True resiliency

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
Resiliency in the face of adversity is one of the most admirable traits to see in a human being.

With budget, manning and mission constraints ongoing, it's important that the Air Force as a whole recognizes the importance of resiliency. Despite uncertain times, I appreciate more than ever the fact that our wing, command and Air Force leadership does understand the significance of this concept. They form a leadership team who wants its people to be truly resilient and understands the value added. To achieve such resiliency, the best and truest key is the balance found between a self and "others" focused perspective, which comes easiest in an environment of trust. Let me explain, starting with two examples of resiliency under extreme circumstances.

Ishmael Beah is a survivor of Sierra Leone's brutal, decade-long civil war from 1991-2002. When his village was invaded in January 1993, he was drafted as a government soldier. He was 12 years old. He survived, and now fights for the cause of more than 200,000 child soldiers enslaved worldwide. He has hope for what their future can look like, and embraces his experience as a way to globally fight the same abuse he suffered.

Flash forward 10 years: 33 miners are trapped under the dirt in Copiapó, Chile, where they survived for more than 69 days. The Chilean and Bolivian miners lived off of limited reserves without light or sanitation, communicating with family through a grapefruit sized tunnel during the entire entrapment. The oldest known survivor was 63 year old Mario Gomez, who has lung disease and was brought to the surface breathing from an oxygen mask. He fell to his knees and gave thanks, professing he knew his rescuers would come. Since the rescue, Chile has blossomed as a country, unified by the pride in their people and inspiring an overhaul of national mine safety regulations and improving relations with neighboring Bolivia.

These examples show a resiliency born out of an outward-focused perspective, whether on providing children with hope or banding together during hardship for the sake of each other's survival. A successful entrepreneur friend of mine pointed out, however, that Americans will quit more than 90 percent of the things they start throughout their lifetime. Quitting or minimizing activity to focus on priorities is not always a poor choice, but how many things do we quit because it just gets hard? And when we do quit, where was our focus - on ourselves or others? Those who choose to live life with an outward-focused perspective demonstrate a resiliency unmatched by those without such focus.

Exactly what is it about people that makes some resilient and some give up? Clearly there are a multitude of outside factors that influence a person's choices, attitudes and even life situations; specifically, however, I see the person who is able to focus beyond his or herself as the one who is able to endure. What if the secret to resiliency was not about you having the secret, but being the secret? A person who is focused outwardly - on others or a greater good, a higher purpose - is able to look past the injustice, disappointments or otherwise difficult life situations to see the bigger picture. While not the only factor, I believe the decision to look beyond one's self for others provides an internal motivation that goes deeper when focused on others.

Resiliency is also more easily spawned in an environment where people feel safe. Whether with the boss in the work place or at home with your spouse, trust encourages bonding and the faith that the other has their best interests in mind. Resiliency is more feasible when you know your leaders are telling you the truth and you are in the battle together. The ability to communicate openly, foster camaraderie and take risks for the good of the other provides a safe haven for trust. At the 21st, we strive to keep communication lines open with transparent accessibility, whether through SharePoint, town halls, the Commander's Action Line or this very forum. We seek out feedback. We share information as it is received and with integrity. We want to do what's best for the team, and create an environment that fosters individual and unit resiliency.

Those who set their eyes on that deeper purpose - 200,000 child soldiers, group survival or the joy and reward of sticking it out - have a resiliency that defies logic. They may have everything going against them but somehow are resilient to the world's efforts to throw them off course. This is the kind of resiliency that drives innovation, leadership and self discipline. Focusing on others reminds you of what you do have to offer and how you can in fact contribute.

Developing resiliency definitely includes taking responsibility for self. The crucial link, however, to making it through in crunch time is that it cannot all be about self. If we make it all about self, we only set ourselves up for smallness. Be big; find your higher ground.