I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I am SO stinkin’ EXCITED to welcome the New Year…2011 BABY!! 2010 was a total roller coaster ride for me emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Some days I was shaken to my very soul. I was made to face a lot of demons I had been suppressing since I was five. I had not talked about what happened to me and NEVER verbalized or admitted to myself what really occurred. I just built a safe mental brick wall to hide behind and keep myself safe.
The hard part was these feelings are exactly what has made me so successful as a Soldier and Leader. I never had to concentrate on me. I always had Soldiers to worry about. Patients to worry about. Clinics or Aid Stations to worry about. Military equipment to worry about. Paperwork to worry about. Until I found those lumps in my breast early in the year, I never had to worry much about me. In the Army, someone always needs your help whether it is a physical injury, or just a shoulder to cry on. You are normally busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are lucky enough to have some down time, you are trying to finish a college degree, trying to get into better shape, attending schools, training harder and training your Soldiers harder to be even more technically and tactically proficient, or just worrying if you are doing everything right, being fair, following rules and regulations and studying them so you don’t get in trouble for minor infractions. If that isn’t enough, you are worrying about your subordinates, what they are doing and whom they are doing it with.
A dark cloud just looms over and follows you, waiting for one of your Soldiers to make the wrong decision, because, after all, it is your fault your subordinate makes a mistake like getting a DUI or having a motorcycle accident. You somehow didn’t mentor, coach, or motivate the subordinate enough. You didn’t know your Soldier. You couldn’t predict this behavior, or didn’t report this behavior. You, as a Leader, did something or didn’t do something to cause your Soldier to make the choice he or she made. It is your responsibility. Your fault. It is your burden to bear. You are incompetent and unfit to lead.
The biggest lesson I learned in 2010 was it isn’t my fault. Do you hear that US Army? It isn’t my fault. Soldiers have a choice and no matter what I do, how much time and effort I put into my job, how many community services I ensure the Soldier uses, how many times we go to the “oak tree” to talk, how many event oriented counselings I do, how many late nights and early mornings I spend trying to mentor, coach, and motivate my subordinates…THEIR CHOICES ARE NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY!
It is so common for Leaders to blame everyone else but the subordinate for the subordinates’ actions, but in the end, every individual makes choices and they are responsible for the consequences of their individual choices. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE! When I meet my maker and I have to answer for my actions, there is no one else to blame but myself. Not my spouse. Not my family. Not my boss. Not my peers. Certainly not my government, environment or society. Me, myself, and I are to blame or to be rewarded for my choices and only the good Lord has a say.
The important thing isn’t what happens to us in life, it is how we handle it. One way or another the demon has to be faced. Some are lucky enough to have an excellent support system to ensure that matters are dealt with quickly, communication flows freely, empathy is the norm, compassion, understanding, patience, and unconditional love exists and flourishes. Most are not that lucky today. How we cope and deal with life’s challenges is the utmost importance, not what happened or why it happened or how unjust what happened was.
This realization was such a HUGE WEIGHT off my shoulders! Suddenly, I felt better about life. The dark looming cloud lifted. I felt empowered. I realized I was so burdened blaming myself for every single person’s demons. I was wearing every ones’ scarlet “A”s on my chest. Why? I think it was because no one else was being a true Leader. It is easy to try to control someone when they are carrying this load. You can be guilted, manipulated, and taught to take the blame of someone else’s choices even though it isn’t your scarlet “A” to bear. The Army doesn’t have many true Leaders, or many subordinates that take responsibility for their own actions. I really think the idea of entitlement and not taking responsibility for your own actions has become our cultural norm.
What a feeling to give all that up! I empathize when people are going through struggles. I try to be compassionate, understanding, and patient using the grace of the Lord. I keep faith that everything is going to be all right and I don’t have to control every single event that happens in my life. The saying “shit happens” is totally true. The key is how you perceive it and handle it that really counts.