A Retrospective

I don’t produce content just for content’s sake. I have the luxury of writing only when I have something to say. For that reason, I wasn’t planning on doing a themed end-of-year or decade blog post. But seeing all of these splendid retrospectives at the close of 2019 and the preceding decade got me wondering – is there a single concept or theme from the last orbit or ten around the sun that I might like to pick out and amplify?

I was surprised to come to the immediate realization that there is. There is a single, simple idea that has surfaced again and again in the actions of leaders who have helped me grow and move forward and upward across a decade that spanned for me from age 22 to 33.

Over the course of the last decade I’ve had the following experiences:

  • My Air Force career trajectory went from a rise that felt at first meteoric to feeling more stagnated, impeded by my tendency to focus time and effort on things that feel valuable to me- not things that might appear valuable to a board looking at me through the narrow, distorted lens of a confined rubric.
  • I realized that my mental health struggles were hurting the ones I loved, got professional help, and achieved a lasting armistice with depression.
  • I deployed to Afghanistan and intimately participated in the ending of destructive human lives from mere miles away.
  • I developed a thoroughly unhealthy relationship with alcohol, hurt people I didn’t want to hurt, and quit drinking (an activity which I quite enjoyed).
  • I wrote and recorded the start and occasionally the end of thousands of songs, very few of which I will ever have shared.
  • I stood helplessly by as my daughter nearly died in slow motion of an incurable illness, recovered somewhat, and began her slow decline once again.
  • I stood helplessly by as my wife repeatedly attempted and gave up the pursuit of a career, despite being one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met, as our son and daughter proved impossible for schools, teachers, and medical professionals to contain consistently enough for her to hold down a job.
  • I engaged in a prolonged battle with Air Force policy gatekeepers to prevent a prolonged separation from my family, ultimately starting a journey of writing and engaging that I am excited to continue exploring.
  • I was invited and encouraged to write, which this year resulted in two pieces being published in actual reputable journals, and a few dozen essays and blog posts being well received and engaged with by people I admire and respect.
So here is something I have taken away from these and a few other trials and accomplishments throughout this decade and over the last year:

Our accomplishments and failures are the emergent outcomes of communities whose culture, habits, and disruptions coalesce into events, only sometimes visible as clear inflection points in time and space, other times too dispersed to be immediately discernible.

Leaders are those who accept their role as stewards of this ecosystem, in which:
– Culture must be actively probed, examined, and shaped
– Habits must be thoughtfully selected and reinforced
– Disruptions and those who disrupt must be accepted, championed, and supported

Leaders see beyond the petty, granular details of a situation or incident and think in terms of broader effects to the ecosystem. Much like a good gardener wouldn’t employ herbicide on a weed among seedlings.

To those who over the last decade recognized the good intentions beneath my rage and dysfunction and supported me, who shared and encouraged my ideas even when they weren’t well articulated, who thoughtfully redirected my energy rather than being an obstacle, who recognized my potential as a prism and placed me in the path of passing sunlight, thank you. Thank you also to my wife, who has demonstrated an absolutely un-human degree of patience and resilience in the face of the grossly unfair situation life has put her in; who has endured, supported, and kept me going despite my innumerable failings and shortcomings.

All of my accomplishments belong to all of you, and I hope to keep carrying what you’ve given me forward, so that the future accomplishments of some 23-year-old today can someday belong to you as well.

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