My husband is a firefighter. His dad and uncle are firefighters too, and it’s all he’s ever wanted to do. He was up for captain and had a good shot at it we thought, but he got passed over in favor of a guy with a little more seniority. My husband is devastated. I’ve never seen him like this. He can barely drag himself out the door to be at the station, and those guys are his buddies. He doesn’t want to do anything. Just comes home and watches TV on his off days. He said he’s not sure he’s cut out for the job anymore. What can I do??
Watching a loved one struggle for footing is painful. Every instinct within you wants to fix this situation over which you have no control. It can leave you feeling fairly helpless and hopeless yourself. Since you can’t change the disappointing circumstance or make him “snap out of it” -- this is his journey -- focus instead on helping him rediscover his own strength.
Remind him of whom he is. This was a big ego blow. He may need to be reminded of his capabilities in very specific terms. Avoid “Oh honey, you’re great” in favor of “You are such a great communicator” or “The guys really know they can count on you.” He was just told -- in his mind -- that he isn’t good enough. Help him pivot the picture to where he can clearly see his assets. In time, perhaps you can discuss the qualities he might develop to put him in a better position for the next promotion.
Remind him of why he loves his job. His “saves” are about much more than retaining a key account or project -- he’s an everyday hero willing to put his life on the line for complete strangers. Recalling specific successes he has been a part of will tap into the emotional highs and sense of responsibility that drew him into such a demanding profession. His job gives him the ability to save lives and property. He’s a life-changer. Help him remember why he puts on the uniform.
Remind him that he has your support. Tell him you believe in him, that you love him and that you understand he is going through a difficult time. Don’t push the happy face, but look for openings to reinforce any positive responses and steps he’s able to take. Avoid denigrating the new captain or the decision-makers. Instead, help him hold his head up by listening to his disappointment and sitting next to him for a couple of evenings while he sits and mentally sorts via bad TV escapism. Suggest physical activity, a movie, dinner out, etc. Eventually he’ll be ready to roll out of his rut.
If he can’t seem to shake this defeat from squashing his enjoyment of life, suggest professional counseling and discuss if there are other real reasons he needs to make a career change, but chances are that time and your support will help him reset and move forward. And if he does switch careers or decides to ask for a raise, point him to Salary.com's Salary Wizard to help him negotiate.
If you have a question for Heather, email her at Heather@heatherdugan.com and maybe she'll answer it in her next column!