Sunday, August 2, 2009

Proving Yourself with Competition (Field Training Part 1)

I’m going to recap field training, and to avoid making this the absolutely longest post among already long posts, I’ll break why it was so miserable into three sections. I do hope these are the last time I speak of this at any great length.

First, I’ll start off with what I most feared about field training. Hmmm, so maybe first I’ll try to explain how my mind works, if that is even possible. I have a very dramatic dialogue going on in my head almost constantly (which may sometimes translate onto my face). (This is serious by the way.) I view my life as dramatic, eventful episodes and I like doing this because it’s easier for me to remember events, and how I felt about them at the time. In fact, I make a conscience effort to remember what I thought about something at this moment in time if I know it’s really important. For instance, growing up I placed these “markers” at key events so I could remember them when my children are at that age, or going through similar situations. I would carve in my brain what happened, how I felt, and what I thought my parents should have done in the situation. I know it sounds strange, but I really do this. I have no clue if I’ll use any of it when I am a parent, but I think it’s good to have.

So anyway, I prayed and prayed that my issues with the military wouldn’t be so “in my face” there. And of course they were. The “military mind-set” consists of having to prove yourself over and over again, and always being in competition with everyone around you. I guess it makes sense. “Show me what you can do.” “We only want the best.” Yeah, it sounds like what you would want from the military, but I only slightly agree with it. About a year ago, I had a “dramatic episode” of feeling like no matter what I did, I was never going to be enough. I would never be strong enough, smart enough, funny enough for pretty much every area of my life. It was starting to crush me. So what did I do? What I always do. Make a decision about how I felt about it, and burn it into my brain so I can combat those thoughts as soon as they appeared again. I decided I should never need to prove anything to anyone. I looked at my truest relationships. Have I ever had to prove anything to my mom? No. Have I needed to prove my friendships to my real friends? No. Have I ever needed to prove something to God? Just the sound of that makes me think it’s totally ridiculous! So why then do I need to prove something to anyone else? The only person that may ever need proving to is yourself, and that works a whole lot differently. I decided from then on, that I would no longer try to prove myself.

I didn’t know that that would be so hard to do! What is a job interview? Proving yourself with weak words. A test is also almost like proving what you know. But in field training, it becomes a whole new beast. The whole reason you are there is to basically prove yourself. Every second of every day, you’re “evaluated” for leadership. And I totally understand why they did everything they did. I got the point of it all. But really, field training is not real life. Leadership can’t be evaluated in a bubble, with extremely manipulated situations, with people who are only doing what they are doing because they know every move is being watched. No one’s life will ever solely consist of the Air Force the way it does in field training. So it was set up in order that I may prove myself. And you know what? I tried to leave behind what I took on as a truth of mine (which, I realized, is impossible) and attempted to prove myself. I have never tried harder in my life.

In field training you have at least three leadership evaluation forms done on you while you are in clearly defined leadership roles. I had my required three when I was the first vice flight commander, during a scenario where I had to get my people and equipment across “a river” with only rope and boards, and when I teamed up with another flight to camouflage a bunker. Honestly I impressed myself with how I handled things, and what I accomplished. My flight commander (the one who does the evaluations), however, never saw it the same way and my highest evaluation was “high satisfactory”. There are five categories, three of them passing. Unsatisfactory, Marginal, Satisfactory, Excellent, and Outstanding. Although I wasn’t disappointed with it (because I knew I did everything I could), it just showed me that I won’t be enough sometimes, which only made me want to fall back to what I already believed: that I shouldn’t try to prove anything.

That in combination with the constant competition and being ranked in the flight and having to rank everyone just chipped away at me. If we are supposed to be a team, why does someone need to be labeled “The Best”? I also see the value in competition as well. It does make you strive to be better and can push you to accomplish things you never though you could. But it also divides. In fact, with something as important as your field training rank, it divided so much that I felt I was on a reality show, where I had to make alliances and watch everything I said and did around everyone, because they may be able to use it against me. It sucked because I felt I couldn’t trust anyone. Friendly competition can only stay friendly so long. And I also believe that personal competition will always do more harm than good. These thoughts have only been strengthened at field training. Also, competition can make you feel inadequate when no matter what you do, you can’t “beat” someone else. There’s also lots of problems I see with it from a religious standpoint, but I won’t go into that right now.

So I was really hoping I could catch a break from these looming ideas. But instead, they were only pounded into our heads more. I felt like they were attempting to brainwash me. And for about a week after I got back, I still thought people were watching my every move and judging it on whether I was “a good leader”, and “made the right decision”. Thankfully, I think I’ve broken out of that.

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