I disappointed myself. I let myself down in the brutal, dangerous training I did in the bitter cold of February 1992. I still remember this moment as one of the most painful personal lessons in my military career.
The training was dangerous, the weather conditions were miserable, and my mission tested me in every way possible. I was confident I could handle these conditions, because I’d been through hard training in the past. But, my false confidence in my physical abilities disappeared as I watched my buddy shivering uncontrollably after giving me his wool Army blanket to keep me alive.
Until this moment, I was always capable of handling any training and weather conditions I faced. At this point, I was forced to confront my limitations.
It was a painful lesson.
It was also painful to know that my buddy was risking frostbite or hypothermia to keep me warm. I was ashamed of placing my health and safety above my buddy’s when I agreed to take his blanket.
Difficulty tests what’s deep inside you
Maybe this moment seems like no big deal to you. But for me, this was a hugely disappointing failure. I accepted the easy way out when the circumstances got difficult. Failing myself was the most painful part of this memory. -a painful lesson that helped me lead others much better after that.
Challenges test your character.
Some of the most difficult challenges in life test what’s deepest inside you. I don’t think I would have been able to realize just how vulnerable I was to the conditions around me if it wasn’t for this combination of cold weather, a tough mission, and dangerous training.
I became a better leader because of this personal failure. These challenging circumstances taught me a valuable lesson about leading troops in dangerous weather conditions, and I was much more sensitive to how weather impacts a warrior’s ability to complete the mission after February 1992.
Minutes of challenge teach you more than months of comfort
There are some things about your character and your limitations that you cannot learn on easy days. It’s only in life’s most challenging moments that you get the opportunity to know what you’re made of. Your limitations are only revealed when you’re pushed past the end of your rope.
Learning your limitations enables you to push yourself to the edges of your ability again and again in the future. These challenging moments become potent tools when planning for difficulties in the future. The most outstanding leaders know how to push themselves to their limits but not over them.
Moments of challenge taught me what months of comfort could never reveal. Because of these challenging circumstances in February of 1992, I now know when I need to stop and take precautions in frigid weather conditions. I’ve learned similar lessons about sleep and food deprivation, how long I can last underwater without air, and how much weight I can carry at elevations about 5000 meters.
Teaching moments from tough assignments
Difficulties are common to all humanity. You can’t become rich enough to buy your way out of problems. You will never become powerful enough to avoid all difficulties or circumstances before they come your way. No one graduates entirely from the school of hard knocks. The people who run from challenges as soon as they pop up will never learn the invaluable lesson of their limitations like the brave souls that face adversity head-on.
Simon Kardynal had more than his fair share of challenging assignments while serving in the Canadian military. He now teaches others how to lead better because of the lessons he learned from these hardships.
Here’s my challenge to you when facing hardships: The next time you face adversity, view it as an opportunity to learn about yourself rather than an obstacle to avoid. Face your tough assignments. Focus on learning from challenges. And what looks like a curse can turn into a gift in disguise.