Thursday, August 16, 2018

Have Some Attitude!

** I'm porting over some of my old posts.  Enjoy! **

During basic training, there is an event I doubt any soldier ever forgets. The event is popularly called shark attack. For me, shark attack started as we arrived at our new barracks in an old, almost functional school bus. As we exited the bus, Drill Sergeants were screaming different and often contradicting orders at us. The were banging loudly on the bus, the equipment, and from time to time a soldier or two. One Drill Sergeant (I later found out it would be my Drill Sergeant) broke a window because I wasn't moving fast enough. It was confusing, loud, and a bit terrifying. Each time you disobeyed an instruction, physical punishment was issued, immediately, and with zeal. There was no way around it, but at least everyone was bullied equally. Everyone that is, but one man.

Private “D” was smiling from ear to ear, responding to questions calmly, and taking the whole thing in stride. As the Drill Sergeants pushed us to our limits, young “D” was out there pushing, and asking for more. “Can’t smoke me!” he would call out as Drill Sergeants would take turns inches from his face, selecting exercise after exercise for him. After what felt like days, we were all sent up to our barracks to get settled in. All that is, except Private “D”, who remained behind for more instruction. He had to have pumped out a thousand push ups, and still kept a grin on his face. Still challenging the Drill Sergeants to do their worst. Twenty plus guys stumbled into the barracks on rubber legs, trying to cling to our duffles long enough to drag them to our bunks. Many, like me, wondering just how big a mistake they had made by joining up. We watched out the window as Drill Sergeant after Drill Sergeant dropped to do PT with “D”, or just scream at him, inches away from his head. When they sent him upstairs, he ran through the downstairs door, and up… half a flight of stairs. A few guys went out to get him, dragged him into the barracks, dropping him at his bunk. Moments later when the Drill Sergeants walked through the door, “D” sprang up, and grinning, welcomed them in. I don’t know if the Drill Sergeants loved him or hated him (I suspect a bit of both), but his attitude became infectious.

“D” kept this pace up all through Basic and AIT. Every night, the Drill Sergeants would call for lights out. Every night “D” would say good night… often throwing in an “I love you Drill Sergeant” just to ruffle feathers. We would all get a silent chuckle out of the exchange.

Basic Training is about breaking down weak people, and building up gung-ho, and willing soldiers. Private “D” was no exception. Near the end of basic, we found out that he had been running on a fractured foot for weeks, maybe months. Although that was the worst, it wasn't the full extent of injuries he was ignoring. “D” wasn't a super-soldier (OK, maybe he was a little awesome). The big difference between “D” , and the rest of us was how we had framed basic training.

Private “D” came to Basic Training to be made into a soldier. He had his eye on the ball the whole time, and was excited to get the process going, and keep it going. The faster the better. We all had ideas of why we were there, some better than others. Some came for the free training, and when you frame shark attack as the price to free training, well it ain't free anymore. Some chose the military because they needed a job, the military will find a place for just about anyone. Many came to the military because they want to serve. Some have a combination of these reasons and others.

Me I wanted to serve something bigger than myself. I wanted to figure myself out… I may also have wanted to follow in my Grandfathers footsteps. Framing the military this way was petty and didn't prepare me for Shark Attack. It didn't prepare me for the gas chamber, or the marches, runs, PT, and what passes for food some days. The lack of a proper foundation made things far less enjoyable for me, than I think it did for “D”. He was there for the soldiering, and I wasn't. As we continued through basic, we all caught a bit of the bug “D” had from the start. I won’t pretend I ever asked a Drill Sergeant to do his worst, but there was a time or two I pushed back with a trademark “Can’t smoke me”. In the end, I think we were all smiling through to mile 5, in the rain, when it was a hundred degrees out.

Every team, and every company needs attitude. They need people who know why they are there, and can look through the confusion, and the noise, and provide direction. But attitudes are infectious, so we need to be careful what attitudes we project. A positive attitude can make a team come together and excel. It can uplift those around you. It isn't easy though to keep a positive attitude going in tough situations. I can’t image it was easy, even for Private “D”. In trying to imitate him over the years, here are a few of the things I focus on:

Positive Statements: Grandma always said “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” There are times when we have to speak up, but I try to make sure it is always coming from a positive place. Focus on the person and how they can improve rather than on their inability to get it right. This goes for situations also. When the server goes down, and the backup failed losing a week of work, days before a delivery, it doesn't help to complain. All you can do is your best, and that includes putting a smile on. But taking that a step further, and seeking out nice things you can say about others, and about situations is important. Even if you are putting out a single silver lining, it makes others a little more positive.

Smile: I have been accused of not being emotive enough. Some have had difficulty reading my facial expressions. Because of this, I try hard to remember to smile. I also laugh more at work then I used to. In the early days of my career, I thought when you were at work, you had to be an emotionless robot that churned out widgets. I have grown to find that we spend too much time at work to have separate personalities. When you have fun at work, show it. Doing so not only relaxes you, but it sets a tone for those around you. How many times have you heard someone laughing in the next room, or around the corner and smiled? It works.

Goal: Set a goal, and keep focused on it. If you don’t know what you are working towards, it is much harder to maintain a positive attitude. As long as you are making progress towards your goal, it is easy to celebrate small wins towards your goal. … and celebrate you should. These celebrations can keep the good spirits rolling. It also helps you identify, and ignore the smaller things in life.

Good Friends: No one is an island. Surround yourself at home, at work, or anywhere, with people who also have great attitudes. Keep each others spirits up. As with anything it is easier when peer pressure is on your side. Beware the negative attitude. You may think you can “fix” them, but don’t let them bring you down. When someone is gloomy, or complains a lot, you should reach out to them. Share your positive attitude, but take regular breaks to recharge your batteries.

Be Inclusive: Try hard not to let people slip through the cracks. This goes double for those who might get left out by others. It doesn't do any good to ostracize someone. Spend time with them one on one if necessary, and help bring out their inner attitude.

Do you have suggestions for projecting a positive attitude? Comment below!

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