Lessons Learned Living with a Wildfire

Since the morning of July 22, 2016 we in Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands and Big Sur area have been living with a wildfire. To date it has burned 70,000 acres and is estimated to burn around 150,000 acres.

As I live through this fire I often find myself thinking about what can be learned from this experience. This stressful time allows me to wake-up a bit more, catch myself playing a victim role/feeling sorry for myself and impresses upon me the importance of giving myself daily doses of love. Writing this article is an act of personal love, the privilege to share with others and the opportunity to devote my time to gaining more clarity about my life.

Fortunately, most of the burn area is wilderness and fire is part of the natural cycle. Although humans setting fires is not part of the natural cycle. We have an army of 5,500 courageous firefighters, over 100 dozer crews, helicopter pilots, and 6 retardant bombers working hard to keep people’s houses and businesses safe.

To date we have lost 57 houses and no businesses. The Fire Command thinks they will have the fire under control by August 31, 2016. Under control means surrounded by barriers so that the fire won’t “jump.” The fire will continue to burn within these safe perimeters.

Our family is lucky (at least to date) that our house in Carmel Valley is safe, my mother’s house is also safe and our family home "The Teapot" in Big Sur is currently in good standings (we are however still under evacuation warning, because the fire is still active on the Eastern slope of our Big Sur Valley).

This event has led me to write some lessons about what I have observed over the past weeks.

Lesson One – Americans are courageous, empathetic people especially when facing a crisis. The firefighters come from all over the West, many living in tent camps and working in the most difficult terrain possible. The 57 families who lost their homes are in all kinds of different situations. Some are able to rent furnished homes, some are living with friends, some are in temporary shelters and all are courageous. So far, we have one fatality, a young dozer operator who leaves behind his wife and two young daughters. Our communities are flooded with hand-painted signs expressing love and appreciation for the firefighters, as well funds being raised for the family of the man who perished and for families who need to rebuild.

Business/Organization Corollary #1 – living is about doing your best and it takes courage to do one’s best. Doing your greatest work involves awareness of living in present time and being empathetic toward yourself. I stress being empathetic for yourself and doing your best, because we must take care of ourselves if we are to truly care for others.


Lesson Two – We assign ourselves risk for the reward of living in this beautiful area. We own homes in areas that burn. We’ve had 3 fires since 2008. Two of the three were man made and all three fires took homes.

Business/Organization Corollary #2 – we face risk and reward in our work too. It is important to be aware of the risk and reward factor, because work can overwhelm one’s life.  Too many fires in one’s life can sap all your energy. Insurance is important!


Lesson Three – the action of one or a few can create terrible loss (or gain) for many. An illegal campfire lit in an area suffering from drought over the past five years started this horrendous wildfire.

Business/Organization Corollary #3 – respect and appreciate your environment (both immediate and global). We have tremendous power and can easily do great harm. Exhibit your strength on a daily basis and use power sparingly. Unfortunately, as men we often abuse power and women save us with their strength. Do you have the strength to help people learn or do you default to the power of telling them what to do?


Lesson Four – prolonged threats, smoke and risk create stress. Many of us struggle with acknowledging stress and it impacts our behavior in negative ways.

Business/Organization Corollary #4 – stress is always lurking, many of us are numb to it and suffer the consequences. Stay alert and practice empathy toward yourself. Stress is exhibiting by, “Shoulding on oneself.” As a leader in the workplace, please don’t “should” on yourself or others.


Lesson Five – we don’t control our environment. We can plan, organize and operationalize our plans, but we aren’t in control. Given Clint Eastwood has property impacted by the fire, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” are going to happen. The only thing we control is our own mind-set and behavior given the situations we face.

Business/Organization Corollary #5 – Professor Emeritus at the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University always told us, “Doing business is like playing pool on an undulated pool table, ever changing and never the same.” Planning is important and it is imperative to remember that you are planning a game in an ever-changing field. Remember 85-90% of doing business is about making the best decision at that point in time. Business, like life, is very much about operating in present time.

Always remember that doing one’s best is not about being super-human. It is about being human. I would love to hear from each of you about what being human means to you.