March 25, 2016

To be a better Airman, be a brave lobster

Master Sgt. Brian Jennings
McConnell AFB, Kansas

While on the Internet recently, I came across two videos I think illustrate important lessons for every Airman. 

The first video was of a speech by Dr. Ken Robinson. Robinson, an educator and author, told this great story about his son’s school nativity. Most of us are familiar with the nativity and the wise men who brought three gifts to Joseph and Mary; however, the account of the nativity story went a little bit different in Robinson’s speech. When it was time for the wise men to present the gifts, the first boy said, “I bring you gold.” The second boy said, “I bring you myrrh.” And the third boy said, “Frank sent this.”

Now, if you are not familiar with the story, the third gift was supposed to be frankincense. The third boy clearly could not remember his line, but the important point is that he dared to take a chance!

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never take risk and try something new. This applies to all of us, regardless of rank. The Air Force needs us to be innovative; it needs us to be creative, and we never will be if we do not overcome the fear of being wrong.

According to Robinson, we stigmatize mistakes, which is true when it comes to the Air Force. Making a mistake has become worse than doing nothing at all.

However, to make the Air Force better, our Airmen need to be brave. Airman, do not be afraid to make a mistake! 

NCOs, senior NCOs, supervisors and leaders, encourage your Airmen to go outside of their comfort zone. Also, encourage them to try new things, tackle a project they have never tried before and question the status quo. The Air Force needs all of us to ask questions, to examine the way we are doing things and to take a chance to make everything better for everyone!

Now that I have called upon all of you to be brave in order to make the Air Force better, I’d like to talk about the second video.

This video featured a story by Rabbi Abraham Twersky about how lobsters grow. I liked his story, however, I distilled a different meaning from it than he did.

Lobsters are soft, vulnerable animals that live inside of a hard, rigid shell to survive. As the lobsters grow, their shell begins to put stress on them because it doesn’t stretch. As they grow, the stress builds until they have only two options–they can either shed their shell and grow a new one or die. Now, if they were to shed that shell in the open ocean, a predator would likely find them defenseless, and that would be the end of the story. To survive, the lobster seeks shelter where it can safely shed its shell and grow.

The lesson here is that as we all grow throughout our career, we all feel stress that comes along with that growth, whether it is from putting on another stripe, having a new child or moving into a new job. It is important for all of us to understand how to handle that stress in a healthy way and grow into our new shells in a safe way. 

Supervisors, mentor your Airmen. Provide them the protection they need when the stress becomes too great. 

Airmen, take advantage of the excellent classes offered by Family Advocacy. The classes are free, and they can teach you the skills you need to deal with the stress that everyone goes through. If you think you do not need the class for yourself, take the class so you can teach your peers.

Family Advocacy has a ton of classes, including parenting and anger management among many others. I encourage all Airmen to explore the resources available.

Finally, have the courage to seek out help if the stress builds up to the point where you do not see any options. There are many organizations on base that can help. You can talk to any chaplain. They can listen to you, give you advice and provide a complete list of all the helping organizations on base. You can talk to your first sergeant, your supervisors, your primary care manager, or just talk to someone you love and let them know you are in need. The bottom line is you are not alone!

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