Baby steps are about incremental change – slow, safe, and easy, with Momma standing by your side and holding your hand. Giant steps are about transformational change – leaps of faith with nobody to hold your hand, where risks abound, and sometimes someone is kicking your tail because you’re not moving fast enough into the unknown.
It was March 24, 1971. I was on a Greyhound Bus headed to the Customs House in New Orleans. I was being drafted. Before I got my draft notice and survived boot camp, I was extremely shy. I was also a dumb, fat (240 pounds at 6’2” with a 40-plus inch waist), and happy boy. I was in deplorable physical condition. In the previous years, I had serious health issues. I was confident (hopeful) that I was still disabled/sick enough that I would fail the physical. I didn’t.
When the doctor told me, “You’ll do,” I was still dumb and fat, but I was rapidly transitioning from happy to scared-to-death. I had been praying that I would flunk the physical and head home that evening. Being drafted was scary. The potential of going to Vietnam was a real and terrifying possibility.
Today (March 24, 2021), I thank God for my unanswered prayers those 50 years ago. I am now 73 years-old and much healthier than I was as a 23-year-old college graduate soon to be drafted. I am now confident in myself and have had some success in business.
Had I not been drafted, I’m sure my life would not have been nearly as good as it is. On the most basic level, I’d bet without my physical and confidence transformation, I’d have died or be seriously limited by health problems because of my obesity. My shyness and insecurities would have limited my employment and personal growth opportunities. I would have settled for a lesser life than I had.
By noon, all of those who passed the physical were sworn in (“You’re in the Army now”) and ordered to be back at the Customs House by 4:00 that afternoon for the bus ride to Fort Polk. Bob was a friend and anti-war activist in New Orleans. I called him, and he offered to fly me to Canada before the bus would leave the Customs House. Thank God, I declined his offer.
Here’s the great news: 10 weeks after my arrival at Fort Polk, I finished Boot Camp. I weighed 180 pounds, had a 34-inch waist and was in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. I had confidence and courage, two traits I did not have previously. In Basic Training I learned that souls don’t grow in the sunshine. I believe our greatest growth comes through adversity; we gain scar tissue. We become stronger than our environment and are ready for the new risks inevitably on the horizon.
What does this personal story have to do with our lives? The coronavirus has been, at least as disruptive, challenging, and often times painful in each of our lives, as the Army was to me. That’s our reality. Don’t be tempted to turn back to the good old days, i.e. return to normal. Instead move forward into the new world that is evolving where you are. Don’t bemoan the suffering you’ve endured; instead, celebrate the strength, wisdom, and courage you’ve gained. Step confidently into tomorrow. Don’t look back; rather plan your future in this new post-pandemic world and move forward with your plans. Instead of just letting yourself be carried into a new normal, create a better normal.
Regardless of your age, income, education, or circumstances, your life is still yours to use or abuse as you see fit. If times have not been good and you are attempted to declare yourself a victim, I’d encourage you to rethink that possibility.
By declaring ourselves victims, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy of limitation and forfeit our freedom and opportunity. We build an insurmountable wall between ourselves and the possibilities of tomorrow. We declare and accept as lord and master a person, circumstance, or condition that will control our destiny. We allow ourselves to be enslaved.
Before giving up, study Christopher Reeve, the Special Olympics, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Shriners’ Hospitals for Children, millions of cancer survivors, Nick Vujicic (the limbless preacher) and other victors over adversity.
On the first morning of boot camp, Drill Sergeant Gay got in my face and screamed, “Boy, how long did it take you to get this fat?” I responded, “Twenty-three years, Sir.” It took him and others like him only eight weeks to make me fit and confident.
The draft was my transformational moment. It forced me to become something I wasn’t. I believe that the coronavirus can now be the catalyst for most, if not all, of us to transform our lives for the better. In less than one year, all of our worlds have changed significantly. Now, each of us can decide for ourselves if where we are is where we want to be. Move forward with enthusiasm. Transformational change is dependent upon two assets in our control: Willingness – yes I can, and commitment – yes, I will.
For most of us, 2019 was a good year, and 2020 had the promise to be a great year. None of us could have predicted the chaos that a virus brought into our world. For the past year, we’ve been at war. We’re finally winning. Don’t quit now. Continue to march forward toward a better normal.
In the movie Patton, George C. Scott played Gen. George S. Patton. In the opening scene he explained, “In the face of war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.”
MICHAEL G. MANES is the owner of Manes and Associates, a New Iberia-based consulting business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 337-577-3885.