IMPORTANT: Before I begin this article, I want to remind you to take the very brief survey I asked you to respond to last Wednesday. I've received quite a number of responses to date, however, the more responses I receive, the better the information will be. The survey will only be active for one more week. After next Wednesday I'll be compiling the results and won't accept any further responses. The survey is short and simple. It shouldn't take you longer than 1 minute to respond. It is completely anonymous. I have no idea of who responded or how you responded. And, I want to thank you and those who have already responded for granting me this one priceless minute of your time. Here's the link to the survey. Survey Link Please respond now, if you haven't already.
WTF? In today's vernacular those three letters have assumed the meaning of a pretty familiar and graphic question? But, I have chosen to use the same three letters to pose another question. Perhaps, many of us will adopt them to our own vocabulary of modern "text" abbreviations. Here is my question:
WTF? Where's The Fire?
Okay, for the grammarians reading this, technically, "Where's" is a contraction of where is. But, give me this one. The question is still valid, and, who knows, I may be starting a new text abbreviation.
The question, "where's the fire?" is one that has been settling in with me for a number of years. As you know, I always attempt to be honest and avoid being hypocritical, so I'm not only pointing the finger at others in a hurry, I have also been one of those people in a hurry. Infrequently, and that's very infrequently, I still allow myself to get into a situation of chasing a fire.
So, what's the deal with the fire? The question dates back to around the 1920's when most fire departments appear to have been volunteer organizations. When some kind of fire alert signal went off, possibly in the form of a hand cranked siren or a loud, clanging fire bell, the volunteers would respond. The question of the moment was, what else? "Where's the fire?"
Down through history, the question has assumed a similar, but slightly different meaning. Today, a police officer might ask that question of a motorist he or she has pulled over to cite for a speeding violation. A husband or wife, father or mother might ask the same question of the other spouse or an offspring when they are in an extreme hurry to get someplace. I'm sure we can all think of other uses for the question other than in the context of reaching a fire that needs to be put out.
In thinking about a topic for this article (and I actually came up with this topic a couple weeks ago), I knew I was going to be heading into the northern Virginia, Washington, DC metro area to attend a retreat with a group of professional speaker friends of mine this past weekend. Regular readers of this blog know I do my best to avoid most large cities and metro areas, despite the fact that I grew up in the largest metro area in the U.S., the New York City area. Whenever I go to these places it seems everyone is always in a hurry?
Some of the drivers in areas like this cut me off or do some other seriously boneheaded and, often, dangerous driving maneuvers. I've been known to exuberantly ask the other WTF question . . . with the more commonly understood meaning.
This "where's the fire" behavior even seems to make it out to the country and rural areas. Yesterday, I was in the country between Front Royal and Winchester, VA on my way back to base camp in West Virginia. I was in the left lane of a four lane, divided blue highway preparing to overtake an 18 wheeler in the right lane. I was doing 65 in a 55 speed limit area when a Jeep pulled up behind me. The vehicle was so close I couldn't even see the front of the Jeep. But, I could see the angry eyes of the driver while he was cursing me out. He whipped his vehicle into the right lane, passed me, cut me off pulling back in front of me before running into the back of the 18 wheeler. After he got in front of me, he vigorously gave me the infamous "one-finger salute." I, exuberantly responded with BOTH WTF questions. And he was stuck behind the car in front of me I was pacing. Jerk!
We can all recall more similar incidents than we probably want to remember. And, I ashamedly have to admit, I've driven like that in the past, chasing some fires that, in hindsight, probably weren't all that important.
Chasing Fires Begins In Childhood
Life is a unique and, sometimes, humorous experience. As children we are exposed to our busy parents. They always seem to have things that need to be done . . . right now! We have to hurry to get up, go shopping, go to school, go to the doctor's, visit grandma and grandpa and just about everything else. While at the same time, as children, we seem to envy, what we perceive as, the freedom our parents and adults have. So, we are in a hurry to grow up. It's very unusual for anyone to ask a youngster "WTF?"
We seem to constantly be chasing that elusive fire most of our lives. We are in a hurry to get out of school so we can begin our adult life of freedom. If we choose to and are fortunate enough to attend college and, perhaps, graduate school, we're in a hurry to complete our degrees to begin a career. In today's society, we don't seem to be as hurried to find our permanent mate or life partner and begin a family, but once we've established some kind of career track, that becomes the next fire to chase. Then we're chasing the fire of having children, then owning a home, then a second home or some other recreational pursuits.
