Every generation has to learn the same lesson: the stove is hot. Each generation has to learn all the life lessons either through their own mistakes or the counseling of the older generation. The vast majority of us wish not to repeat the same mistakes and, if possible, avoid them altogether. If you wish to avoid embarrassment, whether you are new to being an employee or in a management position, hopefully, you can learn some important life lessons from the older generations’ counsel. Sadly, some of the most needed behavior changes we have learned are lessons from mistakes we created ourselves. Still, it is a mature individual who can explain to the younger generation how they are able to learn from playing the role of a fool.

Do you think I am a dumba--? Decades ago, when I was a private in the US Army, I did a very sloppy job of cleaning the M1 Abrams tank I was assigned to do. Typical of all young Privates (E-1 in the US Army), I tried to give some lame excuse to my supervisor, who was a Staff Sergeant (E-6), of why the tank was in such a poor condition compared to the expected standards. The resulting “conversation” between the Staff Sergeant and Private Drummond went along these lines. Staff Sergeant, “Private Drummond, do you think the US Army gives the responsibility of these million-dollar tanks to idiots? Do you think the US Army promotes an individual to my rank and position because they are a complete dumba--? If you cannot do the simplest tasks, such as cleaning the tank, how do I know I can depend on you to take the time to properly check the engine oil when it is being asked of you? We could blow an engine in the middle of combat and get us all killed because Private Drummond is too damn lazy!”

Looking back, the Staff Sergeant was completely correct. I was not being reliable, and my team (platoon) could not rely on my work as being trustworthy. That day ended with me not only being closely supervised to clean the tank properly because, obviously, I needed further training for the simplest of tasks, but also with a whole lot of motivational push-ups. A few years later, when I obtained the rank of a Buck Sergeant (E-5), I had the same type of conversations with the individuals (Privates) I was responsible for supervising.

The lessons from my stupidity are these. Your reputation as being reliable and trustworthy depends on how well you perform your assigned tasks without someone having to look over your shoulder constantly. How will you ever obtain a promotion with a better salary if you are not capable and reliable? The second lesson is that whoever you are answering to has the responsibility of ensuring you perform your task at the proper level, and they have to account for these same tasks to upper management. Your actions directly reflect how well they are perceived by upper management. Upper management puts them in a position of responsibility for supervising you and others because they trust them to ensure the tasks are completed and done correctly. Promotion and added responsibilities are normally given to those who can be trusted with such responsibilities and have the skills to perform the proper oversight. You will only achieve animosity and stagnation in your career if you think your supervisor doesn’t deserve your full support and your full competency in performing your tasks. Do your utmost to make sure your supervisor is never made a fool because of your actions and performance.

Raccoons will get you every time. I wish I had the proper temperament at a younger age to recognize and listen to individuals who were trying to counsel me for a better attitude. It was much later in life that I learned that no matter how hard you work and how smart you think you are, bad things are going to happen no matter what you do. You cannot control events and people’s behavior. You can only control how you react to these negative influences. Attitude is everything when it comes to life’s challenges. There will always be that individual who constantly complains about everything and anything and wants everyone to know how miserable they feel or how they think things are being done poorly.

Sadly, too many people never learn from their bad behavior, and negative attitudes directly contribute to how they perceive life’s challenges. Just because they got drunk, stripped naked, and decided it was a good idea to wrestle a pack of raccoons in a dumpster behind the Piggly Wiggly grocery store, it is not their fault they were arrested. They are never at fault for the bad things that happen in life. Nor are the people who play the role of perpetual victim. They perceive that the game of life is stacked against them, and they can never achieve a better station in life because they are the victim of others' perceived actions. Quite frankly, this role of continuous victimization is just a self-effacing cop-out for their lack of true efforts. Most of life’s challenges are just showing up consistently and doing the needed hard work. Like it or not, there will always be people who were born with better opportunities afforded to them because of who they know or are related to. No government action or regulation will solve those issues; too often, they worsen them. That is life. Get over it. No one wants to listen to your constant complaining; everyone has their own challenges. Taking responsibility for your actions, putting in the hard work, and having a good attitude toward life’s challenges will provide the best opportunity for a worthy and happy life.

What was I thinking? When I was given the responsibility of managing larger and larger groups, whether it was a given area such as a design group or multiple groups as a general manager, the times I made my biggest mistakes were when I let my ego tarnish my behavior or allowed foolish decision making to mollify corporate needs. As far as my ego, nothing saps your reputation from those you supervise more than being arrogant. If you at any moment are worried that you will be perceived as less than perfect and you must do anything to hide your failures from those you supervise, you are playing the role of a fool. Why do you expect others to admit to making a mistake if you never admit to your own mistakes? Arrogance is a mask to hide behind when you suffer from insecurity, not strength. Arrogance from a supervisor is the quickest way to make people feel uncomfortable and start looking for employment with other companies. As far as corporate needs are concerned, let's take one example of hiring or promoting an individual. It starts with only three basic criteria that should be considered when hiring or promoting someone to any position.

  1. Character – Is the individual honest and trustworthy to perform what will be required?
  2. Aptitude – Does the individual have the skills necessary to perform the task, and if not, can they be taught the skills necessary?
  3. Reliability – Can this individual be depended on to show up and perform the task every day?

If these basic requirements are not met, any other character trait the individual may have is irrelevant. Promoting someone who does not have the aptitude, character, and reliability will harm not only those who depend on this individual but also the individual themselves. You are setting this person up for failure. As far as other relevant job requirements are concerned, a clean presentable appearance, being able to work with others in a positive way, and having earned the right of advancement from time with the company or career accomplishments are also vital. Promotions and earnings enhancements are things to be earned, not an entitlement.

Be a part of something bigger. After many decades of not being in the US Army, the one thing I still miss is the group dynamics of being part of a team in the military. It is equivalent to being part of a sports team and that you are part of something bigger. No matter the hardships and challenges we experienced, we had a positive attitude that we could do it. Never again have I experienced that same team dynamic in the muggle world. (Muggles in the Harry Potter series refer to those who show no magical ability or, in this case, civilian life.) If you want better opportunities in your life and for those you have an influence over, a can-do positive team spirit is the best way to achieve it. Learn from others' mistakes and never give in to the negativity that will always be part of life’s challenges.