Several years ago I ran into the story of a soldier in the Vietnam War, a soldier who started as the classic last kid picked for the team, bottom of the barrel sort of person. It was entirely easy to label him as “the screw up” and send him away because nobody would want that guy on a mission. It could have ended there, with our soldier being the screw up no one wanted for time an all eternity; however, that’s not what happened.
The salvation of this man came through his own honest effort; a little instruction and assistance from a wise old sergeant; and… a cup of coffee.
The sergeant could see what was happening. He talked with his soldier and then made some changes. The sergeant took away all of the soldier’s previous duties and gave him one, just one, thing to do. The soldier would be attached to the company headquarters and was to make sure that the captain had a hot cup of coffee available at any time he wanted one. It was a little thing, a silly thing, but it was something the soldier could do if he put in the effort. And this simple act, this one duty, bore amazing fruit.
The soldier, the former ‘screw up’, did his one duty. The captain had a cup of hot coffee when and where ever he wanted. And, the soldier received two critical things: sure knowledge that he was not a complete screw up, he could do things if he tried; and the opportunity to observe and learn without undue stress and criticism.
The soldier took this opportunity to observe and learn, and then he stepped up to do. Our soldier was no great tactician or leader. He wasn’t a great fighter slaying the enemy with his M16 and bayonet. He wasn’t an engineer conjuring wondrous structures and impenetrable defenses with just his entrenching tool and some communications wire. But, the man did have a gift. And, when he was given the opportunity and knowledge he needed, that gift came out.
Our soldier, the ‘screw up’ no one wanted, was a logistical problem solver. This soldier became the man who could find solutions and get dry socks and warm meals to the men of his unit. That might not sound like much if you’re sitting in your own home with your own washer and dryer, and pizza delivery on speed dial. But, trust me, if you’re out in the field, out in the dirt and muck, that kind of thing matters.
The soldier, the former ‘screw up’, became a beloved and valued member of the unit because he was given an opportunity, a chance to both learn and succeed, and he took it. He took action to become better than he had been before.
But what does this mean to us?
And so it is with us dear reader. We stand on all sides of this equation.
There are times when we are the ‘screw up’ who just needs one success, even a tiny one, and a bit of knowledge and support to put us on course to better things.
There are times when we are the one who can see a need, and an opportunity. In that case we are called upon to take action and help someone to help themselves.
Sometimes we are one of the others in the unit, the ones who need to allow space for change; the ones who will forgive the faults of the past and give someone who can grow the space and opportunity to do so.
Sooner or later we play all three roles dear reader. Sooner or later all good things will come if we let them.
That’s it for this one dear reader, see you next post… Until then…
Find an opportunity and take it!