So how did I become a firefighter then? By applying to the firefighter academy, succeeding in the entrance exam and eventually by graduating. But this wasn’t the hard part. Even though, in order to graduate you have to survive all the testing that some sadistic maniac has come up with. This includes lots of physical and mental stress in dark, claustrophobic environments filled with fire and smoke. Well, to be honest, I really enjoyed all that, and I will tell you more about it later. But as I said, this wasn’t the biggest obstacle I had to overcome.
The real obstacle was making the decision that I am capable and willing to do all that.
This may sound quite easy. Think what you want to do and evaluate if you are capable of it. If yes, then go for it. For some reason, my head doesn’t operate that way. Everything tends to get stuck at the evaluating part. And a bit by bit I find all the reasons why I’m certainly not able to do anything that I would like to, and would be far better off sitting at home, not disturbing anyone.
Actually, it isn’t that bad anymore, quite the opposite in fact. But when I was younger my lack of confidence and low self-esteem caused problems like these and ended up preventing me from striving for anything that I found interesting. I had lots of ideas of things I would have wanted to try, but after the first rush of excitement my mind started to attack the ideas with all the negative things that could, would and should happen, if I continued with them. So I didn’t do much else than sit at home reading books and playing video games while waiting for something good to happen. I also exercised a lot, because it appeared to give me a lot of joy, while also removing the guilt for being so home oriented otherwise.
But good things won’t happen by sitting at home waiting. Actually, that is the best exact way to ensure that nothing good will ever happen to you. How did things change then? With the help of other people.
After completing the military service I moved to live on my own in a shared apartment with other students. Now I had to communicate with other people daily. And slowly, by meeting real people and getting to know them, I started to realize, that I’m not so different after all. And for the first time in my life, I started to make real friends. Eventually, they all managed to make me see, that the limitations I believed to have, weren’t actually real, but only creations of my negative mindset and the fear of life.
The military service was also a big factor in rebuilding my self-esteem since I found out quite quickly that my years of running and exercising had had a positive effect on me. Also, the work I had done at constructions and as an electrician had given me confidence and skill at using different types of tools and equipment. Using equipment, following orders and completing tasks that were given and living the army life was something I was actually quite good at. When given a direct order my habit of second guessing immediately stepped aside, and I was able to do the things that were required. But I had difficulties also. Daily routines, discipline and meaningless mundane tasks were something I had a hard time coping with. I understood quite quickly that the limiting factors of military service were not compatible with my unpredictable nature and thirst for freedom. After finishing the service I understood that the things I did in the army were something that I enjoyed, but the way everything was organized and carried out was not.
After this, for almost a year I weighed different options that perhaps could better suit my strengths, while not clashing with my other tendencies and abilities. Then I met a new friend.
He was a lot like me. He liked to exercise, enjoyed wall climbing, played video games and did all the kind of things which were quite common for young men at that time and age, and for me too. We even had the same tendency for helping other people and “doing the right thing when needed”. But there was a huge difference between us. He believed, that everything is possible with a correct mindset and that all things will go right in the end. I wasn’t on the same page with him on any of that, but spending time with this person slowly turned me to believe, that maybe, if I tried hard enough, maybe I could follow my dreams and live the life that I wanted. He was a firefighter.
Slowly I started to find out, that I was quite capable in almost everything that he did, and that our view of life was very similar. We both valued free time, friends, our hobbies and doing the things which really make you enjoy life over meaningless and more stressful things. He didn’t really talk about his job, but he talked about the things that he was able to do because of his job, and the work schedule which included long shifts followed by several days off-duty, which I had learned to like while working as a security guard. Even though firefighters don’t get paid much in Finland, and even though their retirement age has been hauled too high for anyone to reach (65 years), I still strongly believed this could be the thing for me. If I’m capable of doing it of course.
At the time, I had decided not to continue with the engineering school, which I had wasted many years on, and to look for a new career elsewhere. Now I had the chance to really pursue the things that I had always wanted, the same exact things that still felt so incredibly difficult for me to strive for. But for the first time in years, I managed to believe in myself, and then things started to happen.
My mind tried to bombard this decision with all the negative thoughts it could come up with, but the decision of finally doing the things that I actually wanted, survived. This decision even managed to silence the doubt which had kept haunting me for all those years. The doubt wasn’t destroyed completely, but now it is silent enough not to prevent me from trying new interesting things, but loud enough to filter the bad ideas that aren’t meant to last. It still gains strength on occasions, but now I have the tools to fight and ignore it. Even my wife tends to recognize these moments, and her way of saying “Shut up and do it you idiot” seems to be rather helpful.
So I ended up applying for the academy and surviving the entrance examination on my first try. After all, I have grown to enjoy tests like these, and I have actually become quite good at them.
Looking back to it, my negative mindset managed to limit my life quite heavily as a teenager and as a young adult. In the end, with a little help, I was able to overcome it and started enjoying life instead of being afraid of it. I started this path over four years ago, and I have to say that I can never thank enough all the people who made me believe in myself, and who showed me all the possibilities life has to offer. You probably don’t know who you are, but I will always remember the effect you had on me, even if we are not connected anymore. Taking the first steps is the hardest part, but if you keep moving and refuse to let the obstacles block your way, your life will turn out to be a lot different, than what it would be, if you just sit at home waiting for good things to happen. Even if you fail to achieve the exact goal you set for yourself, the experience you gain by trying is a reward in itself. The pattern of trying, failing, trying again and failing even more is something that everyone should experience, just to find out their real limitations, instead of the imagined ones.
But life isn’t fair, and not everyone is lucky enough to have the same opportunities as other people. It is easy to tell people to believe in themselves and to strive for happiness when you are a healthy young white man from a rich northern European country. The cards you’re dealt as a child have a huge effect on what kind of things are even possible at your situation. My wife often keeps reminding me of this, when I talk about the opportunities people should take. Since the hand she was dealt, is not the one anyone would like to have when they are born. Despite her young age, she has endured four separate cancers. And despite all the damage cancer, and the cancer treatments have caused to her, she has still managed to beat all the odds and do all the kind of things that she wasn’t supposed to be able to do. Meanwhile, everyone kept reminding her not to do or to try things, to avoid disappointing herself but luckily her stubbornness wouldn’t let her give up. There is so much to tell about her, how I met her and how she has impacted my life, but that is a story for another time.