A couple years ago I read the book “Never Again” by then recently retired Attorney General, John Ashcroft. You probably remember the enormous amount of airtime Ashcroft received in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks. His memoirs chronicle the pressures, expectations, and responsibilities of a national leader during a time of national crisis. As the title suggests, the events sparked in him a resolve to never again allow our heads to remain comfortably in the sand only to have them ripped loose by those who would do us harm.
I’m pretty sure I’ll never have to face the kind of pressure that Mr. Ashcroft did post 9/11. However, I can clearly remember at least twice that I’ve had “never again” moments. Both had significant impact on how I operate to this day. So with complete transparency, here are my “never again” moments:
People generally don’t volunteer for the Marine Corps infantry, but being quite young and even more naive, I did so enthusiastically at age 20.
In March of 1995 I shipped off to boot camp, endured the psychological roller-coaster, learned to push my body more than I thought possible, and eventually claimed the title “Marine”.
Exactly 10 days after graduation, I arrived strong, but still naive, on the door-step of the Marine Corps School of Infantry located in a random corner of the desert at Camp Pendleton, CA. Little did I know that up until then, I’d only toyed with the idea of pushing myself. SOI, as the school is called, would prove to be far more demanding than boot camp ever aspired to be. I’ll spare the gory details and jump to just 3 weeks before the end of school and our final 25 mile “hike”. Believe it or not, even with the automobile under regular manufacture for decades, almost everything in the grunts inventory is considered “man-packable”. Even after 6 months of rigorous daily exercise, a 25 mile hike with over 100lbs of gear still kicked my butt. By mile 23 I was spent…physically, and psychologically. So when the platoon leader decided to loop back around our last 1/2 mile “just for motivation”, I succumbed to the pressure and warbled out some weak, whiny complaint; after all it was mile 23! It was then that another senior Marine walked past, jammed his finger in my chest, and said “you’re a Marine, this is what we do, so suck it up!” Wow, what a wake up call! At the time, I was tired and embarrassed, but those few words were more powerful than anything else in my early days as a Marine. So with new resolve, a little humiliation, and an increased sense of pride, I “embraced the suck” and completed the event with more grit in my teeth than ever before.
On that day I resolved to never again be the one who needs to be pulled. It’s a resolution that has played a huge part in shaping who I’ve become…and all because of one “never again” moment.
In August of 2006 I made the transition from project manager to full time ministry. Eighteen months earlier I had received a performance review that not only landed a very nice raise, but also the respect and admiration of my bosses. Within 6 months of that review, we’d taken the first steps toward joining a church staff full-time, including all the interviews, meetings, phone calls, dreaming, etc. Once that started, the energy I’d previously dedicated to my current job, shifted to my future job.
Fast-forward to 6 weeks prior to my last day where my boss had no clue I was leaving. He called me in and, with great irritation, pointed out that my performance had slipped significantly. I was no longer functioning at the level I once did, and it was hurting the company. He went so far as to suggest that I was either looking for another job or had already found one. Of course, at that time I came clean with my plans, apologized for my lack of discipline, and met my second “never again” moment.
On that day I resolved to never again operate in a way that makes someone regret my involvement. Whether it’s a project, an event, or a job – my desire is to finish well and with integrity.
I know I’m not the only one with “never again” moments. If you’ve got a story to share I’d love to hear it!