Category Archives: Resilience

Do You Improve Resilience with Every Task?

How Botched Undertakings Lead to Success

4 minutes to read

Guten tag. You may not have heard. But a couple of weeks ago the Navy deployed me to the Warrior Transition Program in Sembach, Germany. My last active duty time was two years ago. A funny thing happened on the way to reintegrating to military life…

Do You Improve Resilience with Every Task-

My Bungled Cross-Country Run

Reservists and individual augmentees who have been in AFRICOM and CENTCOM come to WTP on their way home. The Navy calls our program a Third Location Decompression point. Sailors can catch up on sleep, learn about the transition process, and make plans for the future.

Among other duties, I go with the participants on trips off base. One trip takes place on Saturday, for me the Sabbath. So I can’t ride the bus there. I also can't ride a bike or horse. In other words, I have to walk.

Kaiserslautern is 13 kilometers from the base. Now I often run 8 miles. So last Tuesday I decided to make a test run there. I printed out a map and hit the road. The weather was great – cool with the sun shining. After three miles I had run through the villages of Sembach and Melighen. The trouble began.

German roads aren't marked. So I had no idea that when I hit the outskirts of Melighen I was already off course. A short time later, the road turned into a wide dirt path. Crops and paddocks of horses lined both sides. Rain the night before meant concentrating on avoiding huge mud puddles.

At the six-mile mark, I came to a crossroads. Realizing I was off my mapped course, I decided to ask for directions. Then I realized my German was limited to what I learned watching Hogan’s Heroes.

I came up with a plan. I’d interrupt a hiker with bitte (please). Then I’d name my destination and point in a direction. If the person responded yah, that’s the direction I’d go. If he said nein, I’d point toward the other one and repeat, “Kaiserslautern?” Soon a lady came walking toward me.

Me: “Bitte, Kaiserslautern?” pointing the way she had come. A quizzical look came over her face.
Her: “Yah, Kaiserslautern,” pointing behind her. Bingo, I was on the right track.
Me: “Danke!” (Thank you!) Off I ran confidently.

Two more crossroads necessitated further exercises of my limited German. The third was with a man walking four big dogs that eyed me hungrily and barked so loud we could hardly hear each other. He appeared perplexed as he tried to figure out how to direct me. Finally, he pointed me down the road at what I realized was a town.

Since my Fitbit showed eight miles, I thought this had to be Kaiserslautern. But I wondered at his confusion. Once there, I realized it was too small to be Kaiserslautern. Half a mile down the road, back on a main highway, I came to a sign that read, “Kaiserslautern 11 km.” It pointed to a leaf-covered dirt path blocked by a heavy chain. Discretion got the better of valor. I headed back to the town I had just passed.

Soon, I realized where I was. I had made a huge circular run through the countryside and was back in Melighen. Essentially, I was back to where I’d started.

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It hit me then. I was living the transition nightmare.

4 Takeaways to Apply to Your Transition

My two and a quarter hour run showed me:

1. Get the most precise map available. I’m still not sure where I got off course. The map I downloaded didn't give me enough detail to know. When you travel through new territory you can make a wrong turn without realizing it. You have to get pretty far down the road before you realize your mistake. With lots of waypoints marked on your map, you’ll have a better chance of catching an error sooner.

2. Make sure you can communicate with the people you ask for help. None of the people I asked for directions misled me. After all, I found the road to Kaiserslautern. But I couldn't ask them how far it was or if a pedestrian could traverse the road. A couple of phrases like “How far to Kaiserslautern?” and “Is there a footpath to Kaiserslautern?” would have helped me. Make sure you learn some “civilian” or find a veteran who can translate for you.

3. Learn from not reaching your goal. Though I didn't reach Kaiserslautern, the run was useful. I realized that by car the trip was 13 km. But by foot, it was much longer, even without getting lost. And, I would have to travel on a road with no sidewalk. I won’t meet my goal of walking to Kaiserslautern on the Sabbath. But that’s okay.

