Enlisting in the Navy was a wild ride. As an upcoming senior in high school I answered the call to go “Full Speed Ahead.” What can is say? That cheesy commercial got me. I was eager to get on with the next stage of my life so I entered the delayed entry program and waited until graduation. I graduated on the 4th of June and went to Great Lakes for recruit training on the 7th of June. Boot camp was exhilarating and confusing, but really not that difficult if you just do what you’re told.
The next step in my journey required that I attend Jet Engine Mechanic schooling in Millington, TN. I learned about engine design and theory, proper maintenance techniques, and how to form good habits by using tool control. All of these would be invaluable after graduation when I entered the fleet. My duty station was VFA-105 in Cecil Field, FL. This is where I fell in love with the F/A-18.
See what I mean?
Our squadron was forward deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf in my time in service, and I will never forget the first time onboard the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. I had heard the horror stories of the danger that ensued on the fight deck. People had warned me over and over, “This is one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet.” Honestly, this only made the job more interested and exciting. I am unsure if it was the call to adventure, my naiveté or pride (or all of it), but I was excited to see what it was all about.
As we approached the flight deck, the noise was deafening and the smell of jet fuel was in the air. Between the machinery, the catapults, and multiple aircraft engines turning, I was very disoriented. But it was a beautiful symphony of aircraft, weaponry and human ingenuity. Walking onto the flight deck during flight ops required that we enter in behind the “island” (i.e. superstructure). Turning the corner, I was reminded of what my leading petty officer (LPO) told me, “Keep your head on a swivel!” He had drilled that into my mind over and over. He explained that this would keep me safe and alive. These were things I wanted to hang onto so I listened. He was imparting to me a valuable piece of advice that needed to become a habit. This habit of continually looking around would be successfully practiced hundreds of times. Erasmus rightly said, “Habit is overcome by habit.” In that industry, “keeping your head on a swivel” keeps you alive. Consequently, this habit replaces the habit of simply walking around passively unaware. This one habit may have saved my life and your habits may indeed bring about a better future.
In my latest blog post, “Resilience,” I gave five different habits that I have formed over time that have helped me to traverse hardships, get through difficult seasons in life and avoid further pain. These habits have been learned and often applied to help me become a better man, better father, better friend and a better man of God (this informs all others).
The first habit, Accept Failure (as a part of growth), has proven to be the most difficult and still, the most rewarding. I am a driven, pretty well organized guy who wants to make things better. This starts with me. My personality type is known to have an “inner critic” that seeks perfection in self. Of course, perfection is a myth and even excellence changes invariably, but this “inner critic” can also be used for good. When it goes awry, however, this “inner critic” isn’t a help to others or myself. Instead, it is combative and corrosive. It can bring about defensiveness, prideful resentment, and self-hatred. I have lived way to many years of my life with these beliefs and behaviors.
The habit of accepting failure as a part of growth has been very beneficial for my mental, spiritual and emotional health. I have accepted that failure is inevitable but that doesn’t mean I am a failure. I have been reminded many times that , “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) In other words, I am not bound and enslaved to the “inner critic.” My old self (and the inner critic) has been done away with and replaced with a new system upgrade for my heart, mind and soul. This new operating system is powered by the love of God, and not my fleeting ability to be perfect or fix myself. This has been the genesis of a new way of living and gaining resilience. As Aristotle rightly applied, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” This is a problem with those bent on a stoic version of manhood. The heart is the driver within the person, not the mind. The mind is subservient to the heart. Borrowing an analogy from the philosopher Dallas Willard, “The heart is the hardware and the mind is the software.” You can upgrade the software (mind), but the hardware (heart) will determine what the computer (person) will do. The Divine grace offers a new heart that has been offered through Christ.
“A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying “Why?” Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
This new heart has given me the freedom to be the better version of myself without feeling like I need to be critical of others or myself. Therefore, failure is no longer an enemy. It is a reminder of how loved I am even though I may fall flat time after time. Gentlemen breathe in this gem from Alexander Pope, “To err is human; to forgive Divine.” God gives forgiveness to the repentant sinner and then, that repentant sinner (me) can forgive themselves. Only then, can the “inner critic” be a help to form resilience and improvement without self-destruction. The new heart keeps me from having to “white knuckle” through adversity, pain and hardship.
The second habit that I introduced was Keep Things in Perspective. The runaway train of mind is a sadistic and tyrannical conductor that drives men away from their calling, their nobility and the virtues that spur good character. We, as humans, have inherited a nature that keeps us from seeing the big picture. We can get lost in our daily lives because of the monotony of life and our selfish pursuits. Henceforth, we can be so infused with ourselves that pain can be the only thing that helps us to stop and gain our bearings. It is easy to see the thing that is right in front of us but miss the beauty around us. Adversity can break through our facade. Pain can be used to help men “put their head on a swivel” instead of “putting their heads in the sand” in passive denial.
Gentlemen look above the plow lines. Let’s see what we have learned, the gifts we currently possess, and the purpose that may be cultivated in this situation. These are building blocks of resilience. What kind of man overcomes adversity by moving forward, a strong one? Is a man who acknowledges emotional trauma lesser of a man? Not at all. He is human. Let me pose this to you. Everyone walks with a limp but it isn’t always visible. Again. Everyone walks with a limp. No one gets out without scars and wounds. Or as many others have said, “Be kind [even to yourself] for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.” Reality check. You are not the only one. Be kind to yourself and others for this honors God and it is very good for you.
As it pertains to pain, adversity and hardship, you may never “get over it” but you can learn from it. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may not be able to move on like before so you may have to move forward like never before. The way you and I may move forward is by the grace of God. By keeping this in perspective, our lives are enriched and our nobility in tact.
Resilience can be shaped by our hearts, further developed in the mind and reinforced by daily practices. Again one of my favorite quotes from Aristotle, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
I hope this post has been helpful for you. If so, it would consider it an honor to get the word out to other men. The content at A New Kind of Man builds upon one these four pillars: physical strength, emotional depth, spiritually maturity, and intellctual ability.
I will unpack Habit #3-5 in a later post.
All scriptures referenced are from the New Living Translation