by Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
I’ve had a wonderful life to this point and I hope that the journey continues to be as exciting and fulfilling as it has been for the first 56+ years. I’ve been married to the love of my life, the unsinkable Mrs. Avsec, for more than 30 years. I served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years until I retired at the rank of Battalion Chief in 2007.
Today, I find purpose as a freelance writer who contributes to several on-line publications such as this one, and I have my own blog, Talking “Shop” 4 Fire and EMS, where I delve into various management and leadership issues that affect the Fire and EMS world that I love.
The editor for At the Ready Magazine, Dawn Kennedy, asked me to write down my thoughts on what life and work balance means to me and how I’ve tried to approach that complicated subject in my own personal and professional life. It’s an interesting assignment and one for which I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect upon before sitting down at my keyboard.
Early in my career I read a book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and of all the books I’ve read in my lifetime this one has had the most lasting impact on my approach to this “balancing act” that we call living. Covey’s 7th Habit, Sharpening the Saw, is the one that I’ll use to show how it’s worked for me and how it can work for you.
Covey uses the analogy of how using a handsaw equates to “using” your time on the planet. If you constantly use a handsaw it doesn’t get sharper, but instead gets dull and becomes less effective. On the other hand, if you regularly clean and sharpen the saw between uses, you maintain the saw’s ability to cut effectively and efficiently.
Covey goes further to explain his belief that our “saw” has four elements that require regular “cleaning and maintenance” if we are to maintain our effectiveness, i.e., maintain balance in our lives. He refers to these elements as the 4 Dimensions of Renewal and they are:
The Physical Dimension. I’ve always been attuned to benefits of keeping active and staying fit beginning with my participation in scholastic sports such as football and baseball. I’ve managed to maintain the habits of cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility training that were instill in me by my various coaches over the years.
Early on as a working adult, I discovered the physical and mental renewal that came from participating in the two recreational sports, downhill skiing and golf that I’ve come to love. (Mrs. Avsec calls them my “twin vices” and I’m lucky that she is also an avid golfer and fan of that sport!).
The Mental Dimension. I’ve frequently heard and read that the human brain is like any of the muscles in the body: use it or lose it. Continuous learning is paramount to success in your chosen field of work; turns out it’s a pretty good deal for maintaining your mental faculties as well.
I earned both my undergraduate and graduate degrees during my career with CFEMS. The discipline that I developed in completing all of that course work carried over into my duties as an officer in the organization as well. Believe it or not, I also found that being a “full-time” student helped my relationship with my wife as well. While she was getting up every morning to head to her job for the day, she knew I was at home on many of my off-duty days “hitting the books”!
The Spiritual Dimension. Many people find comfort and guidance by following the tenants of their faith. Personally, I subscribe more to the Enlightenment-era belief, held by such Founding Fathers as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, of a Creator whose divine handiwork is evident in the wonders of nature. That is, a reliance on the doctrine of salvation through good works here on earth.
Whatever your beliefs, we are “equipped” with a need to feel that what we do every day has a positive influence on the people and events that surround us. So whether through individual prayer or volunteering your time at your local food bank or serving as a Big Brother or Big Sister, we all have a spiritual dimension that needs “feeding.”
The Social/Emotional Dimension. We humans are social creatures at heart with a strong desire to be a part of something besides self. It’s why we start families, join civic organizations, participate in recreational team sports, and seek to build social and professional relationships.
In my life, this dimension has very much been a part of the previously discussed dimensions. My relationship with my wife has been a cornerstone of my social and emotion dimension and her faith and support for me has always been a very powerful influence that made everything else that happened in my life—whether at work or at play—possible. It really helped to have a partner who was just as committed to a well-balanced life as I was.
Early in our life together, my wife and I made a conscious decision to plan and take regular vacations to get away from work and “recharge our batteries” and keep our relationship strong. Aside from those times, we’ve also planned time to do things together, e.g., see a movie or go hit golf balls at the driving range or play a round of golf. But we learned through study at the “school of hard knocks” that we had to plan our time together because the course of daily events finds a way to “consume” unscheduled time in our daily lives.
My “twin vices” of golf and skiing have afforded me many opportunities through the years to spend time with people of diverse backgrounds—some were friends who accompanied me and some were people I met for the very first time. The important thing was that I’ve had those opportunities to “exercise” my social/emotional “muscles” on a regular basis through the years.
So that’s what’s worked for me thus far. And while I’ve found great utility in the philosophy of Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits, there are a great many models out there that can help you achieve and maintain balance in your life. The real key is finding one that you feel best meets your needs…and then commit to it.