This is a Capstone Project from a member within The Guardian Academy (TGA). A Capstone is one of the requirements for a member to complete if they wish to ascend to the final tier of TGA, Guardian. To learn more about what a Capstone Project is I’ll leave a link at the bottom.
In his Capstone, Jeremy (Wolf Pup #1151) covers the struggles he had with telling his story. This will be a living document and case study about the struggles he’s had to overcome, the lessons he’s learned, and how to “play your own game”.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article and the accompanying material is for informational purposes only. My views and opinions are not intended to discount the beliefs or opinions of others. I am not a doctor, scientist, or financial advisor, just someone who is always asking questions. This is not financial advice or advice about anything for that matter. Consult with your heart and your own experiences (or a professional if you need it) to determine what you need to learn from my story.
My Story: A living Document and Case Study about Learning and Finding Your Way Through Stories
I’ve been struggling to organize and tell a story that I’ve been carrying for years. It’s my story, but by sharing it provides me, and maybe others, some clarity and meaning behind experiences and lessons I have learned.
When it came to completing my Capstone Project for the Guardian Tier in the Guardian Academy, I started going in a hundred different directions. I couldn’t get the story and complete thoughts pulled out of my head. It’s like there is something holding me back and feels like they are stuck inside.
This isn’t something new for me. I’ve been struggling with this for over a decade, having written about this in a prior attempt to get my story out. (Blog article I wrote in 2011 What’s Fear Got to do with It?)
Then some questions came to me.
Why do I want to tell my Story? Who is my audience?
Why do I want to be a Guardian in The Guardian Academy?
One of the things I have found very valuable and what I am grateful about the Wolf Den and TGA is that it has sparked some of my storytelling and creativity. It has become a place for me to put my story, helps me process and learn from my experiences and those of others.
I have a love for learning. This is what initially attracted me to the Wolf Den and the approach to investing presented by the Guardian Academy.
Playing My Game
When I think about the one thing, or the single most impactful lesson I’ve taken away from being part of the Wolf Den and The Guardian Academy (TGA), it’s discovering that I had everything inside me already. I realized that my dreams and grand visions of what I want for myself and family are closer than I thought. That I am worthy of and have the skills and experiences necessary to be successful in any field. My story is my gift, and I’m finding ways to share this gift with others.
What does playing my game look like?
For me, I seem to end up in the right places and things just “flow” in life when I carry around the right questions. I start noticing a lot of synchronicity, signs, and symbols and things just seem to come to me. It’s a type of Flow state that happens when I’m learning something new, when my daily routines are dialed in, and I’m asking the right questions.
Part of this, I believe, comes because I show up and have learned to push the edges of my comfort and experience. I’m a constant student and really look closely and dive deep into the things I am curious about. You must have an open loop (“open mind”) to be receptive to and recognize the meaning of the signs and symbols that seem to be communicating directly to us. I’ve come to trust that things happen for the right reason and at the right time.
Playing my game means I am not chasing after things that take me further away from what I want. To play the game you kind of need to know the game you are playing, the rules of the game, and know how you got into the game in the first place.
Knowing Your Game
Knowing your game is being very clear and comfortable in where you are at in life, having a clear Vision of where you want to be, and how to continue moving closer to fulfilling this Vision in the easiest manner. Knowing your game takes an understanding about how you operate and how to best balance your needs, with those of your loved ones, and your community.
Knowing your game starts with awareness by having an understanding about who you are, your values and purpose, what skills and knowledge you have that are unique, knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, and being committed to your goals or Vision. Knowing your game becomes clearer with experience and learning over time. As long as we remain a student (Live to learn).
I have an affinity for story telling. The telling of stories is how we make sense of our experiences, stories help us navigate the uncertainty of the world, stories help process the stresses and traumas of our lives, stories teach and pass information from one generation to the next.
For me, knowing my game comes through telling my story.
Why Telling My Stories Matter
For me it’s about stopping a generational cycle of disconnection and emotional detachment for the men in my family. I realized that I didn’t know about my Dad or what made him who he was. He was a great provider and good man, but there wasn’t much of a connection about anything emotional or anything I recall as being lessons or encouragement or affection of any manner. I didn’t get many, if any, stories to help give me reference points or guidance as I navigated my life. There was a big division between us and from an early age I fought against what I thought were values that threatened my beliefs. I realize now that this big divide and conflict was a result of me not knowing anything about his life. I didn’t get much help or role modeling for how to become a man, about finances, or anything really, I had to figure stuff out on my own.
My dad didn’t know much about his father either. My Grandpa Bennett (William) had locked inside him his story, and the burden he must have carried being the only surviving crew member of his Bomber crew to return home from WW2. He was the gunner as part of a bomber/reconnaissance plane and was ill or on medical leave when his crew was lost. He returned home and never talked about anything, stopped playing the violin, devoted himself to the church, his career and raising a family.
There is something that is fitting about the statement “the sins of our fathers are to be laid upon the children”. To me, this includes all the unresolved baggage and issues, the trauma’s and unprocessed experiences that we tend to pass along through our genes and our living example.
My Story Is My Legacy
Stories exist at every level of our lives. Stories help heal by releasing stresses and helping us process information and experiences in our lives, often they inspire and bring sparks of Awareness and understanding to our lives. Stories help us manifest, as the thoughts in our head are the stories we tell ourselves and this narrative ultimately creates our reality. The stories we tell each other are how we learn and grow, how Culture and Community are built and maintained, and ultimately become our Legacy.
