Never Underestimate the Importance of Balance


We had a fire Friday night that threw off my schedule in terms of being able to post here. I am caught up and rested now. At 9:30 pm on Friday we were dispatched out to a structure fire but when we go there the house was gone so we managed it as a wildland fire. The picture in the header is what I saw when I first hopped out of engine I drove to the incident. We got there simultaneously with Prescott Fire Engine 75. I asked them, as professionals, to assume incident command after I had named it the Tree House Fire (geographically significant reference).

I positioned my engine, Walker Patrol 85, closest to the fire, it was determined that 85 would pump water to the fire. Engine 75 was a little further down the hill and would send water to 85. Walker's two water tenders would in turn provide water to 75. The fire was very small but very serious. The picture below is one of our guys keeping the propane tank as cool as possible so it doesn't explode while the propane vents out. The car was fully involved when we got there. The house was just to the right of the propane tank. The wildfire was about 1/2 acre.

The crew from engine 75, some of Walker's guys as well as Forest Service personnel got a line around the fire very quickly and was able to suppress that aspect of it quickly. The house rubble was allowed to continue burning. We stayed with it until around 6 pm the next day due to a forecasted wind event for Saturday (red flag) which creates a danger of another fire starting. We then went back on Sunday with a thermal imaging camera to look for any final hot spots. There were a couple and we took care of them. Saturday night I went to bed at 7:30!

Anyone familiar with this blog for any length of time knows that I am all in on volunteering as a firefighter. I have been the chief for six and a half years and have been very involved with the fire community in the area more broadly (I was president of the Chiefs Association for a while among other things). Aside from loving the work and deriving psychic value from serving the community, I have always talked about how the problem solving needed in my hobby helps with problem solving needed in my day job. When I am working on a fire or something related, I really can't be thinking about markets and the portfolio and that sort of break from the day job I believe helps with being more focused when I can focus on the markets and portfolios which is of course the vast majority of my time. This paragraph epitomizes balance even if there is more to it (which I believe there is).

I found a post on Facebook that is purported to be Steve Jobs' last words in which he talks about balance and the extent to which wealth and the pursuit of it invariably are not the answers. I have no idea whether the post actually is Steve Jobs' last words but the message is on point. I take the message a little differently though which is to not be one dimensional. I have never aspired to being truly wealthy, living in a mansion or driving a very expensive sports car but there is nothing wrong with pursuing the ability to have those things. The lack of fulfillment comes when wealth or the pursuit of it is all you have.

You no doubt have seen plenty of articles that talk about how important relationships are to being happy, I would add that being fit is also important because if you can succeed in being less achy, having less pain then you have removed a huge negative aspect of life that many people feel as they age.

To work on the line of a wildland fire you need to successfully pass what is called the pack test (arduous work capacity test) which requires being able to hike three miles in 45 minutes with a 45 lb pack. The way I frame it to our group is to say that if you pass the pack test you'll be able to fight a fire but if you pack test but then can't get off the couch for a week because you're sore, how much fun can you have working on a fire for 16 hours? It's a volunteer endeavor, I would hope part of why people do it is because they think it is fun. Furthering the idea of balance, our hobby requires being fit. There are plenty of other hobbies that require some level of fitness too.

One concern I have with articles like the Facebook post linked above is that people take them as permission to not work hard, trying to build for their future financially. If the conversation is about balance, then balance would seem to include having your financial footing be as solid as you can make it. In a similar vane I take the Tiny House Movement as being seen as permission to take short cuts whereby you could wake up one day and find yourself at 40 years old, living in a dilapidated tiny house, with little in the way of marketable skills and only $3000 in the bank. That is an extreme imbalance toward the living for today side of the scale. Living for today (living in the moment) is crucial for happiness but not at the exclusion of the future.

While part of the solution is outlined above in the form of outside interests, success also comes from living below your means. The other day I shared the following tweet on Facebook noting that "every aspect of your life will be easier if you can swim against this chart."

Where balance includes peace of mind, if you can avoid the stress that goes with living a $10,000/mo lifestyle on a $9000 salary you might have more peace of mind. The more you're able to live below your means, the less time you spend worrying about your finances which then leaves time available to live in moment, to strike a balance between work (which most of us need for financial firm footing) and happiness (balance).

Finally this all weighs heavily on financial planning. If you are able to figure out some balance to your life early on you're less likely to wake up one day at 55 with more of an emergency fund as opposed to a retirement fund and more likely to be relatively healthy both of which give you more options in terms of what you do (activities) or what you change (if you have a strong financial situation in your 50's and you want to change careers to something that pays a lot less, you could be financially able).

None of this is easy and it requires a lot of self awareness but it is possible.