2 Steps Away: How failing my first Ranger School patrol taught me perseverance

I remember walking through a brutal valley during the mountain phase of Ranger School. It was bitterly cold.  There’s no perfect time to attend the US Army Ranger course. However, winter poses a unique set of challenges for all students.   For example, I failed my first graded patrol in Ranger School because I led my squad in several branches of Hollis Creek in Fort Benning, GA.

Usually, this wouldn’t lead to failure on a graded patrol. However, this night the temperatures dropped well below freezing. 

My patrol went in and out of the water all night long. As a result, five of the 13 men in my Ranger patrol had to be evacuated to the hospital with frostbite. I failed this graded patrol because I didn’t consider that some of my fellow students weren’t prepared for these weather conditions.

The weather and terrain became more challenging when I moved on to the next phase of Ranger training.  I was trained to navigate through the mountains and valleys of north Georgia far better than the average Ranger student. However, this terrain was brutal.  This steep terrain made it nearly impossible to see up the side of a Ridge as we trudged along. 

Added to this was the challenge of oceans of mountain laurel in those valleys. -this plant with branches so strong that it would destroy the best Army equipment and leave no trace of damage to the plant itself. Mountain laurel leaves remain full and green all winter long, making it impossible to see through. The challenges of mountain laurel and near vertical terrain created a situation where we couldn’t see the top of the hill until we stood on it! 

I learned a lesson while walking through those valleys of north Georgia during the mountain phase of Ranger School, and this lesson became a big part of my recent Unbeatable interview with singer/songwriter Bryan Martin. 

Beautiful mountaintop views come as the result of great sacrifice.

I wish everyone could go through the mountain phase of Ranger School. These few short weeks had a profound impact on the way that I handle challenges. Here are some lessons that Bryan Martin reminded me of when trudging through the valleys of life.

When perseverance beats pain tolerance 

No one likes being in the valleys. Everyone wants to feel the breeze blowing across their face as they look out from the top of the mountain. However, getting to the top of the hill is almost always painful. You must have perseverance and pain tolerance to reach the top of the hill.

However, just being able to endure pain doesn’t mean successfully navigating to the top of a hill.

It takes perseverance to face the mountain of laurel and continue moving forward. It takes great determination to scale the cliffs to reach the incredible mountain vistas. Traveling through your valleys in life is painful.  You must overcome the pain of the valley and have the will to keep moving forward no matter how steep the terrain is if you’re going to reach the top in life. 

Keep “walking through the valley”

Bryan knows what it takes to face some of the challenges in life. Working as a “roughneck” on an oil rig tells you a little about the challenges of the job that Bryan held most of his life. When they use the word “rough” in the name of your job, it certainly can’t be easy.

While working on those oil rigs, Bryan learned to start expressing himself in song. His simple, honest way of talking about life’s challenges helped him connect deeply with audiences.

Although Bryan worked in a demanding industry, some of his challenges were self-inflicted.  Brian got injured and turned to pills to make the pain go away. Eventually, this addiction caused him to spiral out of control. More than once in his life, he considered suicide as his only solution to the pain. 

He wrote a song about these dark moments.  Bryan’s song Self-Inflicted Scars went viral on the Internet, and more than 100 million streams show that people worldwide are facing their valleys. It doesn’t matter if your valleys result from difficult circumstances or self-inflicted scars…  Keep walking!

Close to the top but can’t see it

No one gets to see the mountaintop while they’re still in the valley. Only the guy or gal who keeps walking despite the obstacles eventually gets to see the views from the mountaintop.

The average person quits two steps before they can ‘see’ the mountaintop, but no one stops the journey when the mountaintop is within reach.

Don’t quit two steps away from the top!  If there’s anything that you can learn from Bryan’s story, it’s to never give up. Because he could keep facing the challenges of supporting his family as a roughneck on an oil rig, battling through injuries and illness, or confronting his self-inflicted scars, Bryan kept plowing through the laurel in the valleys. 

Failing that first patrol made me ready for the bigger test in the mountain phase of Ranger School. I often couldn’t see my final objective until I stood on top of it because of the harsh terrain and the murderous vegetation. But I refused to quit 2 steps away from the mountaintop.

Ranger School taught me the valuable lesson of perseverance. I made it through those valleys because I refused to give up.  Keep trudging through your valleys.  Your mountaintop might be within reach also if you just keep walking.

Listen to the whole interview with Bryan HERE.

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