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Embracing failure

“My list of failures is longer than space allows for this article, but trust me-there have been more, both personal and professional,” said Col. Joel Saefranek. “That said, I’m forever grateful for those failures because they have defined me and made me the person I am today.” (Courtesy photo by Storyblocks.com)

“My list of failures is longer than space allows for this article, but trust me-there have been more, both personal and professional,” said Col. Joel Safranek. “That said, I’m forever grateful for those failures because they have defined me and made me the person I am today.” (Courtesy photo by Storyblocks.com)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Whenever I attend a change-of-command, promotion or retirement ceremony I take the time to read the official biography. I enjoy reading biographies because they give me insight into an Airman’s life; I can compare assignments and deployments, and see in what capacities they have served our nation – but what you will never find inside a program are the person’s failures.

Everyone has them, but no one wants them on display due to a fear of embarrassment. Keynote speakers only talk about their achievements. In my own biography, you will find a litany of successes, and Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck alluded only to those highlights during my change of command, with no mention of my failures.

As a result, an official biography is a skewed representation at best. Unfortunately, our aversion to acknowledging anything but accomplishments and accolades can project an unrealistic persona: we are immune to failure. The reality is, no one has made it without some sort of failure along the way.

As you read this, a few of your own failures may come to mind. For me, there are a few failures I will never forget.

As a young kid, my dream was to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and become a pilot. Then, in April of my senior year of high school, I received a letter from the Academy’s director of admissions stating, “I regret to inform you that you will not be offered an appointment to the Air Force Academy this year.” I was devastated. To my surprise, my mother did not seem to be as upset as I was; instead, she viewed my rejection from the Academy as an opportunity for me to face failure and see if I would overcome it. With my parents’ support and extra motivation, I worked hard to have a competitive package for the next round of admissions. I am happy to report, a year later, I received a second letter from the Academy, inviting me to attend.

Not all of my failures have resulted in a rebound, though. Going into the Academy, my goal was to graduate with military honors. I fell short. I entered pilot training with dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. That did not happen either. In 2005, I interviewed to be a Presidential Advance Agent. For this position, they were short-manned and hired 10 of 13 interviewees; but I was not one of them. In 2008, I interviewed to attend either the Marine Corps’ School of Advanced Warfighting or the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies. Neither chose me.

My list of failures is longer than space allows for this article, but trust me – there have been more, both personal and professional. That said, I am forever grateful for those failures because they have defined me and made me the person I am today.

So, if you find yourself failing, consider yourself in good company. I was reminded of this recently with the passing of former president George H.W. Bush. As commentators discussed his life, they recounted his losses: both of his senate races, his first run for the White House and his presidential re-election. The reality is, no matter the position, we are all human, and no one is exempt from failure.

If you or your fellow Airmen are currently struggling with any challenges or a sense of failure, please know the Air Force cares and has a variety of trained professionals, who stand ready to help those in need. In order to be ready to help yourself or your fellow Airmen through tough times, I encourage you to download the Dover AFB App and see what helping agencies are available by using the CAF (Comprehensive Airman Fitness) icon. For those who have family and friends, I encourage you to lean on them for support as well.

Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Failure can be painful at the time, but if you are able to acquire the best resources to help you through it, you may find that failure – and your reaction to it – may teach you some of the greatest lessons.