Today I reached 80 followers! I wanted to post briefly to thank you all for reading along, and summarize what I do for anyone else who might want to join the community.
I love to write, and pursue that in all its forms, but my heart is in revitalizing mental health culture and my destiny is to help the broken find healing. My favorite things to write about are philosophical concepts and self-betterment. Here are 9 of my blogs you may want to read if you have mental struggles, want to be a better person, or want to help someone else who may be struggling:
If those helped bring you some peace, there are many more you can explore on my page. I also write about the cultural lessons I’ve learned as a blogger, and an example of that is my monthly post entitled, “Everything I’ve Learned About Blogging.”
I have a lot more planned and appreciate anyone following along. Lastly, I want to give props to one of the blogs that I really enjoy following and who has been a great support to me: Go check out Lovelorn, a fellow idealist and philosophical thinker.
Please feel free to share this with anyone who needs some mental health tools, and stay tuned for more on overcoming adversity through an attitude of resilience and defiance!
I’m keeping it simple in today’s post: here are four books that can help pull you back from the brink.
“Many Lives, Many Masters” by Brian Weiss: If you can stomach Eastern Ideology (Which I personally love and connect to more than Western Ideology), this book can really help you find peace about the meaning of life. It’s about a therapist who uses hypnotic regression to help people overcome trauma. He begins to notice a pattern that some people regress to what appear to be previous lives. Over the course of the book, he learns that the more stubborn we are about learning particular lessons throughout our lives, the more difficult progress can become. He even gets some prophetic advice and tells us about why we connect to certain individuals more than others. Just read it, you won’t regret it. Most people I recommend it to read it in one sitting.
“Please Understand Me II” By David Keirsey: This book begins with a Myers Briggs personality test, and then deep dives into each personality type, why you process information and feel the way that you do, and how you interact with others because of SCIENCE. It’s very validating to read and helps with self-awareness. Highly recommended to anyone having relationship and communication stress.
“The Alchemist” By Paulo Coelho: The only fiction work on my list, this book is sometimes scoffed at by intellectuals (but only because they aren’t intellectual enough to understand it.) This book has won multiple awards, been translated into multiple languages, and helped thousands of people find peace. Follow the journey of a young Shepherd who travels across the world seeking wisdom and ultimately finds peace in an unexpected place. You can read this book time and again and it never gets old – it’s wisdom shared through allegory, and should sit on every poet’s shelf.
“Quiet – The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking” By Susan Cain: If you feel disconnected from a complacent world, and are exhausted by nonsensical falsities and surface level conversation, read about how you can empower yourself to change the world using your natural strengths. Susan Cain literally started a cultural revolution dedicated to the empowerment of introverts; you only need to look at the name of my blog to see how influential her work was for me. A True Visionary who has my honest and utmost respect.
If you don’t feel better after reading those, check out my other blogs on mental and spiritual wholeness, like this one, which gives practical advice for managing stress.
As a prior enlisted Sailor, I have a way of stating things in a straight forward manner…This article was very nearly entitled, “Let’s Put the “I” Back in Suicide,” but I thought that might be a bit much for a lot of folks.
This is obviously a complicated topic to address, as made obvious by the fact that hundreds of people who are a lot more intelligent and qualified than I am have been attempting to address it for quite some time (and much to no avail). I’d ask that any influencers reading along try to bear with me and see the value-added despite any choppiness. I’m also not claiming to have a 100% solution, because, as we will discuss below…there IS no 100% solution. First, I want to make a couple of broader points that apply to both a person contemplating suicide, and to a person they might approach for help:
We (as leaders, family members, and friends) have ZERO control over the actions of other humans. Society is largely built on the illusion of control, and that illusion is primarily carried by “the fear of consequence”. Think about any establishment or order and there’s bound to be some consequence that holds it all together. (If you aren’t saved, you’re going to hell. If you break the law, you’ll serve time. Disobey an order, you’ll lose a rank. Cheat on your spouse, they’ll leave you.) When a person gets to the point of seriously considering suicide, it means they’ve become apathetic toward a world of consequence. There’s no questioning it: if a person makes that call, it’s their own, deeply personal decision to make. Take your own moral compass and emotions out of it. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re being selfish. It doesn’t matter if the shock wave effects everyone or if someone else has to fill their boots during the upcoming deployment cycle. Those are all valid points, but none counteract that only an individual can decide whether or not to end their own life. In fact, of the folks who contemplate or commit suicide, many do so because they feel they’ve lost control and are making the one decision that ONLY they have control over. This point is critical to all of my later points. What they really need is a reason (sometimes even the tiniest hint of a reason) to choose to live.
