How Hardship Makes You Stronger

Like most of you, I have gone through some very difficult times in life, but one two week period a couple of years ago was one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced.

I had been the Commander of a Field Artillery Battery for about one year at that point in time, and until then, things had been going pretty well. I’d taken command of a notoriously under performing unit and had been tasked with turning it around with the help of some great Lieutenants and a new First Sergeant.

But in just a matter of a few days, all the wheels fell off and I was left reeling. The first incident occurred on the first day of a 15 day field exercise. I want bore you with the details, but a vehicle, trailer, and eight Soldiers wound up in a river, completely submerged and lucky to be alive. The truck, trailer, and computer equipment were destroyed, but thankfully all eight Soldiers emerged from the rushing water unharmed. All told, that accident caused over $50,000 of damage to the equipment, and suddenly I had a bulls-eye on my back.

Just 48 hours later, while in a meeting with the Battalion Commander and the rest of the staff, I got a phone call that there had been another accident. This time, there had been no danger to Soldiers, but one of my $1.1 million Howitzers had been flipped when the truck towing it had run off the road and into a ditch.

After arriving on the scene and watching the recovery efforts, I found out the next day that the damage amounted to over $260,000. In the span of 48 hours, we had caused more damage to Army equipment than my house was worth. That was a very sobering thought.

Finally, as the field exercise was ending, we discovered that a sensitive piece of communication equipment was missing. After going through an exhaustive investigation led by our higher headquarters, it was determined that a Soldier had been grossly negligent and lost it. But that negligence stained me as well, for as the Commander, you are responsible for everything your unit does AND fails to do. In this case, we had not ensured that the equipment had been properly kept under lock and key.

15 days and three major incidents. I was very close to being fired. Even though I wasn’t directly responsible for any of the three incidents, I almost lost my livelihood. To make matters worse, my wife and daughter were in Turkey for the summer, so I didn’t even have my family support system to come home to. I was in an extremely bad state, and to be honest, it lasted for a long time.

Other fallout from these events lasted much longer, so my mental state remained damaged for a long time. As I sought respite and attempted to get myself back on track, I began to learn and study about resilience, grit, and Stoicism. This probably saved me from falling into full blown depression.

To me, resilience and grit are two very closely related life skills that you need in order to get over hardship and achieve success in life. Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from hardship, is something that seems to be missing in many people today. Maybe it’s because folks have grown up thinking they are owed something in life, or are too lazy to work for what they want. But when life punches them in the face, they can’t or won’t get back up.

Grit, on the other hand, is the ability to persevere and keep pushing and driving towards your goals, wishes and desires. Again, many people give up when things don’t go just their way and never realize just how close they might have been to achieving success.

My studies led me to Stoicism which, unlike most people’s view of it, is not about suppressing your emotions and joy, but about loving life and all that it has to offer, but not becoming so attached to things that when you lose them, you become crushed. And you will lose everything, if simply by your own death.

Money, love, family, material things; they will all be gone one day. Enjoy them while you have them and cherish every day. But when they are gone, adapt to your new reality and learn to love it as well. If you are resilient and have grit, be confident that you can get back what you lost.

Today, things are still not perfect. It’s been two and a half years and I still have an investigation hanging over my head regarding the Soldier who lost the equipment. But, it is only temporary and one day it will all end. That’s what is great about life; it is ever-changing.

Be grateful for what you have, but if you lose it, be resilient and bounce back. Show grit and fight to regain it. But remember, even if you never get it back, you will always have something to be grateful for.