Like most people right now, I seem to have some spare time on my hands. I can’t remember the last time I was home this long, but I have tackled many of the things on the never-ending “to do” list around the house. I’ve spent time with my loved ones and attempted to make sense of this predicament we find ourselves in. In my professional life and as an Army Ranger, I generally try to be prepared for all imaginable contingencies. I always have a plan and a way to work that plan. With the COVID-19 Pandemic, I’ve found myself spending more time processing emotions and generally wondering what could possibly come next. What I’ve been reminded through all of this uncertainty is that struggle and trials are strong catalysts for change.

The Only Real Tragedy

I consider myself a thinking, restrained introvert; so not being out socializing isn’t a problem. Like many others, my current issue is figuring out where I stand, both personally and professionally, when the dust settles. Despite being a leader and manager in many parts of my life, I find myself wondering what the duty of care is to colleagues, clients, and myself. My focus has been on finding the value in whatever it is I decide to do for the next month (maybe more) and how I will be able to quantify those tasks.

I have come to realize that the only real tragedy would occur if I take no action at all. No matter what new skill I attempt to learn, relationship I work on, or project I tackle; failure is not an option. It’s not an option because just by attempting any of these things, I have succeeded in the attempt. Sometimes failure serves as both the lesson and reward. When scientists conduct an experiment, they want to disprove the hypothesis before proving it. Each lesson in disproving their hypothesis makes the reward of proving it more meaningful.

Success (or Failure) is a Choice

I, too, have experience with failure being a lesson and a reward. I graduated US Army Ranger School class 3-97. I was the Non Commissioned Officer Honor Graduate and Peer Leadership award winner, but the thing I never used to talk about was the fact that I failed a prerequisite course before Ranger School.

Prior to starting Ranger School, most students must pass a “Pre-Ranger” selection in order to be granted admission. As a rule, the curriculum is designed to make sure candidates have the physical and mental abilities required to have a reasonable chance at passing Ranger School. The attrition rate is quite high for both courses as there are a series of standard physical tests that must be passed. In my case, “Pre- Ranger” was run by the 75th Ranger Regiment and lasted three weeks.

The 12-mile road march event became my nemesis. This test required walking twelve miles in formation in less than three hours. The catch? Students must have 45-60 pounds of equipment on their back. While it’s not fun for anyone, most of the guys had no problem. Not me, though. For me, it was horrible! I had subconsciously made it a barrier that I told myself I couldn’t overcome.

Because of my own subconscious block, I failed and was recycled into the next Pre– Ranger class.

I was ashamed that I mentally quit during the event, and embarrassed that I couldn’t do what others could. While they gave me one more chance, I felt sorry for myself and couldn’t see the opportunity presented. A second chance.

Through determination and change in mentality, I completed the daunting task on the next go. I went on to graduate Ranger School at the top of my class. It took me years (and admittedly a little maturity) to realize that the initial road march failure is why I was able to do so well in Ranger School. The opportunity to learn from my mistake, feel the shame and embarrassment, and be honest with myself was the best lesson of the entire experience.

 

Sometimes Failure Needs an Outside Perspective

Looking back, I believe that I initially subconsciously used my Pre-Ranger failure as a lesson during tough times, especially in combat. I was fortunate enough to have had incredible mentors throughout my life. People who cared enough to teach and lead by example. Over time, and with their guidance, I learned to draw on my failures so much that I began to call them lessons.

The Pre- Ranger Instructors did me a huge favor by being indifferent to my passing the course. I could either try again, or quit. It was really that simple. By making this decision mine, I became the only one responsible for the outcome. Just as other mentors have taught me about responsibility – I am accountable for all that I do OR

fail to do. I think of failure as a lesson and am keenly aware of one powerful fact — my personal performance and the results are always up to me.

How Your Struggles Can Fuel Purpose

In theses uncertain times, it’s our agility as leaders that makes the difference between failure and success. It’s also how we define those two terms that allows us the ability to process these experiences into lessons. I continually seek to be around others whom I admire. If I am the smartest guy in the room, I am in the wrong room.

By utilizing the generous lessons life has taught those in my network, I become more agile. By sharing life’s lessons with others, I became a leader! Practice and repetition are equally important to introspection and honesty. When I learned to put a lid on my ego, my ability to lead others grew. I became a better leader and mentor to those for whom I have a duty of care.

Business Continuity Through Change

As uncontrollable outside influences drive our marketplace, don’t be afraid to seek personal and business continuity through change. Try new things, apply metrics, and listen to emerging ideas. You cannot fail. With honest scrutiny you can only learn.

At the end of this pandemic, maybe you’ll realize that having remote employees lowers overhead or Costs of Goods Sold. Maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that efficiency or profit has dropped, and co-located workspace is a better fit for your organization. Either way, you haven’t failed if you have led your organization in an honest and magnanimous attempt.

This holds true for our personal lives and individual development as well. By attempting to learn a new skill, or practice a new concept, we become better leaders. Adult learning can be difficult, but use your experience to better understand how others may learn more ef@iciently. While we are all human, we certainly are not all the same. Embrace that and seek the change that will better your organization. I don’t ever want to be the smartest man in the room, but that doesn’t stop me from learning and trying new things!

That failed road march attempt has recently given me the insight and con@idence to check a couple things off my secret bucket list. (I now have the time, so that is not an excuse.) One of those items is writing this blog for anyone interested in reading it. Sharing my “failure” to remind others that their own can also be a profound life lesson!

And now I’m off for a quarantined online guitar lesson (one more of the skills on my bucket list)! While I can hardly call it a skill yet, the only way to fail is if I do not try!

 

 

About the Author — Mike Millett
Mike is a former member of the US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and a Distinguished Honor Graduate of the US Army’s Ranger School. Mike currently works as a Risk Management Consultant specializing in leading teams (multiple industries) in austere or difficult environments around the world.  Mike is a business owner, corporate leadership coach and adventure travel enthusiast.