THE SAME EMOTIONS THAT CAUSE SUICIDE CAN PREVENT US FROM HELPING TO OVERCOME IT: Fear, Guilt, Shame, Loneliness, and (bet you didn’t think this one was gonna be on this list) Loyalty. I’ll further explore this idea below.
While the use of policy to address suicide prevention no doubt stems from the best of intentions, we have all seen the result of that effort. Military personnel all the way up and down the chain, veterans, medics, firemen, police officers, and even children are still choosing death at alarming rates. The more I develop my mission in the world, the more people reach out to me as someone who can help. I am deeply honored (seriously) to help however I can by offering actual solutions, but I also have to share the lessons and patterns I’ve observed with others who WANT to help, but are doing so the wrong way.
The first thing I generally hear from people who reach out to me from the brink is this: “Dude, seriously, please don’t call the cops.” Or, “Bro, seriously, don’t call my Senior Enlisted Leader.” They expect us to call someone else because they sense our fear of failing them.
Everyone is afraid to feel responsible for another person’s suicide.
There’s no easy answer to why life is so difficult, so it’s difficult to be confident that you can be the one to stop them from pulling the trigger. Going back to point number one though, that simply isn’t your decision to make – it’s not your decision, and therefore, it is not your responsibility. Preventing suicide is not about being anyone’s savior, it’s about helping them find the answer to their desperation within themselves. It’s not that you shouldn’t care, but you MUST accept the fact that they are going to make the call one way or another. You have to be tough (but very gentle) in your love. Allow them to be free and expressive, but don’t allow them to manipulate you. Offer unconditional love, and offer acceptance of who they are…offer support of their dreams for life, and tell them you hope they don’t choose to end their lives, but don’t beg or plead, and don’t feel like you need to pass the responsibility off to someone who is a virtual stranger to them.
People are still afraid to reach out because of professional consequences and because of their own reputation. They hold their careers and the outside perception of who they are in a higher regard than they do their own lives. This is a cultural problem. So many of the people who have reached out to me have told me how stupid they feel for reaching out because “You’re younger than me,” or because “I’m a damned CPO,” or because “I haven’t been through what you’ve been through.” Guilt, shame, and fear prevent communication and cause suicide. I don’t think that’s really news to most people. One relevant emotion I hadn’t acknowledged until recently though, either in my own journey or in my experience helping others, is LOYALTY. Loyalty has a HUGE part to play in military suicide – in all suicides, really. People on the brink don’t want to put “the weight of their demons” onto “someone who has enough to deal with already.” They don’t want to fail their units by not being deployable. And they don’t want to turn to someone who they haven’t already established loyalty with. (Enter “TQV” – it isn’t about saving, it’s about empowering through an attitude of resilience and defiance. It’s about cultural revolution.)
Your Commanding Officer doesn’t want to talk to the CMC about his mental health problems any more than your E-3 does. It doesn’t matter how “good” the CMC is, people want to talk to someone who genuinely cares about them and understands where they’re at (Granted a CMC could do both of those, and most CMC’s would genuinely want to help as evidenced by their decades of service…but think about it from the perspective of the E3 or the CO.) What it takes is a strong team dynamic which is reinforced by personal resilience. Combine that with actual solutions to dealing with high stress situations, and a kindred spirit to discuss spiritual and mental health matters with without having to tiptoe on ice for fear you’ll offend them, and we’ll be well on our way toward reducing those problem statistics.
In short, sending service members to mandatory and redundant annual training is not going to prevent them from committing suicide. What it WILL do is cause service members to feel responsible for the decision of a grown ass person who chooses to end their own life. They’ll think they missed signs that may not have existed, or that they should’ve done more. When approached, they won’t feel empowered to support their peers, they’ll feel obligated to pass them up the chain and further complicate their lives by publicizing what should be an inner-circle issue. Stop pretending that everyone doesn’t go through it. Stop trying to regulate the human experience. Most of all, trust yourself to be the pillar of support a person needs as THEY make a crucial decision about their own future.
