It's a strange thing to ask maybe. However, it goes right back to the root cause of so many issues. An issue we may have encountered early on in life and yet will affect us for years to come. A feeling of rejection or not being good enough. A feeling that can be held onto for a lifetime and brought up at any time, a feeling of self-doubt and a lack of self-worth. This feeling can intimidate and suppress any one of us.
Who can't recall school childhood days where you are stood waiting to be selected to join a team. The numbers whittle down and you find you are still standing there waiting. Will I be the last to be picked? Or have you had that awful feeling of being chosen as a substitute or maybe the afterthought? People's self-worth and esteem drop deeper and deeper, the longer they are stood there waiting to be chosen. Selected by their abilities and on the choice of 1 person's perception of your abilities and their opinion as to if they think by being in their team you can win. Ability to contribute. It's awful, but it's a reality too. We question ourselves and our own abilities. Am I useless? Can I actually do this? Questions I have asked myself many times. It continues through life with interviews. It's that person's perception, based on what they think they know about you and how you perform in a short time. We praise and give validation on exam results and status on our job titles. I've always struggled academically in the classroom because I am a practical person, a hands-on and a 'do'er.' I am a kind of, 'If they can race to the finish line faster than me then they win!' mindset. Rather than, 'yes but look at the style in which they carried themselves as running person'. If a fire situation, carrying someone over your shoulder and blazing out the door as the Firefighters are portrayed, only gets the person killed. Being held up in superheated gases and how long has it taken to lift them there in the first place? Grab them by any means and get them out. You have a cylinder of air, they don't. For me, it's about results. A rescue is a rescue and time is of the essence. Any media witnessing this will focus on the casualty and the firefighter will maybe just drop off the scene and recover. If you think I am mad, then ask any football player. The emphasis is always on the goal scorer. They may have missed 20 times but score once, hooray the hero, but a defender or goal keeper makes 1 mistake, they are ripped to pieces.
This is where we need to concentrate and see how many people are doing good in the world.
No fuss, no ticker-tape or fan fair, just silently getting on with it. Making progress.
Yet I have seen people with so much knowledge that I can't even begin to imagine, that are unable to carry out the simplest of tasks, especially if under duress and in a traumatic situation. So we base our assumptions on people's abilities and what we see and hear from them.
What's the phrase? 'You can talk the talk. But can you walk the walk?'
Actions speak louder than words.
But when we break it all down, we are all unique and not one of us should be brilliant at everything. I am fortunate in some ways that I can turn my hand to almost most things but I will never master any of them. I was told by a professional doctor in the hospital at 15 years old, after a nasty football injury, where I damaged both of my knees, that there was a good chance I may never walk properly again. Being a stubborn sod, I ignored him and got back to doing what I loved, playing football and cycling. 3 weeks later I'm back on the pitch, heavily strapped but playing, getting on with it as usual. Sometimes we need to listen to ourselves. We can talk ourselves out of doing so many things if we try.
To have achieved what I have and to continue as I do, I have had to have support and encouragement from many. To have someone believe in you and give you words of encouragement when you are feeling flat and considering giving up is precisely what we need now and again. Validation of how far we have come, the improvements made and the challenges faced. Without it, we cannot compare and we will not see where we are now and what we have endured previously.
Being a 'probby' all those years ago, running around the drill yard being screamed at for doing this and that wrong, or not fast enough seems a lifetime ago. But it was about installing discipline and making me become a valuable member of a team, not a liability. It's a job where you cannot afford to have someone not pulling their weight. Teamwork works best. It's a collective of individuals becoming a cohesive team. If one section begins to falter then it has a knock-on effect.
So in my case, I tried harder and conditioned myself to be a good Fireman. This I heard only a few times in my career from different officers and peers. But it's validation and when asked to deal with a task at a large incident from high ranking officers, they have asked you to do it because they have faith it will get done. A compliment in there somewhere I guess.
But now as I'm cycling around the Algarve, getting myself fitter and stronger for a few challenges I've set myself to not only raise awareness of PTSD and Mental Health Issues in the Emergency Services but also to raise funds for the Firefighters Charity and the Bombeiros here in Portugal, I have many times questioned my ability and purpose for doing any of it. Who really cares if I am out there? It's only when donations come in that it catches people attention. The goal scorer situation maybe?
It may be a different language here, but the 'probby' situation doesn't change. People train to be part of a team. Words of encouragement and support and yes even a good bollocking, if constructive, can set us on the right path. As long as it's positive with positive intentions.
The biggest validation doesn't come from the number of followers on Facebook or Instagram, or comments and likes, our biggest validation comes from within ourselves. If you know hand on heart that whatever you are doing, no matter how difficult it is, that it is right, then you know you are doing the right thing. Raising awareness is what I am driven to do. Helping others.
Yesterday I cycled 117km, only the second time I have ever ridden 100km plus. This hasn't happened overnight, I have been training for just under a year now. It was the long hard cycle back into a headwind that gave me time to analyse and process my actions towards my goals. I stuck my head down, held onto the drop-down handlebars and limited the wind resistance. Lots of mind games going on for sure. My bigger picture is to raise awareness and funds. I had to remind myself why I was pushing myself and why I started this. If PTSD can affect me out of the blue, then it can affect others too. I had always been ok in my mind until I had more time on my hands and was no longer distracted with life and its whirlwind of bustles.
So, for me, helping others identify early any signs or triggers and then dealing with them early is why I started the Fireman's Tired Eyes series.
I questioned myself many times whilst writing them, asking myself who am I to say all this? Who will read it anyway? That's down to you guys and gals. I put it out there, if it stays on the shelf it stays on the shelf. It's there if needed. But my validation is that I have a long arduous career that was indeed varied with many incidents and with that came experience. This is something we can only share not teach.
We have the Volta stage of cycling here next month in the Algarve, warm-ups for the Tour de France, but a valid competition all the same and today I saw a team practising. I am inspired to try and keep trying. I am nowhere near close to being picked in their team, and wouldn't have the confidence to stand up to be chosen. Not yet!! But who knows? One day maybe? I will keep training and do my best. It's my race so it's my pace. My mindest is positive.
Just because I won't be standing on the winners' podium, doesn't mean I can't congratulate myself.
If you are out there doing your best then give yourself permission to be happy. Look back at how far you have come. Look at what is working for you. And of course, look at what is not too. Change it and keep progressing. With validation comes evaluation.
Validation starts from within. You know if you could have gone that bit further or stayed a little longer. You know if fuelling your body and mind with the wrong foods or media. All contributing to how it will affect us and our performance. Physical health and mental health all takes time. It was a year remember when I got back into cycling after moving countries and being stressed.
We look to others for inspiration and yet we should also look a lot closer to home. Look at what you've achieved. And don't skip the small stuff. A tonne in weight is a tonne in weight, it makes no difference if it's rocks or feathers, it's still a tonne. The small stuff adds up too.
Remember, if I do something once, like cycle 100km, then I can do it again. I have proved to myself I can do things, now repeat and improve. We all can. Have faith in our abilities and faith in that small steps are still progressing us forwards.
So when you have voices of self-doubt in your head, telling you that you're not good enough, or that you can't do that, check in and see what you have accomplished so far.
This is positive validation. Keep trying.
Allow yourself time to question, then come back with a positive alternative answer.
When we can see improvements and begin to believe in ourselves then anything is possible.
Validation is valuable. You are valuable. Allow yourself time. Time to heal. You can be your own cheerleader too. Give yourself praise.
We are all writing our own books. Some chapters are good, some are not so good.
We all have the ability to rewrite and write new ones too. Pick up your pen and do it.