Having a place to put my story was the reason I initially joined the Dad’s Edge Alliance (DEA), a Mastermind for Fathers and ultimately how I stumbled into the Wolf Den and the Guardian Academy. I was going through some challenging times as a parent and was struggling with balancing work and home life. It helped me to find a group of peers and a space to just get stuff out.
Becoming A Student Of Fire
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”– 1 Corinthians 3:13
I call myself a Student of Fire. I should probably start there. Just like every culture, if we follow the stories back far enough, it all starts with Fire. Stories from all over the world throughout time reference fire as a unique gift, trapped, or stolen and given to humans. Beaver Steals Fire, Mannibus, Yurok Fire Story, Greek mythology, Christian (“and then there was light”). Fire is Life and just like in the game of Survivor, when your Fire’s Gone, so are you.
A lot of my story’s come from my experience as a Wildland firefighter. It has been my career, taught me about leadership, awareness, and many human elements. It has helped provide a decent living for me and my family. I’ve had all sorts of adventures and traveled to places most people only dream about going to. I’ve developed relationships with people from all walks of life and been able to experience significant incidents and problem solve with them. I’ve spent countless hours on the road or just hanging out listening to podcasts or audiobooks (as many fire assignments involve hundreds of hours (the majority of the time) driving or just monitoring and mopping up a fire). There is plenty of time to think about everything.
The Wildland Firefighting community is filled with storytelling. From the way we manage an incident all the way down to the countless hours on the fireline hearing stories from all your crew members, it’s built into our leadership development program and other training (Staff rides, learning from past incidents, case studies and legendary firefighters) and has become part of our culture.
It is through firefighting that I’ve been exposed to many teachers and learned to become a student of fire. It has given me a purpose and outlet to learn and grow as a human.
What is a Student of Fire?
The concept of being a “student of fire” comes from Paul Gleason, a legend within the Wildland Fire Community. Gleason was responsible for influencing safety protocols, changed how we look at risk (bringing concepts from the climbing world, where he had made a significant impact to that community as well), and fire behavior. I was fortunate to be in Fort Collins, and had Gleason around to tell stories and teach at various trainings in the area. It was through his storytelling that he transferred a little bit of his experiences to us as the listener/student.
Gleason would always encourage us to be students of fire. I initially thought this meant learning about fire behavior, about fire ecology, about past fire events that caused fatalities, and learning about the skills necessary to fight fire and manage incidents. But over time I’ve come to realize that the biggest teacher in my life has been Fire. It has taught me about leadership (in my career but more as a father and to my family) and about my purpose. Fire is the key to survival, basically the life force that moves through everything. It has been my rite of passage and helped me find my way in life.
Fire Origin Stories
“Fire tracks, as perhaps no other index can, the awesome, stumbling, unexpected, implacable, fascinating course of humanity’s ecological agency. The story of one cannot be told except through the other.”– Stephen Pyne, from Fire, A Brief History
Since we are on the topic of stories, fire, and learning, why not go way back to where it all started? Go back to the earliest ancestors of humans, when we captured, stole, or were gifted fire from the animals or gods. This is the oldest of all human stories, the “origin of fire”, which created a chain of innovation that continues today. It was this tool or technology (of harnessing the energy of the sun in a way that benefited our species survival) that helped propel our evolution and status as a species of animal. There is a strong argument that says because of fire and cooking our food, we became Human. (Reference Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham).
Ultimately, it has become my opinion that when we took fire as our own we inherited the responsibility of “caretakers” of the Earth. (*Future article The Origin of Fire (Stories about Fire Article). To dive into my ideas about fire as the ultimate innovation of “technology”. Why are so many fire origin stories from all over the world similar?)
My Fire Origin Story
The Spark, How Wolf Brought Me Fire
My personal fire story begins with an interest, or more, an extreme connection to wolves. I wanted to spend my time in the wildest places, where the wolves could still be found. I’ve always had a desire to test myself, to learn how to be self-sufficient. To lead, do challenging things, and live in balance with Nature. I’ve always had a yearning to belong and be a leader within the “packs” I choose to be part of.
This led me to a course in high school and a particular teacher named Barb. Her enthusiasm and stories ignited the possibility of a career working in Nature, specifically, in wildland fire. She ultimately made me aware of the Basic Wildland Fire training and sparked my curiosity. Barb got me and many others into wildland firefighting just through her enthusiasm but also fostered my development as a teacher and leader (hiring me to teach the basic fire training at the Community College and allowing me to design and teach my own course at the school related to the skills of survival, nature awareness, and animal tracking). This is why I’ve named one of my Wolf Den Wolf Pup NFT’s “Barbara”. She has been a “spark” in this way and in many others.
Note: It may seem a little weird to name an NFT character and build stories around each of my Wolf Pup NFT’s. For me, it is a useful tool for organizing and sharing a piece of my story. These Wolf Pups have become representations of teachers in my life.
