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Jennifer Grigg   

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Nov. 19, 2015, Port Severn, Ont. - They say there is always something to be learned from every experience you have in life. At least, that's what I like to think.

And I’m also learning that it’s not always the lesson you expect.

I am two weeks into a month-long sabbatical from my day job. I was planning to spend time travelling and speaking with inspirational guys and gals in the fire service, and to use those experiences as the basis of my next book. But I haven’t gotten there yet.

Turns out that life sometimes gets in the way of life.

Two weeks ago, I had a job interview in a city three hours from home. I applied to the job before I decided to take my leave from work. It was, of course, a fire inspector position; because only that would make me even consider a job that far away. My friends thought I was crazy, and my husband probably did too, but he was nothing but supportive.


Yet again, I’ve learned valuable lessons about the interview process. I always say, if nothing else job interviews are good learning experiences.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the three interviews I’ve had over the past few months.

Owen Sound in July – I was so in my head for that interview. I wanted the job so badly but I was so scared of it at the same time. The week before the interview, I had more sleepless nights than not. I asked everyone for their opinion and flip-flopped on my own opinion about it. I asked a friend of mine, “how far does one go to follow their dream?”

A friend who went with me the day of the interview is from the area and gave me a tour; it gave me the time to review my notes while he drove. I was completely surprised by how relaxed I was the day of the interview, given my anxiety levels leading up to that point.

I found the interview experience to be very positive despite feeling that my responses to the interview questions weren’t as solid as I would’ve liked. I felt calm and at ease the whole time and empowered by my new found sense of confidence.

Despite being pretty sure that I hadn’t nailed the interview, I still held out hope that maybe, just maybe I’d get the job. At some point during the week after the interview I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized that the feeling of contentment that I had experienced the day of the interview didn’t mean that I was destined to get the job; it simply meant that I can and should expect to feel that good about any job interview. That is not to say that I wouldn’t experience typical interview jitters, but I had struggled with anxiety in the past, especially in new situations, and I was happy to see such a huge improvement in myself. Growth certainly didn’t happen overnight.

So, not necessarily what one would expect to get from a job interview but a very valuable life lesson for me, even though I did not get the job.

A second interview was with Vaughan in August for a fire protection technologist (plans examiner). This job seemed like a better option because it was closer and I could commute. However, prior to the interview I had misgivings about going through with the interview because I had no hands-on experience with plans review. My husband pointed out that clearly I had enough experience for them to want to interview me, so I should just go and see what happens. My next concern was the commute.

I again had an epiphany one night while sitting by a roaring campfire under a gorgeous starry sky: I knew that this opportunity wasn’t the right one for me. I realized that a commute wouldn’t work well for me because I need my downtime to keep a healthy balance in my life. I was able to see that any job that required a commute would actually work against me. Call me crazy, but I really do tend to go with what my gut tells me and it’s always steered me in the right direction.

I emailed Vaughan the next day and thanked them for the opportunity to interview but declined the offer. While it may have been a good learning experience to go through with the interview, I felt very strongly about not wasting anyone’s time knowing that I was unprepared to commute.

That experience was another life lesson, one in which I garnered the valuable understanding of what would and would not work for me when it came to commuting.

Maybe the lessons should have been over then, but the passion I have (obsession maybe?) for the fire service kept me applying to prevention and inspection positions in hopes that I would one day find my place in the world.

St. Catharines, November – the third and final interview. What did I learn about myself in this interview? Well, if we go with feelings, I felt like I had no business interviewing for these positions after a less-than-stellar five-page written test, followed by an even less-than-stellar interview. I was so discouraged by my test that I felt as though I should just tell the interview panel not to bother with my interview. Instead, I kept my chin up and gave it a good go anyway. My go just wasn’t enough.

I spoke to a mentor of mine on the phone the night before the interview and shared with her my feelings about being out of the loop, so to speak. I haven’t been a fire inspector since 2004 because life had taken me in a completely different direction for a . . . decade. I had always tried to take at least one prevention course at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst each every year to keep my foot in the door, but it wasn’t enough.

Yet again I held out hope that even though my interview lacked, well . . . everything, I might have a shot anyway. After two weeks of not hearing anything, I emailed the lovely lady in HR who had arranged my interview. (You know that sinking feeling when you’ve resorted to emailing someone to even have to ask if they’ve made a decision. Yep, I did that.) Turns out that HR had mailed me a letter to let me know I wasn’t the successful applicant, but I hadn’t checked the mail in, oh, two weeks.

I laughed.

What can you do, right? I spent the first week and a half of my cherished sabbatical from work checking my phone and waiting for news. It was like a program running in the background of my mind, which would pop up with a reminder every so often. Maybe you’ll get it. Maybe you’ll have to move down there, but that’s OK, you can do it. Maybe you’ll hear something today. Maybe my references will call to let me know they’ve been contacted.

It’s enough to drive you batty! You wake up thinking about it and you go to bed thinking about it.

So when I heard back from HR, I honestly did laugh. And scolded myself for not listening to the little voice in my head that kept telling me to check the mail! I also laughed because I had let myself become so focused on one thing (to which I had no control over) that I was missing out on my own sabbatical from work. Such a dork!

All in all, I’ve learned that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put this baby to bed.

I’ve come to understand that my time in Mississauga will always have a special place in my heart, along with the friendships I made there, but it no longer has to be filed under “my biggest failure”, or “the one that got away”. On that note, being the FPO prior to that on the department for which I still volunteer is another long-lost opportunity, and it’s time for me to let go.

I once had a chief tell me when we were talking one day that I seemed to have a sense of entitlement toward that position. It caught me off guard, but I appreciated his honesty. I also realized that he was right, maybe because I was the first one to do that job for our department, but that was almost 15 years ago. If I’m not doing it now, it’s a pretty good indication that I’m not meant to be doing it and it’s time to let it go once and for all.

So why did I hang on to those two jobs for so long? It’s one of those things that is difficult to put into words. I had felt like I belonged. In both of those positions, I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be. I have yet to find another job that has come even close to giving me that sense of purpose. Maybe it’s just one of those crazy-hard-to-describe fire-service things.

The sense of belonging is also a big deal for someone who spent much of her life feeling like she doesn’t belong. I guess I pretty much just solved that decade-long dilemma! It’s amazing what you can uncover about yourself when you write.

Thanks to three job interviews, I’ve finally learned the very freeing lesson that trying to hang onto the past is like trying to fly with a weight around your ankle. My experiences in the fire service over the past 20 years were merely different chapters in my life that have all helped shape me into the person who I am today. My mistake was thinking that those experiences were me, and were the best that I have to offer. No wonder I kept chasing them, thinking that they were the best of me. That’s a heck of a lot of pressure to put on yourself, and pretty much impossible to live up to.

My two daughters, Sydney and Emily, are my best work. Hands down.

So for now, I’ll just keep on volunteering with my department, continue writing my heart out, and appreciate all the awesome stuff that I already have in my life instead of chasing some idealized version of myself.

But fire . . . fire will always be there somewhere.

Jennifer Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. @georgianbayjen

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