One of my dreams was to fly fighters. The power of this dream had carried me through many difficult things over nearly two years of Air Force flight training and education. Now it was time to complete one last hurdle … land survival training … in Northern Washington … in the dead of winter. I really had put the thought far from mind as I worked through the other flying schools. Now, the reality of survival training was here.
We began the classroom training and all seemed straight-forward enough. The instructors made many things sound logical and I began to think this training might not be too bad. I was, after all, familiar with the outdoors from earlier hunting, hiking and camping trips. Wouldn’t it be like that?
One of my early clues that this would be some different was when we began making our own “tents” from parachute silk. As we assembled the supplies, we were fitted for snowshoes. This was my second clue about the challenges that lay ahead.
The outdoor part of the training began by adjusting to being active with almost no food. We hiked more and more each day using the snowshoes which only made us hungrier. Sleeping under the individual silk parachute on top of four feet of snow was a new experience as well. The challenge was the instructors would leave us in the late afternoon with a list of several things to do before the next morning. As team leader, I became more and more frustrated as we kept failing to complete the assignments from now allowing enough time.
As we proceeded farther into the week, the demands increased as did the failure rate. We tried to improve our teamwork and think of new ways to meet the requirements but to no avail. Even worse, the instructors began breaking our team into smaller groups making the requirements more difficult yet. I eventually switched to “survival” mode and simply tried to make the best of the circumstances. This tested my patience because at times it seemed I was simply playing games. In reality, the instructors were trying to teach lessons that would help should any of us find ourselves in desperate circumstances.
I am not allowed to talk about the last few days of training but suffice to say I was fully tested mentally and physically. At times, it seemed as if time had stood still and we were forgotten. I persevered – almost mechanically. Thankfully, the dream of flying burned brightly in my mind and fueled a persistence I did not know was there. Suddenly, the training was over. We made it through. It may not have been elegant but we were now graduates and a little wiser for the hardships.
While I realize there are many military folks who have gone through more difficult training and conditions than I, Air Force survival training taxed my stamina at the time and gave me greater confidence that lasts to this day. I now believe most of us have hidden reserves that can be tapped in the most difficult times.
Committing to learn as a leader requires persistence as well. At times, the office politics, unreasonable policy demands or simple tiredness lead to less than stellar relations or decisions. One key part of developing as a leader is to learn disciplined perseverance. This requirement usually occurs when a leader faces setbacks. Conceptually, continually look for any small leverage points that will help you improve as a leader and influence others to do right as well. Here are some application ideas.
1. Re-double Preparation and Personal Growth Efforts – At times, a growing leader may feel frustrated by a lower than ideal influence at work. In times like these, when you feel like you are marching in place, re-direct the energy into your own personal development. Check out a leadership book from the library, record your difficult time in a journal including lessons learned or call that mentor you haven’t talked with in a while.
2. Look for Ways to Improve in Your Personal Relationships – If you are feeling under-valued at work, don’t take it out on your friends and family, embrace them! Re-focus the negative emotions on making your personal life even better. Exercising positive influence for those you most care about is satisfying.
3. Keep Doing the Right Thing – The natural human reaction to difficult times can be to lash out or do less-than-excellence work. Resist the temptation! Persevering means to do the right thing even when there is little encouragement in the environment. The leaders we most admire are those who cultivated and carried out an innate sense of doing good even in the face of bad stuff.
When all else fails … just keep going! Sometimes it’s that simple.
- Perseverance: Chad Crittenden’s Story : ASInside – What if one day you were diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer and had to have your leg amputated? How would you feel? How would you cope? Well Chad Crittenden, the keynote speaker for the 2011 Disability Awareness Day, experienced just that. Crittenden was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma, which led to the amputation of his leg. Just nine months after his surgery, Crittenden was a contestant on CBS’ Survivor: Vanuatu.