Just like so many other items I’ve collected over the years. All the rocks, the animal skulls, the sea shells, the feathers, hats, maps, IAP’s (Incident Action Plans from fire assignments), are all memorabilia to me. All my pictures, calendars, notebooks, and journals included. They are empowered with memories and pieces of my story. Some of these items become sacred when they help balance and ground me, containing the stories and lessons from past experiences. I was thinking about this just the other day and realized these objects become “anchors” or places to “park” our story and memories. These help me to organize the information learned from my experiences and store memories for a later time. This helps us to recall and use these for decisions and future survival needs. (*Link to story Anchor Points)
My First Fire
The Diamond Peak Fire
On July 6th, 1994, I was on my first wildland fire in the foothills of north central Colorado. The fire was called the Diamond Peak Fire. I remember vague images, I recall how hot my feet got standing in the ash, I remember digging a little line and mopping up, and I remember staying overnight, sleeping on the ground and waking up to snow in the morning.
A good friend of mine, Scott, and I were two rookies left with our Engine Boss, Pete to monitor the fire overnight. (Side Note: Pete would come back into my life a few years later in my career with a fire assignment I had down to Waco Texas in 1999. We were roommates for two weeks and it was a fire assignment I took right before getting married. Now that I think about it, as I write this story, I am flooded with memories from that fire assignment. There was an individual who was down there that later killed themselves. (He was very high up in the Boulder County Fire Organization and had been a type 2 Incident Commander. He was married but carried around something that was too heavy for him to continue to bear. It was hidden from even those closest to him.) I didn’t realize, until now, that there was more to learn and process about that particular assignment.) I’ll come back to this at another time, back to the Diamond Peak Fire.
As we were leaving the fire there was a report on the radio about the South Canyon fire in Southwest Colorado that had taken the lives of 14 firefighters. The same cold front that had blown up the South Canyon Fire brought snow to the fire I was on.
I had no perspective. I thought, “is this normal”, “was it a common thing to have firefighter fatalities”? I was pretty ignorant to so much that was about to change in the Wildland Fire Community, but also about the career path I had just begun. The kinds of things that would change in fire have become part of my story. I have built skills and knowledge about the physical nature of fire, about strategies and tactics to manage a fire or any complex incident for that matter. I’ve learned about leadership and a lot about human behavior especially in relation to decision making, stress, and trauma.
My Other First Fire
The ultimate motivation to learn or do anything is to improve our chances of survival and pass along our genes.
My big brother, who has always been a trailblazer or pathfinder for me, attended a course at Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker school. He showed me how to make fire with a bow drill. This lit something inside that grew into a passion and desire to learn.
It’s all about Survival
“In This Game, Fire Represents Your Life. When Your Fire’s Gone, So Are You.”– Jeff Probst, Survivor
Another significant Wolf in my story is Stalking Wolf (or Grandfather). Grandfather was a Lipan Apache scout who wandered South and North America, searching for the simplest truths in all religions or ways of survival. He eventually ended up out East, in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where he met and taught the white coyote, Tom Brown Jr. Tom Brown Jr. wrote books and founded the Tracker School where he continues Grandfather’s vision of preserving and teaching the skills of survival and bringing people back to Nature.
The skills being taught and the values at the Tracker School were the kind of things I felt aligned with my values and beliefs about the Earth.
When I attended the Tracker School Standard Class it was the first time in my life when I was with others like me, I felt a sense of belonging. (I wrote about this in my earliest journal entry, April 6, 1997.)
Journaling, More Than Just Meaningless Psycho-babble
Journaling and writing letters has been something I’ve been doing since Tracker School. This ability to look back at where I came from is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given to myself.
My journals have become sacred, especially those containing questions and writings from my vision quest, difficult or challenging times, or some other crazy thought I might have.
Journaling is another place to put your story. It can be used as a tool for tracking and storing data and information. Journaling can provide perspective and track our growth and learning over time. (More about Journaling and how I’ve incorporated this into my life. Refer to Anchor Points article)
It is through Nature, tracking and primitive survival that Tom Brown has taught me things that I’m seeing taught in completely different domains (Zen, Breathing, Native American Sweat lodge, physical fitness training, Science (Andrew Huberman and Steven Kotler, Flow research), the Art of Questioning, Yoga, Business, and others). Tom Brown teaches in a coyote/trickster kind of way, sharing stories and planting seeds that only germinate with the right amount of “dirt time”.
I’ve always felt a deep connection and find many moments of Flow and synchronicity when I’m in Nature. I’ll dive into this more later. The personal development and physical skills and knowledge related to survival is important but for this story I want to focus more on what got me to the Wolf Den, the Guardian Academy, and finding my purpose in this life.
Finding My Purpose
At a Tracker School Philosophy Course I met Shanti (Mahoney) and this eventually led to the biggest teachers and most important Purpose coming into my life, that being, my family, and becoming a husband and father. Ultimately, It is my Duty as a man to protect and provide a better future for my children. Shanti has taught me more than any other individual. She brought into this life our two boys, Raven and Fynn. She has taught me about relationships, about communication, about how to love. She has taught me about all manners of spirituality, about belief and prayer, about how manifestation works, and about the way we navigate between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Having children and being a provider for my family has helped me clarify my vision and purpose.
We still need to back up and talk about finding that purpose…
Rites of Passage, Seeking a Vision
I wasn’t raised in a family that had many traditions or that identified with any distinct Cultural background. There aren’t any real significant rites of passages, especially for boys becoming men. I yearned for something more than turning 21 and being able to legally consume alcohol.
I have always had a desire to push myself and do challenging things. I also feel a connection to Native American type philosophies and those cultures that have rites of passages and seek to understand things through Visions or through Nature.
