Putting Out a Dumpster Fire
A dumpster fire is the perfect visual metaphor for when things go spectacularly wrong. It’s happened to me not a few times in my work life:
- System outages preventing whole schools of students and educators from being able to do or access anything.
- A new operating system that doesn’t allow users to operate.
- A series of unfortunate events causing several essential personnel to be out at the same time.
- The phones are down.
- Or, in one case, an actual fire.
These are examples of situations, that when in them, you realize you are living through a dumpster fire.
The most important characteristic of your state of awareness, your view of the problem, is that amongst a lack of solutions, and impending fire, you aren’t panicking. You are a bit beyond panic. You realize that there isn’t a whole lot you can do. It’s a weird feeling.
But what you can do, are these things:
- Don’t fan the flames. The worst thing anyone can do in a disastrous work scenario, where all seems to be going wrong, is to complain loudly, get others involved, and place blame. All these actions stoke the hot, hot flames, and that ultimately doesn’t help anyone.
- Be chill. Things are out of control, tempers are flaring, and the fire seems like it will never stop. The most helpful and ultimately resolving force in these situations are the individuals that keep calm and carry on, a beacon of rationality accepting the things we cannot control and helping everyone realize the world [probably] isn’t ending.
- Take notes. The thing about dumpster fires is you don’t see them coming. You don’t plan for all of the circumstances working against you—maybe one or two predictable worst-case scenarios—but a dumpster fire is something special, especially crappy. Take notes: what worked, what didn’t, what communications methods were best, who helped, who spread the fire, and how can you take this terrible situation and learn for next time?
No business, no industry, no life is safe from a periodic dumpster fire, sorry. So, should you suddenly find yourself having one of those days where it seems like the sky is falling and you are just watching it all numb to pain, (yeah, I had one recently, can you tell?) don’t worry, it’ll be okay if you understand that a dumpster fire is at least a controlled one, and you can be a force for good.