same path before you. Ask what they did. Question them if they would have done anything differently. Remember, as you grow older you accumulate experience and wisdom. We've all heard the expression, "If I only knew then what I know now....." This is exactly what I'm talking about.

If you take small steps to reach your vision, you can adjust our path along the way. As you move toward and learn more of our ultimate destination, you might find that you don't want the original vision.

Realize that things are what they are, regardless of our perception. By accepting things as they are, and not what you would wish them to be, it makes it much easier to  maneuver yourself in the direction you want to go. Sometimes you will have to readjust your perspectives, values and belief systems, to gain some control and obtain a clearer view of our paths.

By managing your goals in this way, you will automatically manage your expectations because you only have expectations of the immediate goal leading you in the direction of our ultimate vision. By taking on small pieces of the whole, you can easily adjust your path along the way. In this way, you must research our goals so that you can understand where you're going. In breaking up the path into the smaller goals required to reach your vision, your expectations for your vision become clearer and less imperative.

Establish a new plan based on the individual components of your overall vision seeing how the newly managed goals and expectations work in your life and how you feel as you accomplish the smaller goals on the way to your vision.

Not only will managing your expectations will provide you with a more solid career path,  but it will also enhance your quality of life. Instead of being stressed, frustrated, and disappointed, you can now feel good about the forward momentum in your own life because you’re in charge of where you are headed.
About the author: Chief Ronald Richards has over 28 years of fire service experience, both career and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City Fire Department, in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995 holding that position through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the Chief for Training and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Chief Richards has over 24 years of service with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Welfare, a Fire and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Currently, he is Superintendent Assistant  within the PA Department of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation coordination, accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures. Chief Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration.  Richards is a PA State Fire Instructor and an instructor with Command School.  He is the founder of 
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