Growth is the result of failure. Yet, too often we hinder growth through toothless mentalities such as “the courage to try” and “the bravery to show up.” Yes, reward children for trying new things because they are still learning how the world works. But adults—no—you don’t deserve an applause break for showing up.
The problem with rewarding enthusiasm instead of persistence is that it conditions an individual to feel accomplished for going through the motions. This is similar to rewarding students that go to school, but fail exams; or soldiers that attend Assessment and Selection, but fail every single event.
Individuals should not be rewarded for reaching performance barriers, but instead for how they act afterwards during periods of growth and reflection. However, resilience isn’t forged simply through physical acts, and can require a rewiring of how we think. Of course, the principle issue with changing how we think is that it’s hard, like, really, really hard.
The unattractive reality about most performance barriers in that there is no quick fix solution. In fact, we might need to keep failing in order to improve. However, when our perception of ability is challenged, rarely do we modify our behavior to incorporate new information. Instead we typically seek out new information that reinforces our existing beliefs or methods.
As a tactical instructor, I see certain students that never improve because they’ve committed themselves to the above fallacy. They’ve mistaken regurgitation—or going through the motions—with learning. As soon as they meet a performance barrier, they do not deconstruct the problem, instead they retreat to their phone to look up the right answer. If they can’t find some bumper sticker marksmanship slogan to regurgitate, they immediately start looking for gear to remedy the situation. This is unfortunate because in real time, when we experience a performance barrier is when some of the best learning opportunities are created. Valuable knowledge is formed when you’re willing to suffer and sweat, not swipe.
The following advice has guided my programming and helped me encourage students to reward themselves for growing from failure, instead of just dishing out high fives for going through the motions.
CREDIBILITY IS EARNED EVERY DAY
One of the most toxic behaviors in any corporate or tactical environment is the rewarding of seniority earned through precedence instead of merit. Although an individual can be applauded for his commitment, he does not deserve praise for loitering into promotions.
In Special Forces, one of the most embarrassing things to see is a fat Green Beret. Although there are strict performance standards, good ‘ol boys and cronies manage to bend the rules from time to time.
How an individual responds to the rules being bent in his favor says a lot about his character. In the tactical community, we see this exercised a lot through how negligence is treated. Although trust and credibility can be rebuilt, it is not accomplished by handing out passes.
LEARNING HAPPENS OUTSIDE
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not everyone is entitled to his own facts. No matter how qualified and legitimate your instructor, you will never learn by simply regurgitating his experiences. Although his words can help guide you, you need to discover truths on your own, which means being willing to fail in the process.
SOMETHING COOLER DOES NOT EXIST
My first team sergeant had a saying, “if it was really that cool, you wouldn’t have to tell me about it.”
Attaining expertise takes years, not just a few weekends spent attending workshops or classes. Typically, there is no single “cool guy” moment that transforms your performance. Instead, it is the collective experiences of minor accomplishments and major failures. This is why any worthwhile strength coach focuses on clean movements, and any marksmanship instructor emphasis brilliance in the basics.
ADVERSITY INTRODUCES YOU TO YOURSELF
A man’s worth can be measured in how he responds to making a critical mistake. Does he run to avoid judgement? Does he redistribute blame and attack someone else? Or does he accept the consequences, learn, and move on? Whether you’re struggling to reach a new PR in the gym, or you completely failed your team, how you deal with failures will determine whether others want to deal with you moving forward.
BE CAUTIOUS OF CLIQUES
Be social, surround yourself with other like minded individuals that pursue excellence. Engage in discussion on social media. However, be cautious of cliques with commercial agendas. Whether the tactical or the fitness industry, there are self-proclaimed “celebrities” that are all pimping each others stuff.
Instructor X has a new product. Instructor Y has a large following to increase the awareness of the product. Instructor Z has a course in which he can feature the product. Although collaboration is natural within any industry, and it sometimes does benefit the end user, you can typically pick out the bullshit artists by their unwillingness to challenge the herd.
To them, everything is already the best because it came from their cronies. The easiest way to spot these cliques is by comparing their capacity for creating hype against the quality of the products and services they offer. Or, remember the aforementioned, “If it was really that cool, you wouldn’t have to tell me about it.”
THE MORE SUCCESS YOU ATTAIN, THE HARDER YOU NEED TO WORK TO MAINTAIN IT
A common misconception about individuals in their prime is that the greater the success they achieve, the less they have to work. This is incorrect. The more you elevate your status, the more you need to work in order to maintain it. This is true whether in the gym, on the range, or with personal equity. Just because you deadlifted 600lbs today, or performed a sub one second pistol draw does not mean you’ll be able to perform at those same standards without consistent practice.
PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR PAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS
How do you know you’re at a party with Navy SEALs or Harvard graduates? They’ll tell you.
Life accomplishments say a lot about who you are, but be careful they don’t only say who you once were. I see this a lot with veterans that sully their accomplishments by trying to live out the rest of their lives as a shell of who they once were.
Be proud of where you came from, and how it shaped you as a man, but always remember that credibility is earned every day.
Aaron Barruga is the founder at Guerrilla Approach , where he teaches tactical marksmanship and vehicle tactics. He’s a part of the GWOT generation of SOF instructors that are modernizing training methodology, challenging stale doctrine, and shaming range theatrics.