Commentary

July 26, 2013

Leap to your limits

Lt. Col. Oliver K. Leeds
92nd Air Refueling Squadron

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -†One of the lessons I carry around with me every day is something I learned from the jumping events in high school track and field.

I was intimidated by the high jump. Unlike the long jump, where every leap into the sand pit could be measured and faults were not embarrassing, the high jump presented a daunting binary challenge: clear the bar or make an embarrassing spectacle. Knocking the bar down could hurt if it landed between me and the mat, and the groans from spectators could be ego devastating.

Some of my long jumps were better than others, but none felt like failures. In the high jump, however, failure was certain. Every competition has the same sequence: jump, succeed; jump, succeed; jump, fail. It was always there, stalking me. Eventually, my limits prepared me to announce to the world, “I failed!”

One day, at my more comfortable long jump pit, my attitude swung 180 degrees. Simply put, I was discontented not knowing if I had done my best. Could I have run faster? Did I jump too far behind the line? Should I have waited for the breeze to shift directions? The second guessing went on and on. I didn’t have this problem in the high jump. In the high jump, I always knew I did my best, because I pushed myself until I failed. Eureka!

Had I found comfort in failure? Yes, because it assured me I had done my best, and removed regrets for not having tried.

My thoughts turned immediately to the sealed and addressed, yet unmailed, envelope on my desk at home. It was college application season, and I had been accepted to all four schools to which I had applied. But the application on my desk was different — it was to “the long-shot school” – the school I would go to if I could, but seriously doubted I had a chance.

Wasn’t it smarter to avoid failure? I could spend the rest of my life thinking I wasn’t rejected, rather than apply and remove all doubt. But that day, 23 years ago, I glanced over my shoulder at an unusually inspiring high jump bar. I walked out of my uncertain sand, went home and mailed the application. Sure enough, two months later I was rejected. It was my first true failure in the road of life, but I have spent the decades since confident that I have done my best and grateful that I had learned to live a life without regrets.

Some of my fellow Airmen surprise me for not seeing that lesson. I have known people not†applying for jobs for fear of rejection. I’ve known NCOs and officers alike†retiring before finding out if they were selected for a promotion. All kinds of challenges are declined for some form or flavor of failure avoidance.

Life is short, and an Air Force career is fast. Not failing does not mean you are successful; it means you traveled too cautiously. Leap to your limits, learn from failures and live without regrets. That is a successful journey!




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

15 seconds: A rude awakening

U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter Airmen and their families hit the road every summer to travel and enjoy a little relaxation. When making travel arrangements that involve driving long distances, be sure...
 
 

Through our character – an opportunity to reflect on important issues in our community

Who are you living for, or in other words who is writing your life’s story?  Do you call the shots in life or is there someone bigger?  The famed writer Wendell Berry says, “the significance – and ultimate quality – of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which...
 
 

The voice within

LANGLEY AFB, Va.†-†”Can your significant other sexually assault you?” The answer was a resounding silence. No one knew how to answer the “Sex Signals” speaker. I knew. I knew the answer. Rather, the sudden urge to vomit and then excuse myself from the auditorium gave me my answer. “Yes. Oh, my God. Yes,” said a...
 

 

Gaining Altitude – Growth Opportunities for the Week

Professor Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School makes this observation about what truly matters in life.  ”If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern:...
 
 

Understanding sergeant’s words: ‘I’ve got your back’

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Seeing the newly selected staff sergeants recently brought back memories of when I was selected for staff sergeant. Actually, my thoughts went to the night I graduated Airman Leadership School. As I crossed the stage after receiving my completion certificate, my co-workers gathered to congratulate me and shake my...
 
 

Life is moving, move with it

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga.†-†”You can’t be neutral on a moving train” is a famous quote, and the title of a memoir and documentary about the life of author, historian and activist Howard Zinn. What this means is that things are happening all around us, and everything in life is moving in a certain direction....
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>