After several years of running ourselves ragged, accumulating and warehousing what eventually becomes piles of "stuff," debt, the family growing up and what now feels like an endless and, quite possibly, boring job or career, we chase the fire into a midlife crisis. That's when we begin thinking back to when we were carefree kids and wondering what happened to all that freedom we had back then and why did we chase the fire to adulthood only to end up in the here and now.
WTF . . . Retirement
So, what's next? We've made it into our 50's and what's next? What fire do we want to chase now? Retirement! Now conversations with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers seems to focus, a little at first and more and more as time passes, on the golden age of retirement. Now we're hustling to save money, rethink our homes, consider downsizing, decluttering and maybe even economizing.
However, many of us are caught either in a Catch 22 or, through no fault of our own, since we've been good and faithful servants (add loyal and dedicated) to "the system," find that we can't retire or we're downsized too early to retire.
We find that we can't retire because, psychologically, we can't separate ourselves from the career we've had for 40 to 45 years, we need it for personal self-worth. Or, we can't retire because we can't financially afford to due to any number of unforeseen events including, but not limited to, a massive economic recession, financial losses, upside down mortgages, medical bills, loss of a spouse, financially helping our parents or our offspring (and possibly even our siblings), etc.
Or, due to corporate or owner mismanagement or a national or global economic crisis or the advances in technology or just the changes in cultural or societal pressures, we are downsized out of a job in our prime. Unfortunately, anyone in the later 40's, definitely in the 50's and without question in the 60's, will very seldom be able to find another satisfying career in your chosen profession that will pay anywhere near what your former job paid, including the benefits and perks.
So, the new fire is survival and preserving whatever it is you have left at this time. Many of us will be okay, it just won't be finding the fire we've been chasing until now. You're still hurrying and scurrying and the question is still WTF? But, the entire scenario has changed.
WTF . . . REALLY?
It's finally about this point in our life when we really begin to wonder where that fire really is and why are we chasing it anyway. We've just spent the better part of a lifetime chasing the elusive thing and still don't know where it is. We also begin to realize that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end of the roll, the faster it seems to go. Factoid; one second, minute, hour, day, week, month and year are exactly the same amount of time currently as they were when we each took our first breath at birth. They are constant. We are the variable.
Life is also paradoxical. When we are young we are always in a hurry, but don't get near enough done for the time we spend. When we are older we are doing everything we can to slow down and make time last longer, but wanting to get more and more done in the time we spend.
I'm sure there's some profound philosophical thought about this dating back at least a few thousand years. But, like so many things in life, we tend to overlook the work and thinking of those who came before us and believe we have some great new ideas. I have, personally, come to believe there really are no new ideas under the sun. There are just different ways we perceive them. Often, we attempt to disprove them or change them to reflect what we want.
So, at this phase of my life, I look back and recall all the years I was chasing the elusive fires. I'm sure there were some people asking the same question of me . . . WTF? Reality check, the destination of our life journey is exactly the same for all of us. Some of us will reach it earlier, some later. The guarantee is that we will all reach it. And interestingly, that destination is where the fire is (and I don't mean that with any religious connotation).
So, if we know that reality, why then do we keep chasing fires knowing where they will all ultimately lead? Why do we want to rush through childhood . . . WTF? When we get to adulthood, why do we want to rush through all those phases . . . WTF? When we get to (I'll call it retirement even though that's a relatively new concept in human experience) retirement, why are we still rushing to get things done . . . WTF? When do we realize that we'll all leave this lifetime with unfinished business?
So, WTF? Where's the fire? Every aspect of life is important. But, why do so many seem to place the importance on business, work & job? Why are people willing to spend a priceless half hour, hour, two hours and sometimes even more, commuting each way to and from a business, job or work they dislike, despise or hate and do that for 40, 45, 50 or in our current society, even more years. True, some do love their business or work, even more, it seems than their spouses and offspring. But, most (upwards of 70%) according to many studies far from love their work life. Why are spouses, children, family, friends, other important relationships and experiences taking second and third place in our lives
Children are growing up faster today than ever before. The pressures of society, two career families, mainstream media and technology all play a role in this change. Why aren't we, those who have reached a certain point in life regardless of chronological age, doing something to inform and educate those who aren't here, yet.
Hopefully, we've realized there is no percentage in chasing the elusive fire only to end up at the same destination as all current living humans and all those who came before us. Hopefully, we've either learned or are learning to stop asking WTF? of ourselves. Hopefully, we've either started to change or have changed our thinking and lifestyles to stop chasing elusive fires while still being productive members of society for ourselves and society in general.
Why aren't we the thought leaders, doing what we can to help those coming after us to eliminate the question "Where's the Fire?" WTF