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John Lennon once said that life is what happens when you’re making other plans, referring to the fact that, so often, what we think we want and what we actually have are two very different things. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about tomorrow, but if we don’t occasionally notice what’s going on around us today, we might be making sacrifices of which we’re not aware. When we notice that the struggle for tomorrow has caused us to drift out of alignment with what we truly value, there’s an opportunity to do something about it. There’s an opportunity to reconnect with our “Why.”


What is your purpose?

As a 9-1-1 professional, you know what you do and you’re intimately aware of how to do it. Most call-takers and dispatchers, by about year three, can do the job in their sleep. They feel like they’ve mastered the “what” and the “how,” and these tasks no longer provide the excitement or engagement they once did. Burnout and stagnation can set in.

The same holds true for life outside the comm center. When we’re too caught up in the daily tasks, fretting about all the work that needs to be done, we might feel like we’ve lost our way. Mired in what we have to do and how it’s done, we lose sight of why we’re working so hard in the first place. It’s in times like these that it’s important to reconnect with your core values.


A dispatcher in crisis

During a recent training class, I asked participants to select their top five core values from a list. Then, while looking at the list, they were asked to reflect on how well they’re doing prioritizing their daily lives according to these values. How much of their waking hours do they spend on activities aligned with these values?

One participant began to cry as she realized that she had failed to prioritize her top value of Family. She saw that nearly every day after her work shift, instead of spending time with her children and husband, she kept busy running around helping others. She knew she had a difficult time saying “No” to these people, but didn't realize the true cost of staying so busy.

A road-map for reconnecting.

When we forget to live in accordance to the values we hold most dear, it causes stress. It may not cause an immediate feeling of overwhelm or nervousness. The effects of not honoring our values are usually more subtle. After years of giving away your time, you might begin to feel resentment towards the people who keep asking more of you. You might begin to feel stretched-thin, both on and off the job. Cynicism may become your normal mode of thinking and speaking. It becomes more difficult to empathize.

Understanding your top values can help reawaken your passion for the work you do and the difference you’re making in the world. If one of your values is making a difference by helping others, reminding yourself you are doing exactly that can make the days brighter. Living in accordance with your values, daily, fuels each day with purpose and meaning. Knowing your values is akin to knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing.


Step 1 - Identify Your Core Values

Creating healthy boundaries and prioritizing what matters begins with understanding your core values. Here’s a list where you can choose your top five core values (it’s a long list so give yourself some time to work through it).

Once you’ve arrived at your top five values, ask the following questions to make sure they are, in fact, your top values:

  • Do these values make you feel good about yourself?
  • Are you proud of your top values?
  • Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice isn't popular, and it puts you in the minority?

If your answer to each of these questions is “yes,” then these are your top values.

Step 2 - Create Action Steps

Finally, consider where in your life you may be able to put more emphasis on any value you’re not spending enough time on. Write down something specific you can do, this week, to prioritize this value. What can you say “no” to? What are you ready to say “YES!” to?

Comm staff

Step 3 - Embrace Accountability

If we have a habit of busying ourselves with things we’d rather not do, it can help to have an accountability partner to help with this process. Ask someone close to you to check in and see if you’ve taken the specific action you decided on above.

Remember to take action! Aligning with your personal "why" is an essential piece of remaining resilient as a 9-1-1 professional.

Back on course.

One 9-1-1 professional, when asked why she took the job, told this story:

When my daughter was 19 years old, she was in a horrible car accident. It is because of the 9-1-1 call placed at the scene, along with the efforts of the 9-1-1 call-taker and responding units, that my daughter is here today. I knew at that moment I wanted to help people in this way.

Shortly after, she found a communications center in her area that was hiring and began her new career. For this 9-1-1 professional, the long hours, the challenging callers, and all the other hassles that come with the job are simply part of making the difference she knows she’s making.

As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He [or she] who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

If you found this helpful, check out these Health & Wellness blogs.

About the Author


Adam Timm is the president and co-founder of The Healthy Dispatcher. Previously a 9-1-1 telecommunicator with the Los Angeles Police Dept. for over a decade, Adam now provides leadership and resilience training to PSAPs around the country. His second book, Dispatcher Stress: 50 Lessons on Beating the Burnout, is out now. Visit for more.

Also available at, Adam's blog How the Best Comm Centers Motivate Frontline Employees.

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