#131 The Dragon Slayer

For the last year or so, I have written almost exclusively about working to discover who you are. Who you really are. About doing the personal excavation necessary to discover the true and elemental parts of yourself. In my understanding of this, the excavation would reveal strong and positive new parts of you, "I am a happy person.", "I am a strong person." etc All positive statements. All about goodness...or at least what we commonly understand to be positive attributes in people.

An equal truth would be a recognition of who and what you are not. Those parts deserve equal consideration too. If you are taking the journey of self-understanding and self awareness, it may be just as critical to come to an understanding and acceptance of those things that you are not as it is to become aware of those things that you truly are. They are flip sides of the same coin. Both an important part of your authentic self. If authenticity is the key for successful leadership, then to deny those things you are not is just as foolish as denying those elemental things that you are.

This train of thought all came about because after 3 years of work, and countless hours and meetings and packaging of information, and briefings, and begging people for a chance, the marksmanship program that I created and was later supported and expanded by others just completed it's most successful week ever. Every Soldier who went through it qualified on their first attempt. 38% of them shot Expert. And the average score was a 33.5. Those are outstanding numbers. Almost unheard of in most units throughout the Army. A true accomplishment for my team and me. And yet, at the end of the day, I felt almost empty about the whole thing. It didn't seem to matter too much to me. I had done what I set out to do. What's next? I needed another dragon to slay.

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, she told me that it was my inability to enjoy happiness and success that made me feel this way. And that got me thinking...Am I truly unable to enjoy those things? Must there always be some challenge or problem in front of me? Is is all about finding a new dragon? The true answer is yes. I am most happy, most content, and truly me when I have a challenge in front of me. Once it has been conquered, I find myself at a loss.

At another point, we had an exchange about the restlessness I feel when I have accomplished something. The, "OK, I did it. Now what?" feeling I get. The diminution of the importance of whatever it was that just got accomplished. And somewhere in that exchange, I came to this realization: It is just as false to try to deny parts of you that might be considered negative, as it is to fight the acceptance of parts of yourself that are positive. It's not that I cannot be happy or accept success, it's that it is a fundamental piece of me that some of my happiness is derived from the challenges and obstacles that I face.

I am an intense person. I like to think, argue, debate, plan, work, and consider. I thrive on challenges and problems to solve. And truthfully, if I don't have one in front of me, you'd best look out. I just might create one or two to have something to bitch about! (Any of you who read this and who know me are probably laughing right now!) I do not do laid-back very well. No one would ever mistake me for easy going. It's just not who I am. When I am truly happiest and most me, I am fully engaged in solving a problem, or thinking about something intensely, or facing a challenge. Like she said, "You can drink a beer and listen to Buffett, but you are most you when you can bring all of your energy to bear against something. You are very powerful in those moments." And that felt very very true to me.

The problem with her statement isn't actually the statement itself. The problem is how that energy and power manifests itself in how I behave. It generally comes out in bursts of pent-up anger. The boiling over of little tiny things that are of no real consequence that, taken together, reach a tipping point and then I must rant. I must rant and yell and express my frustration. And it is generally done in an extremely sarcastic and belittling fashion to anyone within earshot. Doesn't mean I'm wrong, just means I'm being mean in order to vent and bleed off some of the intensity.

And then she challenged me with this: Why couldn't that intensity, that drive, that focus and that energy be used to look for and cultivate positive things in my life? That stopped me cold. I literally had no answer. In fact, I couldn't even imagine what that looked like or how to do it. I just kind of stared at it dumbfounded. The only way that I know how to focus my energy and power right now is in the negative emotion of anger.

All of which leads me to this point about self-awareness. It isn't the truth of you that is good or bad, it's the behavior you use to manifest those truths. For me to try to become someone who can take the world day by day and meet all the unexpected twists and turns with e relaxed acceptance, and live in the moment and only for that moment, is just as much play acting and false as trying to deny that at heart I am a happy man. That I like to laugh and have fun. That I am an optimist most of the time. That I am hopeful.
For me to be truly me, powerfully authentic and real, I have to accept that the intensity will always be there. That it is as much a part of me as the laughter and hope. The trick is to learn to let it manifest itself honestly in ways that have a positive impact on my life and the lives of those around me. To take all of that power and all of that energy and use it in an enhancing way instead of in a detracting one. It doesn't deny an elemental part of me, I just need to learn to use it in a positive way.

I am a dragon slayer. And while that may sound funny to you, it is a fundamental part of who I am. When I am completely engaged and completely focused and completely absorbed by the problem or challenge I face, I am - in that moment - most purely me. To pretend otherwise would be to deny me to myself. I cannot do that anymore readily than I can pretend that I am not a strong, powerful, active and engaged man, father, husband and leader.

So, are those parts of you that you most consider negatives actually so? Are they really 'good' or 'bad'? Or are they truly neutral? In and of themselves neither 'good' not 'bad', just parts of who you truly and authentically are. It may not be that your true self is either one or the other. It may only be that the way you manifest that truth has a positive or negative effect on those you lead. Something to think about.....

In the meantime, I've got a few more dragons to slay.....

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.


  1. Really great blog/thoughts!....understanding who you are, the good, the bad and the ugly....the authentic you....the authentic self.....striving to be as knowledgable of the self as is humanly possible....

    which, in the pefect world, would lead to an appropriate and sound level of self-regulation - of managing, shaping, and controling the good, the bad, and the ugly....

