It was about this time (beginning of 4th month on the team) in my last tour when I had a couple of teammates make it a point to tell me that they were definitely being stretched in their jobs. As the Commanding Officer, I had been asking some of them to do things they had not previously done in ways they had not considered. Others were just feeling the pressure of doing more. Regardless of their situation, I was pleased by the circumstances. It is healthy for us to be operating near or at our limits. If energy is being properly focused, finding ourselves in such a situation is usually a signal that we are growing. I say usually because I am being reminded that operating in such a way for an extended period of time can have negative effects.

My current tour of duty has me feeling much like those teammates. While I arrived comfortably prepared for my role as Commanding Officer, it was impossible to be truly prepared for the role in which I currently find myself. While last time around part of my job was to stretch the minds of my teammates, I find that I am squarely among the ones being stretched. While back then I took great pride in inspiring others to grow beyond their current role, I find myself working hard to grow into the responsibilities for which I have been charged. I am not at all pleased with the way I am executing my role today, but I am excited about the leader I will become by the end of this chapter as a result of my efforts to exceed the high expectations I’ve set for myself.

I remember going to school and taking that first test in a class. It always stressed me out, because the law of averages dictated that through my performance on that one test I was either digging a hole that I’d have to work hard to make up for or I would set the right tone and give myself room to make a mistake later in the course. Ready or not, that test grade stuck with you and informed your ultimate mark. If you wanted an ‘A’ it was important to get an ‘A’ on every test. Even if you had demonstrated mastery of the material on the final, there was no way to completely undue any less than satisfactory scores used to assess the abilities of your previous self. Often times, our previous self set anchor in a way that was impossible to completely raise.

Stephen Covey famously advised us to “begin with the end in mind.” That’s sound advice and something I apply each and every day. At the same time, the end is usually well over the horizon and the day to day distractions fight hard to take us off course. And sometimes those distractions, or at least what we characterize as distractions, are the course. Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

As leaders, the opportunities we attempt to help others create are often times seen merely as obstacles by those very teammates. Some will cower in the face of the obstacle, while others will stand proudly on the platform of opportunity after masterfully overcoming the obstacle. As doers, the way we see the obstacle is completely our choice. Of late, I have graded myself as below average on some of the ‘quizzes’ I have taken and many of the obstacles have given me reason to question my own abilities. At the end of this and every chapter of life, our metric should not be what we have done, where we have succeeded, and where we have fallen short. Instead, it is the person we have (and helped others to) become as a result of the process.

We may fall short more often than we care to admit, but it is not success at the beginning that matters. It’s success at the end. Contrary to what we were taught in school, it’s important to let ourselves off the hook for that low grade on yesterday’s pop quiz. Most of the time we learn more from that ‘C’ than we do that ‘A’. As uncomfortable as it may be to admit, these days I am learning more than I have in years. My challenge is in being truly comfortable with being this uncomfortable.

  • Are you comfortable falling short?
  • Are you able to let go of the anchors set by your previous self?
  • How much learning are you doing these days?