Blogging Milestone #2 (And here’s the value added)

Hello friends,

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:

  1. Radical Authenticity Can Change The World
  2. The Whole Person Concept
  3. The Crux of America’s Mental Health Problem
  4. You CAN’T Regulate Suicide Prevention – Here’s What You CAN Do
  5. Managing Abnormal Stress Levels (Don’t Pull the Trigger!)
  6. Cancer Makes us Whole (Poem)
  7. Our Band-Aid Society
  8. Frozen With Fear (And How Not to Be)
  9. Four Books to Pull You Back from the Brink

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!

Thanks again for helping me reach 80 followers.

-TQV

Frozen with Fear (And How Not To Be)

When I was 16 years old, I was selling cigarettes and t-shirts in my hometown bar, working at night and going to school during the day. I was even smaller then than I am now – maybe 130 pounds if I had a 10 pound barbell in each hand. It was an educational few years for me: I saw adults who were well respected in the community fight, vomit, and initiate affairs under the influence of alcohol. I learned how to deal with drunks, and how not to be, in a general sense.

It was during those years that I experienced my first ever “fight or flight” moment. A group on group bar fight broke out right in front of my little cubby hole of a store. It was too early in the night – the bouncers were scattered about, not expecting trouble. Still getting settled. My reaction was worse than either of the “fight or flight” options. I froze. I mean, I was a kid, right? What was I supposed to do? The guys fighting were all wearing “Tap-out” shirts and seemed like they were trying to make a name for their MMA school – MMA was just on the up and up in those years. By the time I snapped myself out of the frozen state, the bouncers had arrived. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to call for them. I just stood there, frozen in fear. Once the fight was over, I’d beaten myself up for it for half the night. I decided right then that I would never be frozen like that again because of another man’s actions.

The next time a bar fight broke out, I was ready for it. Two guys – again, way too beefy for me to take on – were pummeling each other furiously. In a lot of ways, the second fight was worse than the first. The group had mostly been throwing each other around, making a mess but not really doing any damage. These guys were throwing real blows. Blood had already been spilled by the time I heard the noise. Don’t freeze. DON’T FREEZE.

“HEY!” I yelled in the most boisterous voice I could muster. It gave them pause, but they went back to pummeling each other. I ran in. Grabbed one of the beefy guy’s arms. Put him in an arm bar (I’d taken a bit of martial arts myself, but the passive philosophical type). I held his arm with all my might, and managed to stop his punches. Then, I realized by mistake. The other man was still free. He carried on punching the one I was controlling, and I inadvertently turned the tide of the fight. Then the bouncers showed up and rescued my 16 year old self again.

I was proud, in some ways. I knew I’d messed up, but I’d learned that the fight or flight “instinct” can be controlled. I learned that action is better than inaction, and I learned the first rule of emergency management: Don’t get excited.

Years later, those skills became increasingly relevant in a military setting, but I had one more freeze-up incident.

It was in the Horn of Africa, where I was part of a “Force Protection Liaison Team.” I’d spent months building relationships with everyone from human traffickers to tribal elders in an effort to keep Americans in the region safe. You can’t fight a threat you don’t know about. Anyway, a hotel fire broke out in one of two hotels in the Northern half of the Djibouti. By the time my partner – a Marine Staff Sergeant – and I arrived, the place was in terror. There were electric explosions along with things like alcohol and fireworks in the building, so that added to the chaos. We were in the desert and had no water to fight the fire with. All around me there were children screaming and women crying, and worst of all – they said there was still a man inside.

I froze for what seemed like eternity – it was really just a few seconds before my earlier lessons kicked back in. Already this post is longer than my average, so I’ll summarize to a great extent, but after a night of fighting for our lives and the lives of others – seeing men pass out from smoke, and attempt to fight a raging fire with dirt and sand – we managed to at least make sure everyone was safe. Even one guy who thought the best way to fight the fire was to stand on the roof and beat it with a large stick. He thought that if the roof collapsed, it would be more effective to dump dirt on the fire from above it. I wondered why anyone would want to force the collapse of a roof they were standing on. I questioned whether I would give my life to save his – he, who had made a stupid choice that could’ve resulted in hellacious pain. The conclusion I came to is my own to bear, but what I learned that night is this:

The fight or flight response is largely dependent on experience and priorities. These days, I often find myself running toward chaos where I think I can lend assistance (it typically turns out to be nothing more than a scare of some kind). I don’t know that there’s much that would make me freeze these days – though I’m aware it’s still possible, for anyone. But if you think about the worst case scenario and know what you’re willing to die for, there’s no reason you can’t prevent yourself from ever being frozen in fear.

If folks like reading about these concepts, maybe I’ll explore them further?

Much love,

Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)

The Cool Guy Club – A Leadership Failure

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 them.

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.

-A proud non-member of the Cool-Guy Club

On Neck-Ties and Leadership Roles

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 ability.

But then I tied the concept to leadership ideology, which I’ve spelled out below.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

-Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)