What does your future look like? Most of us live our lives with a certain prediction about what we have approaching us. We do so because we are free to make choices that influence our lives. Where do I live? Who do I marry? What job do I pursue? Where do I ask the career advisor to be posted? Should I have had that extra cocktail at 3am? These questions, within our power, convince us of the illusion that we might just be able to control our destiny. And an illusion it remains. We can make choices now that may just ebb the tides of our future towards what we desire, but nothing can stop that bus ending you as swiftly as you may have unknowingly ended that ant you stepped on in the queue for your morning coffee. Such is fate, it is inexorable.
Few of us would argue this was certainly the case with 2020. How did you respond when your year changed irreversibly? I was due to spend my second year of command being tested in the crucible that is the Joint Warfare Series – coordinating battlegroup ISR operations, plans, and Bn support assets on Exercise Hamel – and then deploying on an exceptional international engagement opportunity in Papua New Guinea. The year was bright. We had a great team, and we were ready. But fate can be cruel, and we ended up remaining bound to home and suffering a slow dissection as our team was shredded piecemeal in service to demands beyond our control. Such is the price of service, duty, and fate.
And for this, I am thankful. Without my fate, I would not have been tested in ways I never thought I could be as a commander and was given opportunities to express leadership in truly meaningful ways. I learnt what I can only call ‘emotional fatigue’; alongside the need to be transparently truthful and ‘human’ to your subordinates. I learnt the benefits of Amor Fati, which is to love whatever fate is placed in front of you, regardless of the past or possible future. Recognising the present as a gift (hence its name) is a powerful mindset.
This gift is freely available to everyone, and it is acutely applicable to anyone who commits themselves to service and chooses to forgo their individual luxuries and needs. We, who serve in the Army, are possibly unique in that we are a community of people who are giving their time, and often their youngest years, to serve others and a cause greater than ourselves. But many of us are still easily baffled, angered, or disgruntled by what fate serves us – what is completely outside of our control. Learning to love your situation – soaked to the bone in a water filled pit with the mosquitos as your only company; or, perhaps, being forced to stay at home and not pursue the training or command that you had planned – is a skill all military personnel can not only benefit from, but is arguably essential. It is simple, but not easy. It is effortless to write about and much harder to practice.
'Accept the fact that all events happen for a reason, and that it is within your capacity to see this reason as positive.' – Robert Greene, author of Mastery
We all only have a single choice to make. How will we perceive the events in front of us? Will we avoid it, or treat it as something to be embraced? This year could have been everything I thought it was going to be, but then maybe I would have taken it for granted. Or what other worse things did this year’s circumstance shield me from? Maybe the plane taking me to Papua New Guinea might have crashed – certainly a far more terrible outcome. Instead, I got to appreciate every little chance to spend time with the people around me and cherish the small training opportunities we had together. In fact, as often happens with powerful contrast, I can now truly savour my previous experiences and create an even more powerful learning experience from them. Next to black, white appears all the brighter. And there will certainly be less wasted opportunities next year.
That is not to say we cannot be disgruntled, or that the good will always outweigh the bad. It will not. But we can always laugh about it. And we should always embrace it and use it to our advantage. Command in COVID-19 reminded me that time is a resource we cannot get back and we cannot choose what happens next, so we may as well love what we have now.