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Don't be afraid of failure

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Campbell
  • 386th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron Intelligence Section
I've been in the U.S. Air Force for nine years and I've just sewn on my Staff Sergeant stripe - for the second time.

Almost two years ago, to the day, I made the choice to get behind the wheel of my car after drinking. I was stopped at a traffic control point and arrested for driving under the influence.

I wasn't a "dirt bag Airman." On the contrary, my leadership was very upset because just two days prior to the incident I had won the NCO of the Month award. I was the NCOIC of my section and in charge of a training program for 35 individuals. I was a visible face in our unit.

My mistake was not something that I could hide from or sweep under the rug. As soon as I showed up to work with my shiny new senior airman stripes it was obvious to everyone I had messed up big.

I'm not going to delve into the consequences of drinking and driving. We've all heard it many times before and are familiar with the U.S. Air Force's zero tolerance policy. Rather, I'd like to share the unique view point I gained as an NCO turned Airman on the cusp of returning to the NCO corps.

The last two years have been an exercise in humility and patience and I feel that I've gained a greater appreciation for the real meaning behind leadership as well as followership.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my experience is the incredibly difficult, but ultimately therapeutic, practice of owning up to your mistakes and never making excuses.

Today I see so many people with lists of reasons for why they believe things are wrong. It is rare to hear someone hold themselves personally accountable for anything that is not going well in their life, family, or career. To them I would just like to say "OWN IT!"

The quickest way to recover, even from the worst of mistakes or bad decisions, is to admit that YOU made them in the first place. Making excuses for problems only causes them to take longer to correct.

For those in positions of leadership, admitting when you've made a mistake and actively working to correct the mistake will go a long way with those you work for and with. No one expects them to be perfect. However, there is an expectation of personal accountability and continual improvement after all setbacks, major and minor.

Another lesson I learned is not to be afraid of failing or letting others fail. I don't mean that we should give out tasks or assignments we already know an individual can't handle and then secretly watch them pull their hair out attempting to complete the task.

On the contrary, we have amazing Airmen completing the mission every day and they are constantly asked to do more with less. I think too often Airmen are passed over for different duties because they "are only an Airman" and can't handle failure if they don't succeed.

When we complete a task with success, we feel accomplished. There is an ownership to that accomplishment. However, when we fail, more so if it's the first time we've failed, it doesn't feel good, but we are given a chance to learn and improve on our mistakes.

If we only let our people succeed in simple tasks, never giving them a challenge (one they may not succeed at), there is a chance that they will never actually push themselves to achieve more. It's never easy to deal with failure but that is when, in my opinion, some of the most valuable life lessons are learned as well as taught.

We can't be afraid of failure, we only need to be wary of not having the correct support and guidance in place to be able to take our failures and turn them into future successes.