We Lost the Cows…the Power of Self Reflection

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Darrell Lee, Jr., 423rd Medical Squadron commander

As leaders, it is vitally important to reflect and look upon the past experiences that have shaped our lives and affect who we are. There are certain moments, clips of mental images and experiences, that time warp my mind, body and spirit into a “holodeck” like encounter. Encounters that allow me to analyze pensive moments that have impacted my character and in some ways, the leader I have become today. For the non “Trekkies” out there, I’m referring to realistic self-reflection. So, what about the cows? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first some words regarding self-reflection. 

Put simply, self-reflection is a tool that allows us to look back on past experiences with an introspective mindset to learn, grow and improve on actions taken. This could be thinking back over goals and achievements, reviewing how you got there and the outcome. Or looking back over a situation, how it was handled by yourself and others and reflecting on your attitude and feelings at that time. When practicing self-reflection, be mindful to look back over both the positive aspects as well as the challenges. Whatever memories you are reflecting on, it’s beneficial for your mental wellbeing, self-esteem and confidence to take stock of both, as this can help you to adapt and learn from your experiences and move forward. The benefits of self-reflection include reduced stress levels, increased creativity, improved relationships, better decision making and open room for growth. 

For me, there are simple self-reflections that fill me with joy and laughter when I need them most. That’s where the cows come in. On a clear sunny day with the family, we drove passed an empty field which was usually filled with hundreds of livestock. Suddenly, from the backseat, a very high pitched three-year-old voice screamed out, “Dang it, we lost the cows!” There were two seconds of silence and suddenly two parents, three kids, and the three-year-old burst out in uncontrollable and bountiful laughter all the way home. We didn’t know why we were laughing but it was a family moment we all still reflect on. I find myself going back to this moment when I am feeling distant on an extended TDY or just need a good laugh. It’s a simple self-reflection that helps ease my mind. 

Conversely, when there are serious moments that I find myself struggling with a decision or run into difficult situations, I tap into the true self-reflections that allow me to explore what it took to overcome past challenges. I use these experiences as road maps to guide me through introspection of the successes and failures of the past. As a brilliant trauma surgeon once told me, “Take a step back, take a deep breath and check your own pulse before entering the trauma bay.” What he meant was, pause and take a moment to myself, think about what I was about to do, and take time to engage before running into a stressful situation. The challenge in self-reflection is taking the time to take a deep dive into who you are and how you will approach a situation. We are always strapped for time as leaders, the effective and selfless act of self-reflection can enhance our approaches to any situation.

So, Pathfinders, I urge you all to get out there and find those “lost cow” moments and “trauma bay” situations that allow you to incorporate self-reflection in your routine as a leader. We are more effective when we are able to dig back into our past experiences to learn and grow from the actions and decisions we have made.