Why Dumpster Fires at Work are Powerful Teachers

post by Maki Moussavi:
We’ve all been there.
We’ve experienced the situation at work that pops up and is immediately
followed by thoughts about how our day is suddenly going off course, that
priorities have shifted in favor of the fire that needs putting out. Of course,
this is to be expected from time to time. 
But what if the thought
that bubbles up is a variation of “Here we go again”? When chaos is
cyclical, reacting to and addressing the fire is reactive and only addresses
the symptom of a much larger problem. This is the equivalent of treating
recurrent heartburn with a pill instead of searching for the underlying issue
that’s causing your discomfort. It’s a bandage on a wound that requires more
than a surface solution. 
Many of you are either
very good at (or have a team member or leader who is very good at) going into
damage control mode to quickly triage a situation. All of the energy in the
room gets funneled in the direction of applying the bandage, and even if there
are important observations about an element that contributed to the fire that
needs to be addressed, it’s all too easy to set that aside in favor of the
immediate actions that must be taken. Once the chaos has subsided, you may have
a debrief and make a plan to correct underlying issues, but the reality is that
plans of that nature tend to be put off for the future, or to be derailed by
the next situation that pops up. 
One of the most
frustrating aspects of managing cyclical challenges is that the cycle itself
can create a false sense that there’s no good way out of the pattern. That
you’re fighting a losing battle, and the powers that be don’t get it and won’t
make the necessary changes to avoid the same issues in the future. You become
resigned to fighting the fires instead of preventing them in the first place.
All kinds of limiting mental chatter crowd into your head that reinforce your
sense that you don’t have the authority to make people listen or to create
change. You and your colleagues may even get together to vent about this very
thing, further reinforcing the idea that you have no power to make it
Let me say that again:
You get to the point where you believe you have no power to change the
It’s easy to fall into
the trap of this belief. After all, the culture of an organization is a
powerful factor in the way chaos is handled. If all you see is how it’s
mishandled, you will naturally believe that future situations will be similarly
mishandled. But where are YOU in all of this?
The next time a dumpster
fire shows up, you can handle it in a way that empowers YOU, even if the
desired outward change is slow in coming. 
Your to-dos:
  • Become
    an observer
    . Yes, you may be feeling some
    pressure, but do your best to truly see the situation. Are there key
    players who tend to be part of the cycle? What repetitive elements do you
    notice? How is this time the same or different from last time? Did
    something go unaddressed between the previous and current situations?
  • Note your mental chatter. What are you saying to yourself as this unfolds? Note
    the thoughts alluded to above that reinforce the cycle by telling you
    there’s no way out, that the cycling is inevitable. Even more importantly,
    note how you feel personally. Are you feeling powerless? Anxious?
    Resigned? Frustrated? Ask yourself what you have been tolerating
    and accepting even when it’s clearly not working for you
  • Take inventory. Have you ever taken a proactive approach to the
    solution in the past? If so, what did you do and how did it go? Did you
    involve others? What could you do this time, taking your observations into
    account, that may make a difference? Whose help can you enlist? 
  • Create a plan. Get through the chaos and then approach the people
    from your inventory exercise to create a way forward. You have no
    guarantee that it will work, but it is a proactive (empowered) rather than
    reactive (disempowered) way to build some positive momentum. From there,
    work with those you trust to chip away at a system that’s not
  • Know your limits. Go back to your mental chatter – what have you been
    tolerating? What do you no longer want to put up with? How long are you
    willing to put in effort toward change, and what will you do if you don’t
    see it? There’s no rule that says you have to stay in an organization that
    operates in chaos. If you truly run up against leaders who are unwilling
    to make changes, that’s helpful information to have as you consider your
    career path.
  • You have a choice.
    You always have a choice. If you decide to stay and tolerate what’s not
    working for you, that’s a choice. If you tell yourself that there are no
    better options out there for you, it’s a choice to believe that. One of
    the most powerful decisions you can make is to consciously catch your
    disempowered thoughts and reset your perspective to an empowered one. It
    takes practice, but your entire life will be better for it. 

Maki Moussavi is a transformational success coach focused on helping people create lives defined by their desires rather than societal or familial constructs of success. Too many put up with a life spent surviving rather than thriving. Maki’s passion is helping people discover their personal programming and the patterns in which they operate in order to break through to a life where they unapologetically live according to their own expectations, not those of others. She specializes in providing a process around transformation to streamline the path to change.
Maki has a Master of Science degree in genetic counseling and counseled patients before embarking on a 12-plus year corporate career prior to becoming a coach.
Her upcoming book, The High Achiever’s Guide: Transform Your Success Mindset and Begin the Quest to Fulfillment released on October 15. This book challenges unfulfilled higher achievers to examine what drives them, how they hold themselves back, and what it takes to define a new vision of life by facing their fears, using their voice, trusting their instincts and committing to a new way of being.