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Self-Care: What We Can Learn from the California Wildfire Crisis - Living Forward

Self-Care: What We Can Learn from the California Wildfire Crisis

In California, we are currently in an emergency situation due to wildfires, high winds and power lines, shutting down power for hundreds of thousands of residents throughout the state.

Wildfires. Power outages. Breakdowns of equipment, systems and people. Stress.

A perfect storm where decades of poor maintenance of power lines, forest management, and technology collide with weather conditions to become a state of emergency. People are mad, pointing fingers at who and what to blame. We’re all asking how did this happen in a state known for its innovative technology, creativity and progressive ideas?

What I see is that something essential has been missing for decades….and the results are devastating.

This missing something is simple, undervalued, rarely if ever rewarded, yet absolutely necessary to survive and thrive in today’s world. It can also avert disasters and emergencies.

(Ok–now you’re asking what does this have to do with self-care?)


…..process of keeping something in good condition; of preserving something or someone.

Designing a new product, building, creating or planting beautiful gardens are fun, inspiring and creative. So is a new outfit. Our culture encourages the latest and greatest in fashion, innovations, and creativity.

Unfortunately, clearing brush, updating and inspecting equipment, and even website improvement are all maintenance issues affecting this situation today.

Similarly, dental cleanings, exercise, and even oil changes are all maintenance activities and typically are not exciting, fun, or creative.

Years ago, when I was recruiting engineers in Silicon Valley, I quickly realized everyone wanted to be a design engineer and we struggled to find high quality maintenance engineers. Someone to fix, upgrade and improve the machines and processes we had.  Reliability, safety and maintaining all too often go unrecognized and unrewarded. However, the quality of a product and the safety for consumers were essential to the success of the company.

Maintenance feels boring maybe because it is routine, sustained everyday activities.

My Dad and oil changes

When I bought my beloved first car (with my own money), my dad told me how important changing the oil was to keeping a car in good working order for many years. To this day, I am diligent with oil changes and maintenance and I easily drive my cars with no breakdowns for over 150,000 miles. Regular oil changes are a lot cheaper than an engine blowing up on the freeway and replacement when you run out of oil which my friend experienced.

So too is routine personal self-care–check-ups, healthy eating, sleep, and exercise.

The results of a lack of maintenance are anything but boring.

We may experience these results—devastating, disruptive and  deadly wildfires raging through Northern California communities in the past couple years. We see it in our homes when we don’t maintain our furnances, yards or appliances.

We see it in our own lives where poor health maintenance leads to life-threatening issues such as obesity, heart attacks, and diabetes.

Essential to our own personal well-being

Published in 1974, a best-seller which was one of THE books of an entire genereation was Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This autobiographical novel shows us how we can blend the cold, rational technology with warm, imaginative creativity.  This book helped me see how we can more fully engage with the activity, enjoy it fully and better see and appreciate all the details in every experience of our lives.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

Necessary for businesses, communities and our own personal lives

What if PG&E executives and leadership had been tasked with and rewarded for designing and implementing a sustainable vegetation, equipment and powerlines maintenance programs? Programs which we now know are essential in the prevention of equipment failures and the surrounding undergrowth causing wildfires. What if their bonuses were tied to maintenance and prevention metrics instead of whatever they received millions of dollars in bonuses for?

Personally, I have always struggled with my weight, and like so many others, I find it much easier to lose weight than maintain a healthy weight for any length of time. Clearly I am not alone in that—weight loss industry makes billions in helping people lose weight every year. What if after we achieved our goal weight, there was a program which supported us in our routines, focus and rewards for maintaining that weight? There is.  WW, (Weight Watchers) rewards its members with free lifetime membership if members stay at their goal weight. They actually built in maintenance in their program–brilliant!

Scheduling and following healthy routines and maintenance activities into our week will provide sustained good health for many years. It often isn’t until our later years when poor habits catch up with us is a variety of ways.

5 Reasons to Love Maintenance (and Self-Care) Programs

1. Saves money and can save lives.

Maintenance programs would have been much cheaper for PG&E than lawsuits they must pay for property damages and lives lost, and then ultimately bankruptcy. These mistakes and the high costs affect us individually.

Routine healthy habits save us time and money, and early intervention and check-ups very often save lives.

2. Saves you money.

Car, equipment,  and home appliance breakdowns can be minimized or eliminated by preventive maintenance. Replacement costs are expensive and environmentally unfriendly as we’ve become a throw-away, not a fix-it society.

This is also true with self-care. A good night’s sleep and healthy prepared meals are far less expensive than a chronic disease as a result of poor health habits.

3. Reduces stress.

Routine maintenance keeps your life, home and business clean and up to date. A tidy, neat environment reduces stress and is more enjoyable and healthier for us too.

4. Improves your health and reduces breakdowns.

Businesses must consider the human value of maintaining their products and equipment to prevent breakdowns or human disasters.

Whether it’s your annual physical check up, preparing and eating nourishing meals, or a regular walk or run with friends, these all help maintain good health and long term benefits.

5. Create rewards for maintenance.

When you take your car in for service, get a latte and bring a favorite book to relax with while waiting. A much nicer experience than waiting on the side of a freeway for a tow truck to pick up your broken down car!

Pairing a reward with a healthy activity, says Gretchen Rubin in her book Better Than Before can help sustain behaviors and build them into our daily lives.

How do you incorporate maintenance routines into your life? We’d like to hear your comments and suggestions and what works for you.



  • Cindy Dower

    Hi Cherryl, great post! So important! I have a morning ritual of coffee, reading, exercise, a Spanish lesson and meditation that I maintain that sets the tone for my day. I take just a few minutes for each, but the cumulative effect for each is amazing over time! I’m stronger and more centered and I’m learning a new language! A recent trip interrupted my ritual and I got sick! That’ll teach me! Next trip I plan to figure out a way to fit it in!

    • Cherryll Sevy

      Thanks Cindy. Sounds like your rituals are really supporting your life and health. You’re not alone in finding it challenging to stick with what works when we’re on vacation or other life issues get in the way. I appreciate your insights.

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