APiD Ep. 049 | Holiday Reboot| Forged in Fire
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
What You Learn About Life and Death from 25 Years in the Fire Service
Check out the full transcript here...
Holiday Reboot Intro
This episode is the second of two holiday reboots (here's the first one), specifically selected from the archive with the unique complexities of the holiday season in mind. I sliced and diced here and there and added a smidge, too, in an effort to make this episode as engaging and useful as possible.
The original version of this episode is an all-time listener favorite.
I picked it for a holiday reboot especially because of its emphasis on the priority of people, the magical mundane moments simply passing time with those we love, and–as a new year approaches–the importance of making the changes we know we need to make NOW.
One note before we jump in: My guest in this episode, Tony Gonzalez, mentions Rob Ryg several times. Rob is the coroner in our little corner of Colorado, and he was my guest on episode 018, Life’s 3 Big Questions: A Conversation with the Coroner. That episode was another listener favorite, and if you haven’t tuned in to that one yet, it’s well worth the listen.
Death on a Daily Basis
When harrowing encounters with Death are a routine part of your job, how does it change the way you live?
In this episode, my friend Tony Gonzalez helps us answer that question based on his 25 years of service as a firefighter and put the lessons he's learned to work in OUR lives right now.
Meet Tony Gonzalez
At the peak of his career as a big city firefighter, in 2017 Tony traded in his badge, uniform, and hard-won seniority for a “mundane” life in the small mountain town where he grew up. After 25 years of almost daily encounters with trauma and Mortality in the line of duty, one particular encounter with Mortality finally convinced Tony that enough was enough.
His peers and colleagues scratched their heads in disbelief when he made the decision. But he's never looked back.
Tony is a native of Steamboat Springs, and after 25 years in the city, in 2018 he moved back to Steamboat with his wife and two boys to begin writing a new chapter in their story. Since 2001, concurrent with his fire service career, Tony has been co-owner of Garage Composites--the nation's largest consulting firm to the powersports industry, and that is his primary professional focus today.
I met Tony through a mutual friend, and he soon became a member of one of the Graveyard Group masterminds I lead. In that setting, on a weekly basis, Tony and his fellow Graveyard Group members remember that they ARE going to die, but they're not dead yet--and they work on the things that matter most in their lives. Today. Because "tomorrow" never comes. And Death always does.
We talk a bit about Tony's experience in the Graveyard Group in this episode--about how consciously keeping Mortality in mind with the confidential, compassionate, no BS support of 5 other guys helps him leave it all out on the field of life.
It's been a personal pleasure to get to know Tony over the past year, and it's a special pleasure to introduce you to him so you can integrate his life lessons and hard-won wisdom into your own life.
Highlights from the Conversation
Tony compares the camaraderie he gained and treasured in the fire service with the camaraderie he’s gained as a member of a Graveyard Group mastermind. A trait that both the fire service and The Graveyard Group share is that each has a common, unifying purpose--in the fire service, to save lives, and in the The Graveyard Group, to leave it all out on the field of life. When there’s a shared, compelling purpose, there’s an opportunity for deep and meaningful camaraderie.
Tony shares how repeated exposure to trauma and death in the line of duty changes you in ways that are both useful and harmful. We explore how our reaction to Death is both understandable on the one hand AND counter-productive on the other when we try too hard to avoid Death’s inevitability.
Tony’s best friend in the fire service died tragically in the line of duty. The worst thing Tony saw in all his years of service was the look on his friend’s 13-year-old son’s face when he learned his dad had died. The worst thing Tony heard in his years of service was the same young man’s scream when he heard the news. Tony was somehow able to reconcile all of the other civilian and firefighter deaths he’d experienced. But he wasn’t able to reconcile his best friend’s death and the reaction of his son. Remarkably, Tony says that his friend’s death was even more painful than the recent death of his father and the loss of his first child at birth, a stillborn daughter. This was the tipping point that led Tony to take the off-ramp to a new life with his family.
In his work with Garage Composites post-fire service, Tony went from anywhere between 40-50 weeks a year on the road to none in 2020 as a result of COVID. That forced change in this new chapter of his family’s story has led to a new commitment to dramatically reduce his time away from home once travel is once again
Some Key Takeaways
Keep the date you set with friends to get together.
Do the “mundane” stuff with the people you love.
Show up with your ski gear on when you pick your kid up from ski school, and take a few laps with him or her. It’ll make their day.
If you see an “off-ramp” to a different and better way of life, take it!
When Death shows up in your life, be shocked, grieve like there’s no tomorrow, allow yourself to feel the pain and loss. Then, keep moving.
There’s a LOT more in this episode than these shownotes can hope to capture. Tony’s warmth and wisdom abound in this conversation.
Change is Simple
I have a simple formula for change: Insight + Action = Transformation. Which is not the same as to say that change is always easy. But the anatomy of change is, in fact, simple. And you can take the first steps toward the change you want in your life today.
What Insight emerged for you from this conversation with Tony? What's just one thing--no matter how small--you could do today to put that Insight into Action?
Don't worry about all of the steps that might be necessary after the first one. Just be sure to take that first one today.
A thousand different reasons will pop up why taking that Action today is unreasonable or unnecessary, or why it might be better to think about it a bit more first or get others' opinions or do some more research. This is the voice of inertia, though, the voice of the status quo--whispering to you that it's not that big a deal to hold off on taking that step. That, in fact, it might even be prudent to let your Insight marinate a bit more first.
And that voice in this moment is the enemy of the life you know you were made to live. If you listen to it, It will keep you right where you are--stuck in whatever unsatisfactory state you find yourself.
Because it's less about the specific Action you decide to take than it is about your steadfast commitment to ACT. Your resolve to do what you can right now to move toward what you want.
Remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
Something NEW! Is it for you?
Tony shared a bit about the impact The Graveyard Group has had in his life. I’m excited to share that the first-ever women’s Graveyard Group is starting in January 2022. It’s also the first-ever virtual group, so it’s location-neutral, and my amazing colleague, Beth Romano, will lead it. In this setting, with your personal advisory board of 5 other women and Beth as your coach, you make time each week to invest in your life's most important work and eliminate deathbed regrets.
Connect with Tony!
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New to Andrew Petty is Dying?
If you're new to this show, browse the archive of past interviews with fascinating people and short, topical solo episodes--all designed to equip you with the mindset and the means to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. We flip the script by inviting our ancient foe, Death, to become an unlikely ally in our heroic journey to leave it all out on the field of life. Turns out, Mortality might just be the most potent motivator available--blasting us out of our ambivalence and complacency and into the fullness of our potential.