FAILURE: A Foundation to Resiliency

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brian R. Mack
  • 423rd Security Forces Squadron

Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest steppingstones to success.
-Dale Carnegie

Resiliency. That’s a tough word for me. It sounds so clinical, but I get it. As a 25-year career Airman, I’ve seen my friends, leaders and Air Force families around me “dig in” and “dig deep” to roll with the good and bad that life can throw at you.

I’ve had to dig in myself, and I’ve had others support me to dig deep. It’s what we in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa know as GRIT, the hustle needed to preserve.

In moments of success, grit gives you that added boost – like a shot of adrenaline. In failure, though, grit can sting and be underappreciated for the drive it gives us.

I can still remember my first Air Force failure like it was just the other day. It happened while I was attending Security Forces Technical Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas – that’s right, a sitting Security Forces commander failed at basic defender 101. It was 1994, so things were a little different and my instructors weren’t kind in letting me know that I failed a written exam. In their minds it was simple; but in mine, I knew test taking was a challenge that preceded my military career. Despite the harsh reality served up that day, I understood the point that I needed to do better. So, I dug in – just enough to pass the test the next time.

Not long after tech school, I had the opportunity to attend Airmen Leadership School at F.E Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.; and, sure enough I failed another written exam. This time the instructors announced the scores in front of the whole class. It wasn’t a shining moment as I realized at the end of the roll, I was the only person who failed. But I dug in to combat my test-taking phobia. And with one of my instructors offering a little study guidance – I passed the test. Despite the passing grade, I still felt like a giant failure as I looked around at all of my peers wondering why it was so easy for them, and yet, such a challenge for me. I was struggling to figure out why I was different, but I soon realized I wasn’t any different, I just wasn’t that great at taking written tests and needed to dig a little deeper.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the challenge of test taking that I brought with me before enlisting in the military was one area were my resiliency was defined and matured.

As a I transitioned from enlisted to officer, I again found myself again digging in to persevere through officer training school as I was challenged with sub-standard test scores. The biggest difference this time was I realized that those around me were there to help me dig deep. My wingmen took the time to sit down and talk with me about my study techniques. My classmates helped me find my grit to develop the skills and courage to approach studying with a different technique. I took what they gave me and used it not only to pass the rest of the tests in OTS, but also to outscore everyone else in the class. It was the first time in my career that I realized my own internal beliefs about my test taking abilities were inconsistent with the possible realities. I was actually not bad at taking test, I just needed to dig in and dig deep to build the confidence and the proper techniques to prepare for a test.

I realize now that failure doesn’t always have to be a sharp sting, it can just be sign that we need to dig in and find our grit to push toward success. I won’t stop failing, but I also won’t stop trying. Each failure is an opportunity to learn what we are made of. Not every failure is story worthy, but we do pull out of failure through our grit, and that of supervisors, peers, subordinates, and family and friends around each of us that help us dig in. That is our resiliency.