Being a paramedic during the formative years of my working life, I’ve been surprised at how many of the lessons that I learned on the job have translated to the business world.
Paramedics have a notoriously dark sense of humor. It’s a natural coping mechanism that helps to manage the stresses of the job. A running joke among the paramedics I worked with was the three rules. While at first glance they may seem crass, the underlying intent provides some useful advice that generalizes well.
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- It’s not my emergency. This was one of the most important lessons to learn as a green EMT first getting to work on an ambulance. It’s far too easy to get drawn into what’s happening, allowing your adrenaline to flow and losing sight of the separation between things that are happening in front of you and things that are happening to you. In business, it’s also key to stop and remember that what may seem like an emergency is much more likely going to benefit from someone making calm decisions than from someone acting from a position of panic. Few good decisions are made when people are panicking.
- All bleeding stops eventually. It sounds morbid because it is, but this is a good reminder about control. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, no matter what we do to make things better, we simply can’t fix the problem. This happens in business – we have an angry client/customer that simply can’t be satisfied, a piece of technology that cannot be fixed, an economic shift that hurts our industry. As painful as it is, sometimes we must stop fighting the fight we can’t win, and instead look toward the next challenge because it’s coming whether we’re ready or not.
- If you drop the baby, pick it up! New babies are wet, and gloves are smooth. You get the picture. We all make mistakes, and some are doozies. We can either stop and stare in wonder at the terrible thing we have just done, pretend it didn’t happen and hope no one saw (unlikely), or we can jump right back in, own our mistake, and do our best to fix the damage we’ve done while accepting that there will be some sort of consequences down the road once the crisis is resolved. In my career I have consistently found that a willingness to say “mea culpa,” to work to do the repairs that can be done and to own up directly and honestly to my superiors has served me well. It’s not fun, but the outcomes have been better than I would have feared.
While it may not be a good idea to use dark jokes around co-workers, especially during times of stress, the lessons can certainly be useful. Keeping a calm, rational mind and owning what we do are useful skills no matter what we’re doing.