What Can You Learn From Smoke?

I’ve been running from fire since March. It started at a campground in Texas. I went for a walk to get familiar with the space, when I saw a plume of smoke rising over the woods to the south. “It’ll be ok,” I quietly whispered to myself. I Googled for an update but nothing was on the newswire. I assumed they would tell us if it was something to worry about. 

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Just as the sun was setting and I was starting to settle in, I overheard talking. Then, a park ranger was at my door. “We’re going to ask you to evacuate,” they said. The sky was an eerie yellow then suddenly black as I filed into the line of RVs exiting the park. The only lights were coming from emergency vehicles. Flashlights illuminated the ash falling from the sky as the forest nearby burned. 

That night I had a plan. Friends were having a party 2 hours away. They wanted me to come, thank God. Even if it was late. Even if I reeked of forest fires. I was upset, but thankful. “What if I didn’t have anywhere to go?” I wondered. “What would I do?” 

Since that trip, I’ve had to figure out my answer. I have evacuated campgrounds several times because of smoke and I haven’t always had friends to save the day. That’s what happened last week when I overheard someone in a coffee shop say there was an evacuation nearby. “Well, that would be very on brand for this trip,” I thought with a laugh.

As I mapped the path to my campground, I saw the headlines and red markers on the map. “Road closed” and “mandatory evacuation notices” filled my screen. I wasn’t necessarily surprised. But this felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case – the fire that burned the Kat. It was the third time in one week that I was dealing with another switch up that left me placeless, feeling lost. Overwhelmed. That “well, what the hell do I do now?” feeling. 

As it hit me during one of my 2-hour surprise commutes, I turned off the music to ask myself a different question. Not “what the hell am I doing” or “what’s wrong with me” – questions that do harm all by themselves. Fair questions, but still. Not nice to myself. 

So the question I asked was this: what can I learn from smoke? 

Here’s what I came up with. 

  1. It’s important to breathe. Breathing is typically an effortless affair. When it isn’t, it impacts everything. Breathe, then you can figure out what to do next. 
  2. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. When you feel something, smell something, and know it doesn’t feel right? You need to do something. 
  3. One ember is enough to burn it all down. If one tiny ember can burn down a whole forest, you have to recognize that one person’s energy can change things, too. 
  4. Smoke lingers. It’s ok to stay and engulf everything for a little while. 
  5. Smoke rises. The only way is up. 

Weekly Letters

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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