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All About You: Change can be a good thing

Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Next week will be the end of my time as a safety and health professional in the nuclear industry – at least for a while. It’s been an incredible learning experience, and I’ve picked up several life lessons. I’ll be shifting my focus back to speaking, podcasting, coaching and writing. At first, I was apprehensive about getting back “in the field” when my speaking business crashed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But looking back, I’m grateful for the necessary change because it helped me become more well rounded and insightful.

Anytime we experience a drastic turn in our circumstances is an opportunity for personal growth – if we let it. Even when tragedy strikes, we can reflect on how we handled the loss and learn from what we discover.

So, here are a few things I learned from my stint at three different nuclear power plants over the past year-plus.

Technology has made our work easier but less personal

So many tasks are now automated and, as a result, less complicated. Using all of the new technologies, such as the devices I wore and the instruments available, required a sharp learning curve. Electronic surveys, detector types, smartphones, etc., have become ubiquitous in the workplace. I didn’t even need a clipboard! But I also noticed that there was less face-to-face communication.

These advances are valuable, and I like them. But I constantly remind myself not to allow blue screens to cause my social skills to suffer. Nothing can fully replace the connection that comes from in-person interactions. Although I realize I need to keep up with advancing technology to thrive in the workplace, knowing how to be caring, listen actively and be a team player are all still more important.

My love for the natural world is stronger

Nuclear power plants are places of mostly metal, concrete, electrical components and artificial lighting. Spending 12 hours a day inside these marvelous power-producers caused me to forget how lovely the trees, flowers, birds and other living beings are because I rarely got to experience them. Like my good health, I didn’t appreciate the importance of the natural world to my mental state until it was absent. Now I relish nature and am grateful for my daily walks.

Believe in yourself

I’ll admit it, I was frightened when I first went back to work. Being a senior radiation safety technician is challenging because of the stringent regulations and procedures I must follow. Also, nearly 35 years had passed since I last worked at a power plant. Although the first few weeks of testing and shift work were brutal, I did it. Yes, I made some mistakes and had to ask many questions, but what we can do when we believe in ourselves is incredible. The experience has strengthened my self-confidence.

We’ve all experienced self-doubt at times. It has its place and can help us be realistic, but it’s often counterproductive and can hold us back. “Be brave, be prepared and dive in” is now on my list of personal mantras.

Learn from all of your experiences

My personal growth this past year occurred because I didn’t just live through what happened to me. Instead, I took notes every day and contemplated how I was changing and what I was learning. Then, when I made mistakes, got upset or forgot to do something that I was required to do, I reflected on it and gave myself some personal coaching.

It was fun, too. I laughed a lot and made many short-term friends and a couple of long-term companions. I wouldn’t have told you this when I started in March 2022, but it was a thrilling ride that I’m glad I took. If we realize that all experiences can be valuable tools for growth, we’ll be less apprehensive when they include significant changes to our lives – and more apt to dive in with joy.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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