I’m fortunate that I’ve picked a career that I enjoy and that fills me up. From the very first moments of the Basic Fire Training Course, the very first stories had me hooked. I’ve been able to work in a lot of cool areas and met some people that I have a lot of respect and admiration for.
My first Federal fire job was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I won’t get into the history of the Black Hills and how this affected the Native Americans but I’ve always felt drawn into the story about the Lakota Sioux. I was drawn to the idea of vision quests and how nature communicates through signs and symbols. (Stories about Black Elk, Crazy Horse, and the Battle of Little Bighorn are some of my favorites).
Next I again followed in my brother’s footsteps by heading to Alaska to work on the Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC). The Midnight Suns are considered one of, if not the hardest core hotshot crews in the Nation. A Hotshot Crew is kind of like the Marines of the wildland fire organization. Hotshot crews are given the hardest assignments and expected to produce and bring leadership, competency, and self-sufficiency. This was a time of my life to get into what I thought was the best shape of my life (looking back I actually became the fittest of my life when I found CrossFit in 2009 (getting to my fittest at around age 37/38 in 2013/2014). I’ll save this story for another time.)
Being part of the Midnight Suns was kind of like a rite of passage. I spent a lot of time thinking and learning from the stories of my fellow crew members. I had recently met Shanti and wrote tons of letters (these letters are priceless, helping me remember more details from this time of my life). I was falling in love after having my heart broken a couple years prior.
The most profound experience during this time of my life was the Vision Quest I did prior to starting my second season in Alaska. What came out of this was clarity about my future with Shanti. I knew that it was time to focus on building a family and settling down.
I Feel Differently
Fast forwarding in time to bring this story to where I want it to go, we start to veer towards where I am at today.
After my time on the Midnight Suns and meeting Shanti I realized that continuing to fight fire in Alaska and pursuing my dream of being a Smokejumper (Kind of like the special forces Airborne paratroopers of the wildland fire world) was not my path. I even thought about getting out of wildland firefighting all together. I was a little burnt out from a couple back to back summers of working over 1000 hours of overtime. I took a job doing construction and taught at the Community College. Shanti and I spent time traveling and attending more classes at the Tracker School.
I eventually got a permanent job with the United States Forest Service. (A little side note: At this time (late 1990’s and early 2000’s) there were very few full time permanent federal firefighting jobs. Most were seasonal and did not provide benefits. After the 2000 fire season, which was historically bad, a bunch of money went into creating more permanent fire jobs.) I jumped on this opportunity.
I was hired as an Engine Supervisor for the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. There are a lot of stories from this time of my life, too many to go into right now. But there is one particular fire that I need to mention. It was a fire that made me realize that I didn’t feel the same way as others. It created a question in my mind that I carried with me even to this day.
Why don’t I feel the same way as others?
The Big Elk Fire
July 18, 2002
I share this story because there was a moment of awareness that happened that brought to light something about who I am and why I didn’t feel like other’s. Why during moments of intense stress and chaos, I tend to thrive and handle things differently than others? I came to realize it was flow or “the zone”, but it’s the question and spark of awareness that I want to focus on right now. This is a story about how I learn.
The Big Elk Fire started on July 17 and I was Crewboss for a Northern Colorado handcrew that was assigned to the fire. The crew was a mixture of folks from various fire agencies in the local area. I’d been on prior fire assignments as crewboss, enjoyed being in a leadership position, really liked teaching and being part of a team and learning from others life experience and stories.
For this particular fire I had a crew boss trainee, a good friend of mine named Scott (the same friend who I took the basic training course with and happened to be on our first fire together). Scott was very competent and just needed an assignment to get signed off as a fully qualified Crewboss. So I let him run the crew and I climbed up on a nice rock outcrop to serve as lookout for the day.
It was a relatively slow day for the crew as they were down on the road watching the fire as the wind blew the fire up a canyon and away from them. These are the kind of days that consist of 90% or more of the time for a wildland firefighter. It’s the strategy of backing off to a safe place to stop the fire. The tactics and strategy of the fire are not really important, it’s what happened at the end of the shift that changed everything.
We received the report about another fire we needed to respond to up the canyon from where we had been working. We all loaded up and began our response to the new incident. There is always excitement and tons of adrenaline involved in the Initial Attack of a fire (the term used for the first response to a wildfire). There is the act of searching for the smoke, often a hike getting to the fire. It’s grueling, dusty and smoky, loud and filled with hazards, and involves a ton of hard work that can push you to the edge of your physical capacity. Throw in a crashed airplane and it became something that seemed unreal, like being in a movie.
The moment of awareness came after we had contained the fire and all gathered back at the vehicles. I noticed the Incident Commander (the person in charge of the fire and usually first on scene) was breaking down crying. Many others were in the same situation. I noticed I didn’t feel anything.
The accident was outside of everyone’s experience level. Some people saw things or experienced the incident differently. I slipped into a flow state, everything slowed down and I was focused on what needed to happen in the moment. I remember thinking to myself how cool it was, what an amazing experience, being in that moment of action.
Instead of attending the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing with the rest of the crew (a process of talking about the incident with professional counselors), I decided it would be better to take care of the crew and get us demobilized from the fire. I didn’t feel I had a need to be part of the debriefing, choosing to take care of my crew and be able to go home.
