Attorney Garrett T. Smith

By Attorney Garrett T. Smith

Do you ever feel like you have no control over your own life or that things are happening so quickly and so often that you can’t keep up? These questions have been on my mind lately as I have been trying to manage my time in a way that allows me to keep up with work while still carving out quality time to spend with my family. My thoughts recently culminated in the following question: Do I want to be in firefighting or fire prevention?

In Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the very first habit is “Be Proactive” – this is the concept of taking control of your life and acting as an agent rather than reacting as an object. In other words, you are acting rather than being acted upon. Firefighting is a reactive mentality. When I am in this frame of mind, I tend to ignore potential problems until they figuratively start burning. Conversely, fire prevention falls into the realm of proactivity and involves seeking for ways to avoid or prepare for crises. Fire prevention requires greater discipline and planning, because you have to give attention to aspects of life that are not currently burning.

The benefit of understanding true principles is that they can be applied to any scenario, including parenting. After finishing law school, we lived in a temporary rental property. The landlord had not engaged in fire prevention with regard to mouse activity, and we were thrust into the firefight. Trying to address the problem, we laid out sticky traps around the kitchen. We had a crawling toddler at the time who put his hand on a trap. It was messy to clean, and my wife asked that we all help to keep it from happening again. After work one day, I was reading something on my phone rather than actively engaging with my kids. Although I heard the “warning” sounds of the crawler fussing, I did not engage until he was crying. My older child was laying on top of the baby, and I reacted angrily. Pretty soon, I had two crying children, but I felt justified in my reaction. As things settled down, my older child explained the intent of his efforts was to stop the baby from touching the sticky traps. I would have handled the situation much differently had I acted proactively.

When it comes to estate planning, many people take the firefighter approach. Unfortunately, after someone passes away or becomes incapacitated, this approach usually ends up in court with greater expenses of time and money. Taking a fire prevention approach is a great gift to your heirs. I am hosting educational estate planning webinars on February 4th, at 6:00 p.m. and February 9th, at 1:00 p.m. You can register for either webinar at

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