People love to talk about themselves. It’s an early lesson for many, particularly in intelligence, but also in politics, journalism, and a plethora of other careers. It’s a healthy attribute – it helps us to connect to one another, build our inner circle, and relate to other cultures – but when the ego becomes programmed to draw a constant comparison between our own experiences and the experiences of those around us, a culture of inadequacy and exaggeration is formed. Instead of an environment of growth and empowerment, we create one of stagnation which sucks the motivation out of a large percentage of the work force. We feel the need to “fluff” our resumes and stories, as if our actual life experience isn’t really enough, and we create a sort of “laundry list” of events that make us who we are. There’s no laundry list. The entirety of our journey makes us who we are, not just the catch-phrases that sound good to other people.
“Cool guy clubs” are particularly prominent in a military environment, and are a primary contributor to many psychological effects that follow military service. Particularly during their first decade, whatever experience a service member gains is never really enough. I remember reporting to my second command following a pretty intense tour which featured some of the toughest mental training a sailor can go through, followed by a deployment to the Horn of Africa and another to Central America. I’d been broken down and rebuilt a number of times, but the first question my new supervisor asked was, “So what ship were you on?” When I responded that I hadn’t served on a ship (other than to travel to various third-world countries), he responded, “Don’t worry – we’ll make a real sailor out of you.” I was a non-commissioned officer with multiple medals and warfare specialties, but evidently, I wasn’t a “real” sailor.
Even before then, during my first tour, you weren’t one of the “Cool guys” unless you were an expert marksman. Or an interrogator. Or unless you’d been through SERE, or been OC sprayed. There was an endless list of experiences that evidently mattered, but it was only comprised of things you hadn’t already done. I always thought that it was a phenomenon exclusive to the military, but as it turns out, it isn’t.
“Oh, you run a blog? Did you break a thousand followers yet?”
“Oh, you’re an author? How many books have you published?”
“Oh, you’re getting married? First time?”
“Welcome to the Company! Have your degree yet?”
Instead of contributing to the journey of others, we compare ourselves to
Instead of flaunting all the reasons that leaders are in a leadership position, (This is why I have authority over you. This is why I am cooler than you.) leaders should be validating not only the experience of their employees, but also the personality traits and organic strengths that they each contribute to the team.
Upon taking my current position, my boss handed me a drawing of a blank check. He said, “You know what that is? It’s empowerment. I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t trust your judgement. As long as you know you can deliver what you promise people, you don’t need to ask my permission first.”
So break down that “Cool guy” culture. It’s not about who is the most tactical, who has been shot at the most, or how cool your Oakley’s and five-eleven pants are. It’s about humble confidence, a proactive attitude, and enabling your people to achieve their truest potential (rather than trying to hold them under your thumb and keep them at a place that makes you comfortable).
Leadership isn’t comfortable. Train your replacement – hell, train your CEO’s replacement. Help your people to achieve their dreams, and in doing so, you’ll make endless progress toward achieving your own. And if you get good at that, make everyone you meet one of “your people.” Humanity is a group experience. If you find a passionate person out there who has managed to escape complacency, encourage their passion. Don’t rid them of it.
I’m a firm believer in “micro-to-macro” philosophy: that, if you pay attention to small lessons, they are nearly always applicable on a larger scale. That said, I recently heard a senior manager talking about one of the non-verbal ques he watches for during an interview – the interviewee’s comfort level with their necktie. He said he doesn’t just watch how someone dresses when he conducts an interview – he watches how comfortable they are with the manner of dress.
My initial thought was that it was a bit over the top and
that someone’s comfort level with a necktie (which, let’s admit, is basically
uncomfortable) doesn’t really affect their job performance or leadership
But then I tied the concept to leadership ideology, which I’ve spelled out below.
A leader that does not make adjustments is not a leader.
If you put your tie on in the morning, feel like it looks great, and then get to your interview location and it looks awful, you’d be remiss not to quickly adjust before you walked in for the interview. Similarly, if you see your organization is on the wrong path, a decisive adjustment is exactly what the doctor wrote.
Ideally, you should make that adjustment in private.
Once you realized your tie was on incorrectly, you’d preferably adjust it in the bathroom or in your own office. Particularly where people are concerned, it’s important to criticize privately and praise publicly.
Adjustment to your personal policies or outlooks should also be made in private so that you can keep your people focused and motivated. First, make the adjustment, and then redirect the course.
