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Caring Too Much

Back in 2013, I was the lead operations engineer for a shutdown event. It was not a full unit turnaround, however it did involve replacing the unit's reactors, which had been in operation since the unit was first built nearly 50 years ago, with new ones. On top of that, we had to inspect the unit flare drum which required getting the whole unit hydrocarbon free and isolating all the relief valves on the unit. It may not have been classed as a turnaround, but from an operations perspective it may as well have been.

I found the event extremely stressful, to the point where there were multiple occasions when I thought I would walk through the site gate for the last time and never come back. I was working as hard as I could and trying my hardest, but there were so many issues that needed to be dealt with and lots of them came back to myself for fixing. I was weighing myself regularly at the time and it turned out that I was losing about a kilogramme per week for the first three weeks of the event and I didn't have that many kilogrammes on me to start with!

With hindsight, I now know that my problem was that I cared about the success of the event too much. I cared too much about something that was ultimately out of my control. The only thing I could control was my own actions. I may not have been able to predict the blocked fuel gas valve, but I was able to respond and write a new procedure to get around it and then write the plant modification paperwork to fix the problem properly and avoid it happening again. I may have made some mistakes when writing the original procedures, but I was able to get the documents corrected and reissued in a timely manner. I may not have been able to do anything about the equipment failures, but I was able to respond and make the necessary arrangements or changes that were required to continue the event.

In each case, I cared about the event, the external thing that I could not control, rather than the one thing I could control, my actions.

The Stoics believed that we cannot control external things, at best we can influence them. The only thing we should focus on are the things that we do control, our own actions and that we should do them with virtue.

If I had lived that event like a Stoic, if I had known and understood that last paragraph, then I believe I would coped with the unexpected events better and probably made better decisions as a result. It certainly would have been less stressful. But I am not sure if I could have learnt and understood that paragraph without the experience of that shutdown.

As they say:

Experience: You only get it after you need it.

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