Life's a challenge - No pain no gain

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Robinson
  • 315th Operations Group deputy commander

I have been watching the reality show “Alone” on the History Channel for the last few days; the show features ten male contestants who are placed on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  These men are sent out by themselves and they are allowed ten survival items they select to carry with them.  They are totally isolated.  There is no camera crew; they have a video camera to record the experience, and a satellite cell phone to call in case of an emergency or when they decide to “Tap out”.  The last man standing gets $500,000.  I have seen six episodes so far and there are four observations I’ll share about what I have seen: people were not designed to be alone; the words we speak affect the way we feel and behave; setbacks or obstacles can make us stronger or end dreams; and the older men in this series seem to be doing better than the younger men.

We were not designed to be alone, whether extravert or introvert, we need someone to connect to and experience life with.  The Air Force tries to instill this concept of relying on a confidant through the Wingman program.  The contestants would feel more secure if they had someone with them, someone “in the game” that had their back, shared in the security of the camp, and protection for each other.  As a friend, wingman, coworker, or neighbor, people need to know someone cares about them enough to listen to them or just do something together.  I always have an easier time getting my workout done or have a stronger workout when I have a partner participating with me.

The words we speak affect the way we feel or behave.  While on the Island, these men are required to film themselves and talk about their experience.  They tend to talk about being wet, cold, hungry, scared, and longing to see their families.  Although valid points, it gives them an opportunity to speak negative words, dwell on the situation, and this brings on self-pity and gloom.  A partner could let them get those feelings out and then encourage them to continue.  I whole heartedly believe in the power of words!  What we say is what we get.  This applies to our spouse or children as well.  What we say to them directly affects how they feel about their worth and lives.  We can speak great things, or tear them down based on how we talk to them.  The words we choose; positive words vs negative.  Please and thank you are words that add kindness and grace to our daily interactions and relationships with others.  Encouraging others with positive words can help them accomplish things greater than they think possible.  Positive self-talk can make the difference between finishing the 1.5 mile run, or running a personal best.

Setbacks or obstacles can either make us stronger or end our dreams.  During one of the episodes of Alone, a couple of contestants experienced a set-back and decided to “Tap out”.  One contestant lost his fire starter, with a fire burning, and decided it was time to quit.  A couple of contestants have allowed fear, disappointment, or frustration to push them over the edge and quit.  We encounter setbacks often in life; some are small while others are more significant.  You have to experience a disappointment to know what it feels like and learn to work through it.  Once you encountered the same or similar setback, it is not as traumatic as before.  Michael Phelps’ swim coach would throw setbacks into Michael’s training in order to prepare him for a race; one in particular was leaky goggles.  He had leaking goggles in one of his Olympic races and it wasn’t a big deal since he had already experienced it.

Age has its advantages.  The older men on Alone seem to be doing better in this adventure.  The older contestants have experienced more in life.  They have experienced setbacks and disappointments and lived through them and know that life is full of ups and downs and there will be better times ahead.  They understand you can sit around and complain or get up and “git ‘er done”.  Doing something to make your situation better is always better than complaining.  If the younger contestants could tap into that wisdom, it would be called mentoring.  Haven’t heard that in the Air Force, have you?  Mentoring is a great way to learn from the experience of others.  Again, don’t do life alone.  As a parent, it was always nice to talk to others with older children and learn that their kids did the same things; it’s a phase that will pass while another challenge rises.  People with more birthdays tend to be patient as well, and that helps in dealing with people and situations.  Sometimes things don’t change overnight and you just have to wait and see.

Life is a challenge.  Life in the military adds to the challenge.  I encourage people to stretch themselves.  This may mean overcoming the awkwardness of reaching out to and getting to know someone, or opening up to someone so you can be known better.  Maybe pushing yourself to work out more, do better on the PT test, or find a mentor who will guide and facilitate your growth.  It takes time to build relationships, but it is time well spent.  Sometimes it takes sacrifice.  In the end, you will learn more about yourself and grow.  Sometimes it can be painful.  Running a sub 20 minute 5K race will include pain.  Learning a truth about yourself can also be painful.  It’s worth the pain.  Having friends, family, coworkers, and mentors around you to share life’s experiences will make you stronger and take you further than you can imagine.       

For more tools to help you to succeed in the game of life, turn to the Wingman Toolkit: HERE 

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