Cristian Mihai, on his blog, just wrote up a thing on defeat. It all boils down to defeats can make us better and stronger than we ever were.
Two of my biggest failures were the very things that made me stronger.
My first failure was I washed out of the police academy. I’d already had a year of active duty on the street, been assaulted twice, hospitalized once, and in my defense I’ll say I was suffering from PTSD a mile wide, and I was really doubtful that I was even cut out for police work. I really didn’t want to do that.
Here was the logic I was using:
- You’re strong, but you’re not a tough guy
- You’re an intellectual.
- You tried it. It’s just not your cup of tea.
The other failure followed soon on the heels of that one. I went into the military. Try going through basic training when you’ve got unresolved issues. It just wasn’t working for me, and my Drills saw it. Basically they let me go.
Two failures! The sad part was I knew both could define me if I let them.
The people around me weren’t any help. They kept telling me that, “you’re just not smart enough”. Or “Sorry, you’re just not tough enough”. Or the most damning of them all, “You’re grave disappointment to us all. You’ll never amount to anything”.
And what’s even more tragic, I came to realize that their words hurt more than the failures. So, I set about fixing that.
I think part of what helped me out was I was willing to talk about it. One of the people I spoke to was my parish Priest. He was a survivor of Dachau Prison, and for such a nice, gentle man, he had more steel in his backbone than a battleship has. He’d gone toe to toe with the Nazi’s, taken the worst they could toss out at him, and came out the other side.
He listened. And then he asked me the one question everyone else should have been asking, “Are you able to live with the failure?”
My answer was, “Father, not only ‘no’, but ‘Hell no’!”
He smiled, and said, “Then get out there, and do something about it”.
When I washed out of the academy, I learned that you could retake the test within two years, and that would become your final. So, I hit the books. I studied everything. And then our county sheriff took a chance on me. He hired me as a deputy sheriff, and I was able to put it into practice what I was learning. He was also an old marine, and understood what people go through. All in all, I owe a debt of gratitude to him for giving me the chance, and pushing me to become better.
So a year later, I went up to Golden and retook the test. It was hard. I had a lot riding on it. And I went home not knowing if I’d made it or not.
The Sheriff called me about a week later with the news. “Not only did you pass it, you aced it with a 96%.” Someplace over the San Luis Valley, that whoop of conquest is still hovering in the mountain air.
So one down, one to go.
It was almost six years before I tried the military again.
Some of you might be familiar with praying. If you are, then you know God answers prays three ways, “yes”, “No”, and “Wait”. God and I had a lot of discussions about that failure. I was all too aware that fail was a scar across my soul, and while I still had an honorable discharge, I viewed it as a failure still.
Well, I’d been Chief of Police in a small mountain community. It’s was a great place to be a cop. The problem was, the local mine pretty much kept everything afloat, and when it closed, so did everything else. We are all too aware that the community’s tax base had gone to heck, and homes and businesses were boarding up and closing.
Some soul even hung a sign up on the city limits asking that the last person to leave, please turn the light off. That’s pretty much what it amounted to.
One day, the mayor called a meeting of all the town employees and said, “I’ve good news, and I’ve bad news. First the good news. End of month check is three months’ pay. Now for the bad. It’s severance pay. We no longer have enough to keep everything running.”
So, I’ve a mortgage, car payments, and I’m out of a job. I start looking at other departments. They either aren’t hiring, or I’d have to go through a month’s long testing process. And I’m on unemployment with the bank slowly taking away everything I own.
You know you’re starting to get a little desperate when you start putting in applications at McDonalds and the like, and after a day of finding nothing, I was walking down the street and passed the Army recruiters office. I stopped, looked at the window, and walked in.
There was a staff Sergeant behind the desk. He asked if he could help me.
“You’ll probably toss me out when I tell you how old I am,” I said.
He asked how old I was, I told him, and he said “Sit down”.
A month later I was the oldest male PFC in the US Army that had never been busted down.
My age and experience actually worked well for me. I went in as an MP, and I got assignments I would never have even been considered for elsewhere. I worked two years undercover narcotics, another two years plain clothes investigations, and another year doing VIP security. I then went over to the Combat MP side of the house and went with 1st Armored Division to the Gulf War.
All that to say, that defeats can define who you become. If you choose to wallow in them, you will stay defeated.
But use them to make you stronger, and you’ll go places you’ve never been.