What would I tell my 18-year-old self?
I would tell my bandana-wearing, Red Man-chewing, 18-year-old self that it will get easier. You will get stronger, both physically and mentally. You will settle in and hit your stride. There will be inevitable setbacks as this is a difficult career, but you will overcome them.
I would tell myself to be kinder to the other women in fire. You are not in competition with each other. Her success is not your failure, but a win for you, too. Celebrate it and build your girl gang. These women will become your closest allies, your cheerleaders, your best friends.
I would tell myself to aspire to more. Try a season on a hand crew in an amazing location far from home. Set your sights on a hotshot crew. Seek out those learning opportunities and do not be afraid to ask for them.
The most important thing I would tell my younger self is to enjoy it.
You will never be as young and carefree as you are now. It might not feel like it now, but you will miss the long shifts of mop-up and spiking out and project work. You will remember your first fire season forever. These will be some of the best days of your life.