I went away from this fire recognizing that I didn’t respond to intense situations and feel as deeply as others. Looking back on this now I know I would have benefited greatly from sharing my experience. I went home and didn’t talk about this with Shanti. Not sure if that was just because she was 7 months pregnant and I didn’t want to burden or stress her out about my job. It wasn’t that hard for me to store those experiences away, not realizing it was actually something that would build up inside over time, a residue that could harden and become stuck inside.
I started to realize that there was somewhat of a double edged sword, that there was something about how I am “wired” that allows me to excel in those chaotic moments, but also this came at the cost of not feeling certain emotions like the loss of a loved one. I didn’t freeze in emergency situations, it created focus and triggered me into a flow state instead.
I felt like I was an emotional retard. Not getting sad or feeling like crying during moments of death when a normal person would cry, but feeling intense emotions well up when seeing something touching or heroic happen in a movie or a show. I’m a very empathetic person, an empath, and can sense and absorb the emotions of others I am around but I also have the ability to “turn off” or not feel other emotions that come from intense experiences and trauma.
I later realized it was a gift at a time when I needed to be strong for Shanti. When we lost our second son Malacky from a miscarriage, I was able to look her in the eyes and convince her it was going to be alright.
Malacky is our second son in spirit. He still is in our lives, showing up as a messenger in my life at certain times when I need to learn something. He has taught me to trust the signs and symbols, which are ways spirit communicates with us in this physical world.
I don’t want to get into this now, but all of this eventually leads to this moment and time in my life.
BWCA, Jerry, and My Fortune Cookie Moment
It is through a number of fire assignments in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota that I found my way and purpose. This is another story in itself and involves meeting Jerry, a homeowner who lives up the Gunflint Trail, a significant fortune cookie moment, and numerous other life changing lessons.
I had an experience that made me aware of a dissonance in the way I was living my life. I was seeking more opportunities and development of myself as a leader in my profession but I was neglecting to apply that same rigor and effort towards my role as a father and husband. This led me to joining a mastermind of Fathers called the Dad Edge Alliance (originally the Good Dad Project).
It is through this group that I met Nick Sotelo (Doc Nick). Nick and I have some things in common and he is one of the guys I have leaned into when I’ve had to maneuver through some tough parenting challenges and needed a place to just talk shit out. I truly consider him a brother, a mentor, and a peer.
I’ve had some experiences that make me trust when Wolf comes into my life. One was the experience of tracking wolves on a piece of property up the road from where we live in Northeast Wisconsin. It is beyond words the feeling of being watched by the Wolf you are tracking through fresh snow. It was a moment of true presence. I reconnected to my purpose and something I was passionate about.
It was during the Summer of 2021, back in the Boundary Waters on a fire assignment, that a second encounter with a wolf sent me a message. This was an assignment to patrol the border and come up with a plan (Canada had a bunch of fires and the Superior National Forest was concerned about fire spotting into the US). I was with a couple other younger firefighters, one just beginning his career and another becoming a new father. I realized that I was “the old timer” now, one of the old “gray beards”. That I actually had a lot to share with them about fatherhood and just figuring out their purpose in life.
Old Man Strength
I realized that “old man strength” comes from years of doing the work and is mostly about our mental strength. Being able to out work a twenty something year old and being comfortable with the camping situation when they are suffering is very gratifying. (Picture of tent on rock from Fourtown Fire and link to the Storyboard about the Fourtown Fire).
One morning I noticed the book that one of the guys was reading was The Tracker, by Tom Brown Jr. Then later that morning when I was in camp with the soon to be father, I looked up and literally 15 meters away was a Wolf standing there staring at us. It silently walked off and disappeared.
For me I took this as a sign to pay attention and that I was a leader in many ways, and that my stories and experience had value. That there was something more I could bring to both the wildland fire community but also other men trying to find their own path. (More about this later. Brings in the Wildland FireFighter Foundation, Residue, and finding balance)
Back to the story about finding the Wolf Den, Guardian Academy, and the Communities…
In wildland fire terminology, transitions are always challenging and come with risk. A “common denominator” for tragic events to happen on a fire is that they occur during times of transition. Whether this is a transition from initial attack to extended attack, transitions in the weather, a change in teams managing the fire, or transitions in shifts (driving to and from the fire assignments is actually considered one of, if not the most dangerous aspect of wildland fire fighting), there’s also transitions in different aspects of our lives and within our careers.
I’m in a transition period of my life, where I am transitioning into retirement, into a phase of my life where I don’t need to take care of my children or manage any programs or take fire assignments to sustain my living. I’ll have more freedom but the financial aspect needs to change, I need something else to get me to the life I want
Nick Doc made me aware of the Wolf Den (prior to the Guardian Academy), but initially I kind of blew it off. I should have known better. Eventually I dove in and started to listen to Nic Peterson and others within the Wolf Den Community. I could relate to how he and others within the community think and many of the things I’ve been learning are completely aligned with what is being taught in the Wolf Den and TGA. The concepts being taught like the adaptive dilemma, systems reliability related to risk, about not being an A-hole, cognitive biases, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and even the approach to investing and having a solvable problem, very much aligned with experiences I have had or other leadership type training, and through my personal life experiences as a father raising two boys.