4. Be open to new possibilities. My commanding officer got a big laugh at my adventure. She gave me a good-natured “I told you so.” But she respected that I put the program first and made the effort. In the end, since some people don't go on the trip, I’ll spend time with those who stay behind. I’m living one of my most cherished aphorisms.

No doubt they’ll be more amusing lessons coming from the next ten months in Germany. You can be sure I’ll pass them on for your benefit. I’ll also write a few posts about the places I visit. In the meantime, if you're struggling with any of the issues above, or a different one, get in touch. I may not know my way around Germany. But I can help you navigate the transition from military to civilian life.

Where are you stuck or think you’ll get stuck in your transition?
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How to Gain Faith When You Think You Have None

4 Steps that Take You from Despair to Optimism

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Bereishis – Genesis 1:1-6:8

My friend Bruce urged me to read Douglas Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe. He told me it’s “probably the most important book of the last 50 years.” So, I read it. It may be the classic my friend asserts. But I found one glaring error. Time and again Murray asserts you can’t just have faith.

How to Gain Faith When You Think You Have None

Clearly, he misunderstands the nature of faith. Many of us do.

You Pay a High Price for Faithlessness

Lack of faith caused the most devastating event in human affairs. In the story of Creation in Parshas Bereishis, Adam says:

“‘The Woman who You gave to be with me . . .’” (Bereshis/Genesis 3:12)

Adam lacked faith in Eve’s ability to resist eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So he told her the Almighty commanded them not to touch it. By doing this, Adam made her easier prey for the serpent. It knew she could touch it without harm. The serpent convinced her to try. Once she saw nothing happened, she ignored the true constraint.

Then she gave some to Adam. And G-d caught him red-handed.

The Almighty gave them a chance to confess. But Adam compounded his lack of faith in Eve by blaming her. She, in turn, blamed the serpent. So the Almighty banished them. Now, instead of humanity living peacefully in the Garden of Eden, we struggle through life. We strive to create the kind of relationship with G-d that was the birthright of Adam, Eve, and their children.

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What would life be like had Adam acknowledged his lack of faith and asked for forgiveness?

Faith Is Like a Muscle

Because of this grave error, Adam’s abiding faith goes un-noticed. Despite his doing no work to cultivate the garden, he knew G-d would feed and take care of him. Adam may have sinned out of boredom. Amidst the carefree life the Creator gave him, perhaps he wanted some excitement. Indeed, Adam had complete faith in G-d.

Almost…

Adam’s lack of trust in Eve reveals a lack of faith in G-d. The Almighty gave him his mate. So she could only be for his good. Whatever decisions she made were part of G-d’s plan. For some reason, Adam didn't see this. Like most husbands, he needed time to develop faith in his wife and her judgment.

Dormant faith often masquerades as lack of faith. You’ll gain or recapture faith when you:

1. Review Your Life

Think about past events. Identify one when you felt secure and confident.

2. Identify Why

What made you feel safe and self-assured? Did you feel in control of the event and your life? In reality, you weren’t. Training only helps you feel confident you can respond to future challenges. But you’ll never know for sure what twists and turns are in store.

3. Recognize Faith

Minimally, you had faith in your ability to handle the unknowns of life. You may have had broader faith: in your family, your colleagues, or G-d.

4. Build on that Nugget

Use this event to fashion greater faith. When you feel faithless, call it to mind. Bring back how you felt. Repeat what you said at that time.

Faith is like a muscle. If left unused, it shrinks and becomes flabby. But when exercised it grows and gets stronger. You can just have faith. Most of our lives we don't perceive it because it fits with the flow of events. If we get sideswiped and don't find faith immediately available, we think it’s gone.

But faith is always with us. The more you exercise it, the easier it is to call back.

Have you lost faith and recovered it?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Increase Spiritual Fitness with Competition

Are You Competitive in Only One Way?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vezos Haberachah – Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

Competition has gotten a bad reputation over the last few decades. Children’s programs are notorious for giving everyone a ribbon no matter how abysmal their performance. One of the few places this idea doesn’t reign supreme is the armed forces.

