With over a dozen years of competitive military service I have become obsessed with being the best at everything I do. This competitive nature in the job makes for some terrific officers. I had focused very heavily on my strengths. And as a leader I also focused heavily on the strengths of my subordinates. But I may have been doing it all wrong.
After having developed a pretty severe weakness as I grew into schizoaffective disorder I couldn’t help but shift my focus onto what was wrong about me instead of what was right about me. My ambitions, characterized by an “I can do anything” attitude turned to the opposite “I can’t do anything.”
As I was riding my motorcycle yesterday it dawned on me that an unrealistic belief of being able to do anything can be just as unhealthy as its pessimistic cousin. Even though the heights I had reached were only perception, I had set myself up for a very far fall.
Now it feels like everything about me is wrong. I can’t be the officer that I once was. I can’t be the friend that I once was. I can’t be the family member that I once was. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
But now, with the glasses of 20/20 hindsight I can look back and see that I had a major weakness: I lived in denial that I had weaknesses. I hid them from others. I hid them from myself. Military culture is set up this way though and it burns a lot of people out. There is an immense pressure that if you are not the best then you are the worst. It’s very Talladega Nights.
Pushing this further into the leadership role, I think my teams could have accomplished so much more if I would have focused more on the soldiers that needed improvement. Sent them to schools and training that normally were reserved for the high performers. Looking at it, I think just as valuable of a skill as recognizing strengths is to recognize weaknesses.
If I wasn’t so afraid of being weak then I wouldn’t have waited so long to get help. I would have grown in strength along with my disease rather than being further weakened by it. I would have recognized that I was afraid of heights and never volunteered for Airborne paratrooping school. I would have recognized that there are some things that I do not have a natural aptitude for and focused more on those, or, conversely, focused on areas that I did.
But the biggest thing is that if I wasn’t so focused on my strengths and being the best then I wouldn’t have been kicked so far from the horse when my schizophrenic symptoms started to take over. I’m in many ways the same person. I shouldn’t be this defeated.