There is a place beyond the limiting thoughts of historical, societal, and cultural norms, where, when we open our minds, we will have become independent thinkers. Independent thinkers are pioneers and world changers.
I was not always an independent thinker. In fact, I needed my inner rebel to show her courageous face when I decided to enter the world of firefighting. I had learned from history books that the first-known women, paid for fighting fires in urban settings in the United States, emerged only in the 1970’s. I knew that even in this day and age trying to become a firefighter was historically pushing the status quo. Step in thinking for myself. I am not going to fall into the prison of someone else’s thoughts, I told my own mind.
Despite the limiting whispers of historical, societal and cultural norms, “Women can’t do this job,” that sometimes crept into my head, I knew better and continued to think for myself. I filled my mind with other thoughts. “I know I can do this. I know I can do this well. I trust myself. I know I can be as valuable and contributing a member of the fire service even if some say otherwise.”
In 2001 when I was hired as a firefighter, I was in awe as I worked along side the first woman to ever be hired in my fire department’s one hundred fifty year history. Here she was — a living pioneer. She had faced hardships that I would never have to endure. When she got hired on, she met many a silent and disapproving face. And some people weren’t so silent. Many of them did not think she should be there or deserved to be there. All eyes on her, she felt the onus of proving herself, not just in the fire academy, but well past it, throughout her entire career. The burden she carried was heavy. Successes and failures were not just about her, they were about all women in the fire service. Despite it all, she kept her head held high and she opened the door for others. She paved the way for me.
I have noticed over the years in my own fire service career, that as I confidently embody the thought that women can be competent and effective firefighters, I too am slowly doing my part in changing the beliefs of times past. I have noticed some old-time firefighters coming around, as they open their minds and perhaps shift their own thinking about women in the fire service.
When our truck crew goes to the local elementary schools to talk about fire safety to the students, I am highly aware of all the little wide eyed girls, and boys for that matter, as I stand in front of them, dressed in my gear, talking about “Stop, Drop and Roll.”
“There’s a girl!” some of them will whisper.
I smile big and send the little people a wink, hoping to infuse them with a sense of possibility and the limitlessness of their true nature. “I can grow up and be anything I want,” I hope they are thinking as we pull away in our big red ladder truck. I honor the generation of women before me, who paved the sometimes rocky road to the firehouse. They were independent thinkers.
Thinking for your self is a powerful agent of change. You too can be an independent thinker.
When you open your mind, infinite possibilities begin to emerge. And then you will find yourself at the heart of creating, the heart of evolution.
(Excerpted from Brave and Awake, A Story of Authentic Becoming)
And so Virgina, take heart! Your friends have only been misled. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see, and think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by the limits of their minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him. Yes, Virginia, make no mistake, look within and know you can.