Contributing Author: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair
Big, historical changes, like indoor plumbing and space travel, started with someone — often a dreamer or soon-to-be leader seeing a gap, thinking, “Something isn’t right here. What if . . .???” Even the great pyramids had to start with a mere idea.
Philo Farnsworth, a 14-year-old farm boy, had vision of a box with moving pictures inside. In 1926, inventor Lee de Forest, later known as the grandfather of television, wrote, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.”
Zhang Xin, once homeless, built her housing vision into a real estate company, SOHO China, which has transformed her community and made her one of the richest self-made women in the world.
Twenty years ago, I never would have dreamed that I could order groceries, schedule my dog’s vet appointment, map my trip to the Oregon coast and send pictures to my daughter on a machine the size of a chocolate bar. Martin Cooper, who designed the first cell phone, was told that his idea wasn’t worth the risk.
Most of us are not inventors, right? Not so fast. We are trained issue-spotters. For one moment, shift your focus from building stronger cases to your own well-being, starting with “What if . . .” Your health and happiness should be more than just a vague idea.
What if I learned how to manage work-stress in a healthy, sustainable way? What would my big picture look like? What steps would I take? Would I:
Schedule time to go to the gym and then prioritize those “meetings”?
Map out a healthy meal plan for the week and then follow it?
Sign up for a local resiliency course or webinar?
Take a personal day and get out into nature?
Make a dinner date with an old friend, just to catch up?
When feeling a little depleted, I recommend starting your What-ifs by shooting the moon. Dream big. Write your list untethered as if you’d won the Powerball, then scale it back — -not all the way back to realistic — -just slightly beyond doable.
In 2014, when I was first elected but not yet sworn in, and then in the following year, I spent a lot of time talking to people, really listening and bouncing ideas — engaging in a whole lot of what-iffing.
What if prosecutors stayed on as a career instead of leaving after a couple of years?
What if our goal was to keep people happy, healthy and functional despite the difficult and sad nature of our work?
What if we taught trauma and secondary trauma at work, as well as tools to reduce work stress?
What if staff was drama-free and versed in conflict resolution?
With the help of a perceptive colleague, a trauma expert and well-being professional, our Secondary Trauma Group and curriculum was born. Once it was up, running, and successful, I was asked to share details of our program with the Montana County Attorney’s Association. Then we were recognized by the National Association of Counties (NACo) as one of the best programs in the country, which caught the eye of the NDAA. Why was the idea of prosecutor well-being catching like wildfire? Because it is making a really difficult, but critically necessary job, more gratifying and more sustainable. Despite the program’s massive success and growth, funding has been a challenge and each year since its inception I’ve had to piecemeal savings from other budget categories to pay for it, quarter by quarter.
This week, as I was preparing to give my annual budget presentation to my commissioners for FY22, I engaged in a little more what-iffing.
What if our prosecutor well-being program became written in as a permanent part of our organization’s structure?
After a robust discussion, the commissioners not only agreed to fund the Secondary Trauma Group on a permanent basis but are exploring ways to expand it to the whole county. Sometimes what-iffing doesn’t work and sometimes it results in a lot of work. But occasionally it fills a gap, one that should have been puttied-up a long time ago, if someone had only taken the time to ask, “What if???”
Kirsten Pabst chairs NDAA’s Well-being Task Force and serves at the County Attorney for Missoula County, Montana.