Josh Sanders

The concept of “kaizen”

One of the most important things I believe a firefighter should both embrace and embody is the concept of “kaizen”, or “continuous improvement”.  Above all traits – physical, mental, emotional – the desire to improve yourself each day has the potential to make you a top notch firefighter candidate and a welcome addition to any fire department.  Once on the job, the concept of continuous improvement is what separates average firefighters from exceptional ones; mediocre commanding officers from those that stand head and shoulders above the fray.

I’ll never forget the first time I read about kaizen – Tiger Woods was describing this concept and it’s effect on his golf game during an interview.  While the cynic may choose to insert a joke here about the recent trials and tribulations he’s endured over the past year or so, his point in the interview was made in an effort to describe his upbringing and relationship he had with both his father and the game of golf.  “Progress, not perfection” was a mantra that he followed for many years as he slowly honed his skills day after day, year after year.  That mantra complimented the idea of continuous improvement, and while he obviously has been blessed with a certain degree of God-given talent, Tiger and his peers always point to his incredible work ethic as something that has separated him from the competition over the years.

Which is what brings us to how this concept fits PERFECTLY within the potential career arc of an aspiring firefighter.  When candidates first start their training, the first 1-2 years look very similar for nearly 100% of the crowd:  an EMT class, some entry level fire science classes, maybe a basic fire academy.  It can be very difficult to separate yourself positively from others when you compete for entry level positions because there are simply not enough variables that allow for significant distinction.

So what are the things you CAN do to separate yourself, to rise above the competition?

Many things are innate – in other words – you probably already know them:  volunteer your time to a worthy cause.  Try to gain employment with a volunteer fire agency.  Keep a clean legal record and associate with people of high moral standing.  Along these lines, there is something just as important to both do and to reference in your entry-level job interview when competing for a firefighter position:  improve, continuously.

What’s cool about this concept is that it is 100% within YOUR control – only you know if you are working hard enough to rest comfortably at the end of the day; if you’ve learned something valuable that you didn’t know the day before.  Only you can hold yourself accountable to this standard.  It also provides you an attainable goal each day during your career – as long as you learn something each day, or improve upon one skill each time you complete a manipulative evolution, you are meeting your goal of kaizen.

The last thing that deserves mention when discussing kaizen is that you don’t have to wait to start – there is nothing to buy, no subscription to begin, no waiting period that needs to be observed – you can start today!  Challenge yourself with this concept and I guarantee that over time you will reflect back on your work and your journey as being rewarding and meaningful.

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