How to Increase Spiritual Fitness with Competition

Competition with Others Produces Greatness

The military remains proud of its up or out culture. Annual reviews let service members know where they stand in relation to their peers. A process known as racking and stacking determines the performance hierarchy at a command. A select percentage at the top advances. The rest may see their careers stagnate.

Substantial improvement that doesn't place you in a high relative ranking constitutes failure. You might be able to hang on for a few more years. But if you don't advance, High Year Tenure forces you to leave.

Of course, the military only rates factors related to your military duties. Primarily these include physical matters, such as skills proficiency and leadership ability. Spiritual fitness doesn't come into play. The military relegates this to G-d. Parshas Vezos Haberachah reveals the rating system:

“And Moses, servant of G-d, died there in the land of Moab by the mouth of G-d.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 34:5).

As the end of his life neared, Moses urged the Israelites to reflect. The Almighty showed him the Promised Land from across the Jordan. Then Moses died as he lived, by the word of G-d. No mention is made of a eulogy. But the Torah names him the greatest prophet in history.

The Rambam, an exceptional Torah commentator, said anyone can be as righteous as Moses. How does this reconcile with the Torah’s declaration that there will never be a prophet as great as Moses? The answer lies in not confusing effort with effect. Moses dedicated his life to G-d. By doing so, he reached the pinnacle of virtue. The Almighty endowed him with unprecedented prophecy.

By dedicating yourself to G-d’s service, you can reach Moses’s level of righteousness. But you’ll receive a different reward. You won't become a greater prophet than Moses. But, you may get an outstanding marriage or amazing children. The Creator may bless you with wealth. He may hold a special place for you in the World to Come.

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It looks like the Almighty has created a competition for spiritual achievement. Moses appears to set the standard. But not all is as it seems.

Competition Against Yourself Produces Greatness

Spiritual accomplishment is not a contest against others but with yourself. Are you trying to surpass your finest effort? If not, it doesn’t matter that you know more scripture or give greater amounts of charity than anyone else. G-d’s interested in how much you know relative to what you knew last year or last week, not Moses. He cares how much you strive to improve.

Moses and many other outstanding religious figures give you targets at which to aim. But the Creator delights when you use your abilities to their fullest. In so doing, you build spiritual resilience. And, you deepen your relationship with Him.

Competition with others isn’t inherently bad. Nor is self-competition obviously good. A resilient life recognizes each has its realm.

Vezos Haberachah completes this year’s cycle of Torah readings. Like the rhythm of life: birth, death, rebirth, next week begins the next round of sifting lessons for our lives from G-d’s instructions to the world. Each will give you the opportunity to improve your inner life. We’ll pursue the self-competitive goal of perpetual growth, even as we deal with the competitive pressures of military and civilian business life.

How do you motivate yourself to pursue spiritual fitness?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Handle the Fragmentation of Civilian Life

Have You Prepared for All Aspects of Your Transition?

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52

You may not have thought about it. But military life is integrated. On base, you have facilities serving your physical needs: exercise, medical care, food, and clothing. You can get mental and spiritual support. To a large degree, every unit in the field and ship is self-supporting. Civilian life is fractured. When you transition you need time to rebuild a whole life from scattered pieces.

How to Handle the Fragmentation of Civilian Life

Transitioning Creates Outer and Inner Conflict

The fragmented nature of civilian life makes leaving the military chaotic. That’s why I often talk about reintegration. Transitioning requires more than finding a new home and job. You need to restore a complete structure for daily life.

In the days of wooden sailing ships, rope makers twisted and wove strands of hemp, cotton, and other fibers together to make ropes as thick as seven inches or more. When pulled, any individual thread would snap. But entwined, they often withstood gale force winds.

It took at least four to six months to grow hemp and make such heavy rope. For a life, Parshas Ha’azinu explains the process:

“For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob a rope of his possession.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 32:9)

This week’s parsha ends this cycle of Sabbath readings. Moses taught how G-d and the Israelites’ existence would intertwine. He noted how Jacob combined the strengths of three generations. Abraham’s kindness and Isaac’s sense of justice integrated with his spiritual strength. So he overcame his struggle with the angel. (Genesis 32:22-23) He was ready to face life in all its complexity. The Israelites could follow this example.

