Making small talk has been pretty easy for me lately.
When someone says to me, “What’s new with you?”
I say, “Well, the main news around our house is that we just sent our oldest son off to Marine Corps boot camp.”
Pretty easy to have a conversation from there. Either you’ve been there, you know someone who has, or you are really curious about what the experience is like and how we are dealing with it.
It has been and continues to be a roller coaster. There’s pride, concern, resolve, loss, and a whole bunch of other emotions to deal with.
But, it’s also a really interesting experience to be a part of as someone who’s keenly interested in the growth and development of human beings.
My son, Dylan, is currently in early stages of boot camp. Before he left, his recruiters were working with him for 3-4 hours per day to condition him physically and mentally for this experience. Consider that for a moment. He was conditioning several hours a day to get ready for what is the equivalent of “new hire orientation” into the Marine Corps.
Dylan had spent time in conversation with a lot of Marines before he left, trying to prepare for the experience, trying to understand what was about to happen to him. And, I think he felt prepared.
This week, we finally got our first letters from Dylan. For those who haven’t been through this experience, one of the things that makes it crazy is that from the moment you drop your child off to leave for bootcamp until graduation from boot camp some 13 weeks later, the only form of communication you can have is through snail mail. So, we are rediscovering the art of letter writing. I digress. We got the first letters.
The first four words on the letter, “Alright, well, this sucks.”
This wasn’t a surprise to us. It’s what we were told to expect. It is supposed to suck. It is supposed to be uncomfortable. The process is designed to break you down and build you back up. And, the Marine Corps takes this process deadly serious.
This whole experience has left me reflecting on a few things.
- Growth and discomfort are inseparable. You can’t have growth without discomfort. I know that I, personally, have been way to comfortable lately. Dylan is inspiring me to get off my ass and out of my comfort zone more of the time.
- The growth/discomfort relationship is proportional. Want a little growth, you’ll need to get a little uncomfortable. Want massive growth, you will need to get massively uncomfortable. The Marine Corp turns kids into soldiers in 13 weeks–hence the massive discomfort.
- My son volunteered to experience massive discomfort (at levels most of us can’t even fathom) because he believes in what the Marine Corp does and who it protects. He was called to do something and he made a huge commitment. Turns out, even young people will voluntarily submit themselves to significant discomfort if they believe strongly enough in the cause.
- How do we rectify the current conventional wisdom that we should try to make every employee happy and comfortable at all times with their desire for growth and development (which requires discomfort)? Is the answer in finding and clarifying our organizational purpose, making sure that we are making a true impact that people are willing to get uncomfortable for?
- The complexity in this is that while Dyl knew about the discomfort and willingly signed up for it, he is not enjoying it. He sounded pretty miserable in his first couple letters. We knew this would likely be the case. Our role as parents is to provide support and encouragement. Help him find the motivation to keep going.
- So, it’s important to remember that if we are putting people in high growth, massively uncomfortable situations at work, we need to remember to provide massive levels of support and encouragement. This doesn’t mean to protect them from the discomfort, just to help them keep going when things get really tough. I think we fall down on this far too often. Even the best among us can crumble when the pressure gets to a certain point.
Part of what helps me feel settled with Dylan becoming a Marine is that I believe that the Marine Corps has the best training organization in the world. I’m going to try to learn as much as I can from his experience. I’ll try to share as much of that with you as I can.