The key word here is ideally. Occasionally, a situation warrants public adjustment – whether it’s one employee disrespecting another, or your own idea that needs to be re-examined. It’s important to own your mistakes and, at times, to make sure other people own theirs.
Adjustments need to be decisive and efficient.
What the manager I referred to in the beginning of this article is really paying attention to is fidgeting, not adjusting. Nobody wants a leader who implements knee-jerk reactions and extreme disciplinary measures. Don’t let your company’s culture degrade to the point that you cannot execute a simple, decisive directive to get them back on track. Reach up, adjust your collar, and carry on smartly. Have an efficient and executable plan, and stick to it. Failing to do so will quickly lose you the confidence you’ve worked so hard to earn from your people.
Lastly – if you’re going to wear a tie, prove that you deserve to.
It doesn’t do any good to wear a tie if your posture and presence is that of a depressed teenager undergoing puberty. If your management (or indeed, your subordinates) trusts you enough to put you into a leadership position, you should constantly seek to pay it forward by putting your people and company before yourself. Be the leader that seeks to enable and better your team, not a surface level alpha-type who never sees past the cover of the book.
Finally, a brief lesson from another observation. During a recent departmental audit, my boss shook hands with our auditor and led him into our conference room. We all took our seats, and then he said, “Bill, you’ve seen that I cared enough to wear a tie, right?”
The auditor laughed, said that he had, and then my boss removed his tie and threw it on the next chair over, inviting Bill to do the same.
When you can, do things the comfortable way, not the uncomfortable one, and be aware enough not to judge a prospective employee based on how they interact with their necktie.
For more exploration of leadership, culture, and philosophy, be sure to click follow and join us next time. Humanity constantly provides opportunities to learn about the whole by examining one of its many parts.
I was born with an amazing gift: emotional intelligence. Empathy, intuition, and discernment have always come so naturally to me that, from some views, it borders on telepathy. I can see where a person is at in their life-journey, communicate with them in a way that makes them comfortable, and make them feel understood and enabled. Often, I will reach out to check on one of the few people in my inner circle at the exact point of a tragedy, which shocks my closest friends most of all because of the consistency at which it occurs over the course of a decade.
I was also born with a terrible curse: the self-same trait. For the majority of my life, I have read peoples’ emotions so well – have been so connected to them – that I never wanted to disagree, say no, or let go of their problems. Instead of carrying the weight of my emotions exclusively, I’d stay up well into the night just trying to digest everything I’d perceived throughout the day…and throughout the months and years preceding it.
I carried pain not only from the people I’d met, but from the articles and books I’d read, from stories I’d heard, or even from strangers only seen from a distance. And I didn’t only carry their pain, I also carried their guilt. If a complete stranger didn’t act in a way that was “right,” I perceived it as a collective human failure – as my failure. I was also so concerned about peoples’ comfort level during communication that I developed an intense social anxiety by trying to read every conversational tone and interpret every subtle movement during interactions.
I’ve read dozens of articles of late – many with studies and science to back them – which say that emotional intelligence is more important than any other leadership attribute. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that many (often introverted) unrecognized leaders are being given the chance they deserve to grow into leadership roles. But unchecked – unbalanced – emotional intelligence can quickly lead to personal burnout while also preventing us from making our people undergo uncomfortable but necessary growth.
The key to being a great leader isn’t one definable trait, but a balance of many traits. It’s not about understanding and placating people – it’s about understanding where they are now, where they need to go next, and how to get them there in a way that is most impactful to the individual in question. Sometimes you have to confront hard truths. Sometimes you have to operate outside of your box. Then again, sometimes qualities are so engrained in people that it isn’t productive to try and force them to operate outside their nature.
A holistic approach to leadership is more effective than exulting a single quality. Emotional intelligence is profoundly important, but we also need to know how to develop future leaders who have that attribute as a defining strength. Teaching them self-care and delegation are a large part of that. Emotionally intelligent people are givers with no boundaries – but you can’t take care of your people unless you know how to take care of yourself first. In order to properly build a team, we have to consider every person on that team – which includes ourselves.
In short, Emotional Intelligence is an attribute that will largely contribute to the success of modern leaders. But unlike the trendy articles going viral of late, I don’t believe that it’s going to be the most valuable currency in the human landscape moving forward. Leaders still have to have grit, authority, and presence to balance their empathy, and they have to learn to funnel the emotions they perceive into focus in a way that does not overwhelm them.