    In the last week or so I have been provided with more "ammunition" that our Army and some of its leader developers like to talk about self-awareness and say the Army is doing it....but I beg to differ....I am convinced that you can tell how self-aware someone is by what they say, think, and do....and unless people are consciously choosing to be selfish, self-serving, and "me me me" - then they lack in both self-awareness and/or self-regulation (or else they simply don't really understand these constructs)....

    and to better be able to lead others, understand one's environment, and effect positive change, maximizing SA/SR is a must....


  2. Who is speaking truth into your life Jeff? How does your wife feel about being married to a dragon slayer? Is that what she truly wants? How do you see the condition of your relationship when you are elderly and far into the twilight of your lives? Is this examination of 'self' building to an ever deeper, more understanding, loving and harmonious loving relationship?

    Let me offer you a different perspective Jeff. Having read a great deal of your writing I am feeling bold enough to step over the boundaries of gentleness and common courtesy. Your writing is self serving and egotistical. This leads to the deduction that the service you give to your nation and family primarily affirms you needs and bolsters that sense of pride and achievement, leaving you feeling like a conquering lion (or dragon slayer).

    You and your achievements have been mounted on a pedestal by the Army and it must be driving those who love you mad. Your position and status has taken over and, if the comments on the blog are anything to go by, you are surrounded by sycophants, none of whom are in a position to love you well with the truth. Your meta-narrative is self and I am left wondering what survival skills those who love you most have adopted.

    My encouragement would be to take a season of listening. Ditch the blogging and speaking and take a different perspective. Ignore the Ralph Emerson or T Jefferson school of ideas as they just reinforce your prejudices and try some Jonathan Edwards or Charles Spurgeon and if you want to be contemporary try C S Lewis or Tim Keller, The Reason for God Belief in An Age of Skepticism, (if I knew your address I would gift you a copy).

    What makes me so confident and bold? It's because I see what I once was in your writing and I too needed people who speak candid truths into my life (still do and fortunately have). You have a soul Jeff and your life has meaning and purpose in a far richer and more rewarding way than the Army has provided or these thoughts reflect.

    I really do appreciate you laying out your thoughts. They capture the dominant cultural narrative beautifully and I only hope that my counter cultural response captures your imagination. Perhaps it may lead to you adopting a refreshing new approach to the rest of the summer season.


  3. Adrian - As usual, thank you for your comments. I appreciate that you take the time to reply and to carefully consider what it is you have to offer me and others who read the blog.

    You are not alone in telling me that you think that my writing is self-serving. Others have done the same. And others have also suggested that I take time off from the blog. I choose each week to continue my writing for my own reasons. The choice to read it rests solely with others.

    The blog is self-serving in that it is the vehicle that I have chosen to express my thoughts and ideas about the Army, my service, and in a larger sense my life. The recent posts chronicling my journey of discovery actually stem from something that you mentioned in your reply above. During my early career, I was continually rewarded and feted and chosen and groomed and put on a pedestal. That most certainly happened and lasted almost a decade. And along the way, I stopped listening to me and started chasing the next brass ring. Each accomplishment was never enough. I was always looking for the next accolade or pat on the head. My identity became too closely tied to the Army's wants and designs for me and not for myself.

    As my world started to come unraveled after Black Hearts, the consuming idea then became to claw back up that pedestal at any cost. I would only be made whole when the Army granted me absolution and returned me to a position of trust and authority. What I could not see then, was that the only person who can grant that to me is me. And that has been the journey I have been on over the last 5 months. To learn enough about myself to know who and what I am irrespective of any outside thoughts.

    Interestingly, over the last 5 months, as the writing has become more personal and less just ranting at the institution or seeking some absolution from the Army,, those closest to me have seen a very positive effect on me. Since you inquired about it, my wife is a strong supporter of the writing and has seen a very marked positive change in me since I started looking for my authentic self rather than some made up character that the Army created.

    Each week now I am finding new truths about me and spending considerable time thinking about them. This week was no different. The dragon slayer title has more to do with me viewing my world as a problem all the time and not as easily seeing it as an adventure to be lived in it's fullest measure. Seeing both the goodness and challenges in equal measure and having the self-confidence to know that I can handle each in it's own space. That is all I meant by that.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts. I certainly appreciate them and consider them each time you reply.


  4. Fen, your on-going journey, as manifested through this blog, is a powerful and real testimony to "pre" and "post" Black Hearts....it is so clear to me where you have been, where you now are, and where you are going....

    if only more people could see things as clearly as you now do without having to experience the trauma that you did.....


  5. Cool, happy days, thanks, that's encouraging and helpful.

  6. A Drill Sargent once said to me, "Stop being afraid of your own damn shadow. Grow a back bone!"

    It was probably the single most powerful thing anyone had ever said to me.

    Up until that point I had lived in a world limited by many things. My financial situation. My family situation. But above all, I had been limited by myself.

    It's so very easy to label ourselves as one way, to concentrate on one aspect of our lives and our actions until that is all we think we are. To put ourselves in a small box and hide behind the walls of our creation, so we can say, "No, I can't do that, I'm limited." Or even worse, "I wish I could do that, but..."

    Our world is not made up of black and white, so there is no reason we should be created that way, either. We are all shades of gray, with spots of color thrown in for good measure. How we choose to paint the world around us is up to us, and only us. We can influence people, we can change our surroundings, but until we accept ourselves for everything we are, the good and the bad, then nothing in our life will change.

    I made a choice that day to stop letting my fear rule me, but I've fallen back behind those walls a few times. That is the true challenge in any life, and one that takes most of us a lifetime to truly overcome.

    Good luck on your journey! And thanks for helping me with mine.