But initially, I approached cautiously, and wasn’t sure it was necessary to become a Guardian and climb the tiers in The Guardian Academy (Wolf Den at that time). I mean, I’ve always figured stuff out on my own and kind of have a self sufficiency tendency which can be good or bad. (Lonewolf Article)
My Crypto Game and Approach to The Solvable Problem
Appropriate Frequency (and Duration) of Exposure
This brings in a discussion of knowing yourself, what your core values are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what is your Vision for this Life. This Vision for me comes from various teachings, and something that I have had to figure out through life’s ups and downs, has changed and become clearer with experience.
The Guardian Academy and Wolf Den have adopted the idea from the Certified Certainty Advisors program (CCA) about the concept of having a Solvable Problem, which is basically the equations for getting what we want in life. A Solvable Problem is intended to give us direction for moving closer to where we want to be in Life.
My Solvable Problem
Freedom to do everything I Want.
My Vision of the Future (Written on the first page of every journal, and read daily). This has changed over the last year or so, constantly being refined and made clearer with better data. I wrote this and started focusing my attention on the idea of “Auto-suggestion” from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. But also adds things I’ve taken from other teachings from people like Wayne Dyer and Tom Brown Jr., Quantum Physics, and so many other self help or spiritual teachers ideas and philosophies. Tom Brown teaches that to manifest something, you have to Envision it in your mind clearly. This brings in all the senses and makes our Visions real.
“Within the next 5 years (by March 16, 2026), Shanti and I will be financially independent, having saved/earned an extra $5,000,000 of income. We do this in various ways but it happens in an easy and relaxed manner. I support Shanti as she manifests her dreams of selling her art, teaching, and helping people connect with Spirit, Body, and Mind through Creativity. I have various side gigs, which are passions and things I feel called to do. I tell my story, write, teach, and speak about my experiences in self development, growth as a father, fire fighter, young man to adult, about bringing harmony and connection with family, nature, and one’s life purpose.
We are financially independent living easy and joyful lives guided by our values and Spirit. I am at Peace and Content.
At the same time I am close to my family, connecting and growing stronger in our relationship everyday. Our communication is open and honest, a deep trust exists, our lives are filled with Adventure, Happiness, Love, Respect, Joy, Wisdom, and Gratitude. I see all this now and feel the contentment and peace that results. I know and believe this is all possible, I have no doubt or feelings of unworthiness because people value and respect all that we do.
We Flow through life, I am grateful for the Awareness and Presence that fills my days and nights. I am engaged and present in each moment and with all my relationships. I am curious, a student of life, and live with purposeful passion.”
My Solvable Problem Discussion
For me it’s hard to put a singular dollar amount on the Vision I have for my life. Part of this Vision involves living and doing the things that will actually produce that financial independence and freedom that I desire. Part of the Vision has nothing to do with money, like the investments made in my health and fitness. As well as the time and energy invested in learning and building stronger relationships in my life. This includes the Communities surrounding the Wolf Den and the Guardian Academy.
Closer Vs More
For me, putting a dollar amount on my Vision does help give me a little bit of perspective and helps me identify some physical representations of my success and movement closer to my ideal future. My solvable problem is more of a story problem that will be answered in steps. When I recognize that I am chasing after “more”, whether this is more money, more time, more connection with others on social media, or more information and learning, I need to slow down and ensure I am “feeding” rather than “consuming”. That whatever I am pursuing is getting me closer to the life I want, the “Good Life”.
So, How do I go about working on an equation that never gets fully solved?
Move Towards our Destination
“A Good Life is the progressive expansion of the things that bring us pleasure.”
A Solvable Problem, a Vision, Dreams of financial independence, and living the Good Life doesn’t just happen because we hit a certain threshold of money in the bank. It happens because of the way we live our life, the investments we make, and all the choices along the journey.
I can use the acquiring of certain assets, skills, and knowledge as a way to provide reference and direction. Some of the assets and milestone reference points that are parts of the equation for my Solvable Problem include:
Real Estate/Rental Properties
-Paid off current home mortgage
-Own property in Michigan with a custom built home, completely self sufficient and off grid, with all the modern amenities, attached studio for Art by Shanti, office and workshop. Sauna and ice bath, non-chlorinated hot tub, gym, climbing wall, basketball court, and close to a surfing spot.
-Property in Panama, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, or Mexico with ability to travel to these locations for 1-2 months at a time.
-Travel, self-development, bucket-list adventures budget
-Tesla, Rivian, or Hybrid Highlander Limited
-Sprinter Travel Camper Van
Passive Income- ($350,000/year)
Set up Base case for Raven and Fynn
An estimated Solvable Problem for my life and family is $5,000,000 with a source of passive income to bring in about $350,000/year.
Tools For Clarifying This Vision Of The Solvable Problem
-Know what your Core Values (Know Yourself)
-Experience the things you want (Go on vacation and really feel what it would be like).
-Daily affirmations and vision board
-Use the Certainty app to help figure out your Solvable Problem. https://certaintyapp.com/
The Option To Change Our Mind
I reserve the right to change my mind. With better data there may become a better path towards getting the Life I want.
Aligning Learning With Your Macro Beliefs
My Mind is my greatest asset.
What is a Macro Belief?
A Macro Belief from my understanding is where we invest our energy and resources in pursuit of the Solvable Problem.
Discussion about Macro Beliefs: I like to think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and think about Macro Beliefs in the terms of Survival. Ultimately, all currency, anything worth anything to someone else can be traded in exchange for energy or time needed for us to produce the same survival need. It boiled down to the most basic elements of survival, we are all just here trying to survive and pass along our genes.
