Challenging experiences develop character, strength and confidence

Chief Master Sgt. John W. Steggell, 22nd Airlift Squadron Chief Enlisted Manager, shares some thoughts on developing essential leadership traits. (Courtesy Photo)

Chief Master Sgt. John W. Steggell, 22d Airlift Squadron Chief Enlisted Manager, shares some thoughts on developing essential leadership traits. (Courtesy Photo)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “Do not pray for easy lives.  Pray to be stronger men.” - John F. Kennedy 

Challenging experiences present an opportunity and an occasion for personal and professional growth. When faced with these, will we let them defeat us? Will we decline the challenge? Or, will we seek them out and accept them, defeat them, and become stronger, more experienced and skilled individuals as a result?

If you answered no to all but the last question above, you’ve got the right attitude, and will continue to grow, develop, thrive and succeed, not only in today’s Air Force, but in life.

On February 7, 1963, President John F. Kennedy remarked at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, “Let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillips Brooks:  ‘Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.”’

What President Kennedy reiterates in his statement above is don’t sit back and hope for the good life; but that strength, wisdom and an ability to succeed and be resilient is rooted in a life filled with challenges.  Also, we should seek and accept tasks that exceed our current level of proficiency, training and expertise. 

At no time in my Air Force career is it more apparent the importance of continuous self-improvement, professional development and an overall demonstration of sustained exceptional performance. This cannot be accomplished without accepting challenges, including those that the Air Force deliberately levies upon us such as off-duty education and professional military education.

President Kennedy went on to state, “We are builders of the future.” This applies today just as it did then. We must accept the challenges of our generation, and in the context of our Air Force service, this means doing what we are asked, even if it is not necessarily in our area of expertise, or specific to our current job. We must avail ourselves to challenges, accept them and prepare ourselves for execution of the mission. Whatever that happens to be.

My challenge to you is this:  place yourself outside your comfort zone in any capacity of life. Know where your own mental, emotional, physical and intellectual capacities lie. And if you don’t know these limits, find them! Otherwise, how will you ever know what you are capable of?   

My message is this:  Don’t look for the easy road in life if you are serious about success. Accept failures as your own and learn from them. Be deliberate about your personal and professional growth and seek out challenges. Set realistic and attainable goals. Place yourself outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself to develop character, strength and confidence and you will ultimately become stronger men and women as a result.