By Special Guest Writer
Senior Supervisor, WestCOMM Regional Dispatch
911der Women Events Committee Co-Chair
Mass WIN Co-Chair
In order for my career to become what it is today, the walls of my castle had to collapse and be rebuilt countless times. But too many times, we only see those around us succeeding on social media and we never see the hundreds of little setbacks they faced to get there. When people only see our successes, they start to wonder why they aren’t having constant success. They see themselves as less than, feel like they are missing a critical secret that everyone else has, and begin to feel as though they don’t belong in the field.
Why is it that we only want to talk about our success? It could be because success is what we are most proud of and talking about successes feels best. It could be because talking about setbacks is uncomfortable, and we don’t want to feel weak or feel like a failure. Maybe we are afraid of being laughed at for our mistakes, afraid of being told that we are a failure - which would solidify our imposter syndrome. But here’s the thing, if we never talk about our mistakes, those who are following in our footsteps don’t know that failure is okay. We may tell them that it’s okay to make mistakes, but if we don’t show them by admitting our setbacks then we are just saying words. Social media has created a culture where we only talk about our highs and never our lows. But without lows, the highs are mute and I think many of us have forgotten that.
In 2022, I started public speaking. My first ever seminar is called “Not Everyone in Your Circle is in Your Corner”. I talked about how I’ve been burned for thinking the best of everyone, and how to notice if someone is pretending to be on your side. It felt extremely vulnerable explaining how my actions, inactions, and misunderstandings of what was happening around me. But I couldn’t have fathomed the outcome. I had people, of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, come to me and say, “This happened to me too”, and, “How can you truly know?”. I found myself talking out problems and giving advice to people 20 years my senior, and helping people just a few steps behind me on their career paths. By talking about the challenges I faced and the mistakes (as well as successes), I was able to reach more people. I was more authentic than spending an hour bragging about myself.
One of the aspects of my career that I frequently touch upon, is that I ended my relationship with my ex-fiancée because she wasn’t in my corner. No, not in a juicy gossipy manner, but in a way that explained how I realized that she didn’t want what was best for me. I explain how she would say that she was excited for an opportunity I had, but then would argue with me the entire time I was involved with the opportunity. I explain how she felt the need to tag along to my events, and then would knit-pick and say negativities under her breath. I explain how hard it was to leave, knowing that I wanted a future with her but also knowing I couldn’t soar in my career with her attached to me. Then I show how my career moved leaps and bounds after formally ending it. Making sure people are in your corner is not just a work related topic. If people we share space with don’t see eye to eye with us, it can severely hinder our progress.
Another compelling aspect is the “mean girl” mentality that many dispatch centers face across the world. We need to stop trying to rip the person next to us down so that we can have the next promotion… or get the next best job… or get the time off that we want… or whatever the reason behind our actions. Not only does it ultimately reflect poorly on us, but there is room for all of us at the top. Oftentimes, people look at progression in a field as a pyramid with less and less space as we move up. In reality, it’s a vast mountain with space for everyone who puts in the work to share the view. Because here’s the thing, most people aren’t going to put in the level of work it takes to keep moving. They are going to get part way up and decide that the view is nice from where they are and set up camp (and that is perfectly okay if it is what is best for them).
So, if most of the people are going to find their niche on the mountain and stop along the way, why try to rip them down? Why not encourage them, bond with them, and succeed with them to create a lifelong working relationship? Why not talk to them about your struggles and listen to them, and ultimately problem-solve with them? Then, when you go separate ways up the mountain or one of you stops along the way, you have a resource. You have a friend and confidant instead of someone who thinks and spreads poor information about you.
Setbacks, missteps, and pivots aren’t always about things that people do to us; we are also responsible for our own actions. One of the best actions we can take after making a mistake is showing integrity by owning our mistakes. We are all human, we all make mistakes. We need to genuinely apologize and fix missteps that we have so that we can right our wrongs. This also gains respect and opens conversation. If you tell your employees to admit their mistakes, but you are afraid to admit yours, your center will be full of cover ups and hidden problems. We need to be brave and acknowledge our shortcomings as leaders so that we give permission for those around us to do the same.
If everyone acts with integrity, and speaks authentically about positive and negative aspects of their actions, we can create a culture in which the 911 community can be proud. Imagine a world where everyone is in everyone’s corner, and we all want each other to genuinely succeed. It’s possible, but we need everyone to buy in. Buying into a thought or an idea before those around you is terrifying. It feels exposing and hard. We need people to be authentic and take the first step. Understand that perfection isn’t expected, but effort is. With effort and integrity, we can create a dispatch community with zero turnover, with long lasting careers, and with supportive environments. We can create a community in which we are consistently proud.
About the Author:
Juliet Brown is the Senior Supervisor at WestCOMM Regional Dispatch Center in Massachusetts. She has been a dispatcher for nine years, and has found a passion in community outreach and in training. Currently, she oversees both departments. She is the Co-Chair of the Events Committee for 911der Women, and the inaugural recipient of 911der Women’s Firework Scholarship. She also recently became Co-Chair of the Mass WIN Committee. She holds an Associates Degree in Fire Science, and will graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management in the spring. Juliet is an advocate for dispatchers receiving mental health care, and spends her free time adventuring with her dog and at the gym for healthy stress outlets.