Figuring out Your Macro Beliefs
The Solvable problem, being solely in dollars, simplifies this to a Macro Belief in dollars. Most of us ultimately have a macro belief in dollars. If you compare your assets or earnings in dollars, then you have a macro belief in this.
In reality, there is a lot more that needs to happen to earn these dollars. There first has to be awareness, knowledge and skills learned, investments of time and experiences gained, and the need to maintain the physical ability to actually work for the things you need and want.
I look at this from different levels and imagine a few different scenarios. I naturally come from a preparedness and planning perspective, bringing in my core values of Duty (to protect, provide, and teach), Freedom, Self-sufficiency, and Awareness.
Apocalyptic Scenario (Worst Case)…
So my Macro belief is, first and foremost, in myself and my ability to survive with nothing but my knowledge and skills. If the entire financial system disappeared and we somehow reverted back to pre-industrial times, could I survive and thrive? This is a worst-case scenario. But it also gives me direction. I invest in and am working towards renewable energy and living self-sufficiently off the grid. I also continue to build on my skills and knowledge related to survival by learning about plants, alternative medicines, and a general knowledge of the place where I live.
When it comes to my investing and which type of assets I find most valuable, besides my knowledge and skills of survival, Real estate and land are my second most valuable. I believe that my path towards financial freedom and creating a secure passive income is through real estate investing. The types of properties I plan on owning build into the equation of my solvable problem. Real Estate Investing can also be a way to continue to accumulate dollars, if this remains to be a currency of value.
Next, I think about what if the dollar went to zero and we shift to a new type of currency? For this scenario, I believe that Bitcoin and other crypto currency may be a good thing to have. I’ve got a Base-case established in Guard-BUSD LP. I continue to accumulate various coins like Bitcoin, Guard, Matic, and Forge through dollar cost averaging and yield farming. I have money in projects that I believe are valuable assets and have Communities that I want to belong to. I look at my crypto investments as a diversification of my regular investment portfolio.
The Community and people I surround myself with are an important part of my Macro belief. I invest time and energy into building relationships with purpose driven like minded, good people.
Burnout, The Dark Side Of Learning And Chasing Too Much
“Dopamine without effort will destroy a person”- Andrew Huberman
With all the various groups and spaces being created to allow for connection it’s gotten quite overwhelming to keep up with all of it. I find that I can get easily distracted and the interaction and learning from these Communities becomes something else to chase after.
I jumped right into crypto investing, feeling all the FOMO, set up a base case in Guard-BUSD, started accumulating assets, engaged on social media, played the treasure hunt and started consuming as much information as I could. I wanted to learn about the ecosystem and how to create my own financial independence, but more, I wanted to learn more about the people within the community.
I tend to begin to crave learning and a place to hear others talk about things that I am interested in. It’s easy to get sucked into consuming and gathering information, but without proper rest, processing, and application of the things we are learning there are consequences.
I get a certain type of connection and feeling of belonging from being part of a community of like-minded purpose-driven individuals. A lot of this comes from knowing there are others like me, that I have peers who can support me by just letting me speak and get thoughts out. Simply having a place to put my story.
But there is the risk of getting sucked into too much and seeking more without applying the things you learn. There is a reason why it’s called “consuming” information and why it can lead to “burnout” if not balanced with development of skills and taking action towards some sort of purpose or passion. If we don’t rest and process the information we are consuming this will likely lead to burnout, in the same way that consuming a high carb/sugar diet as fuel will quickly lead to a burnout or crash. Or doing physical training everyday without giving yourself time to recover.
There is a lot of talk about dopamine and the effects of too much consumption, too much social media, or simply too much stimulation and learning. There seems to be so many people craving a “connection” with other like-minded individuals.
I know all about this. By sharing my story, I hope to maybe help others avoid the negative effects of too much dopamine, too much consumption, or just getting out of those ruts in life.
I’ve made connections to this Dopamine “firing”, burn out, the feelings of depression, and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) like symptoms that come after an intense experience or fire assignment. It’s related to a concept called “Residue”, and without getting too deep down a rabbit hole (not yet), it is basically a wildfire in the mind or body. It even manifests physically in the body (inflammation). I’ve come to understand that the act of telling our story is the process of healing.
I first heard about what “residue” was from the work of Prestin Cline and the Mission Critical Teams Institute. (MCTI Article on Residue). As a Wildland Firefighter it explained something that I had been experiencing my entire career, and helped me understand trauma, healing, learning, and leading in both my profession and in my family life.
All learning, all our experiences, good and bad, even our thoughts, create a “residue” within our bodies.
Being in this intense thought or in constant states of heightened awareness requires energy and will create a “residue” as result of this consumption of fuel to create this extra energy. (Think about how tired and drained you can feel after a day of intensive thought or problem solving?)
I learned about this effect through my experience as a wildland firefighter, and how you accumulate something over a long assignment away from family. Being involved as part of an Incident Management Team requires a lot of things that we in the wildland fire community have in place but might not be being utilized. (Examples would be After Action Reviews (AAR’s), debriefs, or closeout meetings.) Some people are really good about doing these everyday, some get complacent and leave it up to the crews. IMT AAR’s are another example. I have not participated in any of these, often flying home and not having any sort of close out or evaluation/recognition.