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The multifaceted nature of life is just one of many ways rope symbolizes your transition.

Ensure You're Strong

Our military service binds us together. But if we braid our rope from delicate or worn out fibers it will break under stress. Each of us needs to revitalize himself. Then, despite some of us being so fragile we snap, the rest of us can maintain our unbreakable bond.

Each of us intertwines character traits that make up our personalities. Some will serve our reintegration. Others will hamper it. Transitioning entails strengthening the positive fibers. At the same time, we have to engage in the laborious process of unraveling the negative ones.

To rejuvenate, know a rope connects you to the Almighty. Each deed strengthens or breaks a filament connecting you to the Creator. Through daily work on this relationship, you create the ability to tug on the rope. This brings G-d’s presence closer to you in this world during times of trouble.

A rope made of inferior hemp will break in a hurricane. Likewise, transitions made in haste with insufficient thought unravel when hardship strikes. Focus on growing stronger through each step of your reintegration. Give yourself enough time to weave sturdy bonds before taking on extra burdens. And remember, G-d is a tug away.

What daily task strengthens your connection to G-d?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Want Greater Success? Learn to Tolerate More of This…

What You Want Lies Beyond a Wall of Boredom

2-½ minutes to read

The military holds the promise of an exciting life. If you haven’t seen the latest recruiting commercials take a look. Think of the adrenaline rush from jumping off that airplane. Is there any chance you’ll find being a Marine boring? Both of these pale in comparison to Special Forces. There’s never a dull moment in the military. Yeah, right. If General Military Training doesn’t put you to sleep paperwork will. But hey, it’s the government. You have to expect tedium. The private sector is different.

Want Greater Success? Learn to Tolerate More of This…

The Two Types of Boredom

Growing up not far from Hollywood, the excitement of making movies enthralled me. I had to be a part of it. In the late 1980s, I got my chance. My friend needed a producer for his next project. Count me in!

It didn't take long for reality to hit. Decorating the set. Focusing the lights. Practicing camera movements. Rehearsing the actors. Often it took several hours to set up a shot that took less than a minute to film. As the producer, I had to keep people from getting bored and mischievous to protect my investment.

Since then, I joke about the “glamour” of the film business. Don't get me wrong. Premieres are exciting. But such moments punctuate long periods of tedium.

Of course, it's nothing like the boredom of cold calling. The difference between film production and sales highlights the two types of boredom.

  • Passive Boredom – Sitting around with nothing to do.
  • Active Boredom – Repetitive tasks that aren't exciting.
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Most people can tolerate the first type. You may have trouble relaxing. Still, if your job requires stretches of getting paid to do nothing you can adapt.

How to Overcome Boredom

Active boredom is another story. Having to do dull, repetitive tasks saps most people’s endurance. But you can’t reach a goal without them.

About a month ago I had to start doing abdominal work again. My stomach has gotten too flabby. It is soooooo boring doing crunches and leg lifts. I tried listening to upbeat music while exercising. It didn't help. I had to set an ironclad goal and accept the tedium.

Many job-hunting tasks are boring. Always reaching out to your contacts. Writing lots of thank you notes. Practicing your elevator pitch and what you’ll say in a meeting to get a job. All these can tax your patience. I can understand why you just want the thrill of getting the job. But these boring tasks are what will make that happen.

It won't be different on the job. You’ll have exciting moments. But you’ll spend most of your time on routine work. Yet that’s where you’ll make your biggest impact. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what matters. That means doing and keeping track of dozens of small, everyday tasks.

Now you can see why it’s important to have a mission and objectives. You need to work in a field you love. If not, it’s too easy to stop doing the boring tasks that take you to your goal.

Don’t let slick videos seduce you into thinking success and excitement go together. If you want to succeed, prepare to buckle down and power through boredom.

What did you do in the military to keep working toward boring goals?

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