During an incident the IMT is good about sharing information and communication through numerous meetings, briefings, and debriefs. This happens during the assignment but as soon as the end comes and you demobilize from the incident all of this stops. You get into a certain routine, communicate in a certain way, and process the daily experiences with your team. There is tons of storytelling and playing the role of whatever position you are on the fire.
I started asking questions about this stuff many years ago. Why would I come home from a fire assignment, where I was motivated and involved in adventurous exciting challenging stuff but didn’t have a way to bring it home or “switch it off”. I didn’t have a way to decompress and reintegrate back into my normal life. This always created friction and tension. I was bringing back an intense energy, not realizing how this affected those closest to me. A lot of this intensity, I believe from my personal experience, came from this need to continue to solve problems and operate like I was still the Incident Commander, Operations Section Chief, or Division Supervisor.
I began to wonder about the idea of PTSD. Except, never could compare a Wildland Fire assignment, or even a season fighting fire on a hotshot crew, as anything close to what a military deployment entails. But I knew that I was experiencing something from my assignments and long durations of time traveling and being away from the family and normal life. It wasn’t just affecting me, I was starting to see changes in my children’s behavior.
Then comes the traumas and intense experiences that happen over a 20 plus year career. My career started on the same day as the South Canyon Incident in Colorado (14 FF’s died on July 6th, 1994) and I have had my share of close calls and intense moments. I’ve been able to do all sorts of cool stuff in training as well as on assignments all over the Country. But I don’t really, or didn’t, have anywhere to share these stories and experiences. I also recognized that I was able to handle intense experiences better than others, I didn’t freeze or panic, but rather became more focused and “in the zone”.
Flow Becomes The Guard
I realized at one point that I didn’t feel things the same way as others. Almost like I am shielded or guarded in a way from feeling the intense emotions that follow responding to the crash site of the Air Tanker that was working your fire all day. Or when I slip into a flow state during the most stressful moment during a critical incident I am managing as the Incident Commander. Everything slows down as if it was another scenario in some training.
These moments are why we do what we do, but they come at a cost if we can’t process and recover properly and to reintegrate back into normal routines and relationships. I’ve been known to be considered a little intense and put off that kind of energy, which I’ve become aware of recently, is my way of guarding or putting a shield up.
But it’s not a positive way to just keep this story and experiences trapped inside, I wasn’t the greatest about sharing my stories with my family, don’t really have a close group of friends, so kind of stumbled into what I needed through the DEA (Dad’s Edge Alliance) Mastermind.
The DEA is a mastermind of fathers and became a place for me to put my story and work through some stressful and challenging times I was having as a father. It was a time when I needed some mentoring surrounding balancing work and family and how I was showing up for my family.
Back to the concept of Residue, this is the accumulation of our experiences (good and bad), it’s all the cool and exciting places we experience, the constant heightened awareness about the weather, fuels, the resources and what the fire is doing, the stress, the constant evaluation of plans, the excitement and rush when a plan comes together, the hard work and everything that creates ups and downs and roller coaster ride of wins and failures. A lot of connection occurs being part of a team and working with all the different people involved in a fire assignment. There is a lot of storytelling and shared experiences because it’s such a small tight knit community.
When we leave a fire assignment most don’t have a team or group of people they can literally “download” with. This process of talking about what we experienced, about what we learned, about where we could have done better, allows us to move that memory or thought out of the short term into a more long term memory system. This is a process of healing and learning. This is why, when you don’t express verbally and have a way to tell our stories, these experiences can end up causing post traumatic stress responses and similar reactions as other stressful and traumatic events. These memories or natural stress reactions occur when we come back to a non-emergency environment where we are “threatened” in any way. Being back in a “normal” environment can be filled with triggers especially when our communication comes across as anger or something we didn’t intend.
I’ve also felt how coming back into a “normal” environment after a fire assignment can lead to a down effect, a feeling of laziness, or a rut. Where after coming home, I can easily be drawn towards easy dopamine. I’ll get sucked into social media and lack motivation to do anything active. After the most intense assignments I’ve felt very burned out, and start seeing this effect of my attention and focus and performance at work.
This leads me to think that dopamine is the key factor. Is it dopamine and the firing of these powerful neurotransmitters that creates the residue? I think maybe it does. And it can get stuck inside and build up if we don’t have a way to release and cleanse or “flush out” our “systems”.
Then it makes me question if this happens to everyone, no matter what their profession. If you go off to work and get all this fulfillment and feeling of connection and purpose from providing or if you are doing all this self improvement and learning for yourself, how does the transition back to the home environment work for others? What do you need to decompress and switch things off when necessary?
This brings me back to why storytelling is important. There is a process of healing that occurs when people talk about what they have experienced and especially those that were outside of our imagination or push our levels of experience.
Places to Put My Story
This is a little about my journey of finding my purpose and living my Vision. There are obviously many gaps to fill in and stories to expand upon.
For me I trust that I am on the right path and that I am guided by a Spirit that moves through and connects everything.
I’m grateful for places like the Wolf Den and The Guardian Academy, and for the people that make up these Communities. They have become part of my Vision.
I have become inspired to start a blog on Medium called “Student of Fire”. This is a place for me to work out what may become a book someday. But more importantly, it’s a place for me to put my story for future generations of Bennett’s. If it helps others to hear my story, great, that’s a bonus.
To be Continued…