Commentary by Lt. Col. Mike Manor
1st Space Operations Squadron commander
I’ve had the privilege of being on several great teams in my life. Mainly, these experiences were as a baseball player and coach for eight seasons at the United States Air Force Academy. In those eight years, I had the opportunity to watch and study how people perform in the unique pressure-filled environment of collegiate athletics where a single play can mean the difference between success and failure, winning and losing. Dealing with such pressure during a long season can seriously wear on a person, yet I saw some players consistently succeed despite facing significant challenges. These particular players had three things in common that came in the form of three key decisions they made every single day: deciding to work hard, approaching the game with genuine enthusiasm, and putting the needs of others ahead of their own. I think the same is true off the field for each and every one of us as our decisions involving our work ethic, attitude and teamwork really define who were are as people and Airmen.
Believe it or not, we all decide how hard we work every day. Although we don’t usually choose the tasks our boss gives us (and we all have bosses), we do choose the effort we put into accomplishing those tasks. We can choose to “get’er done” or we can choose to accomplish very little. The great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, captured the importance of this decision when he wrote, “The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” Simply put, success is achieved by those who choose to work hard.
Our attitude is another key decision we make every single day. We’ve all seen the person who remains upbeat and enthusiastic despite being in challenging circumstances. These situations capture our attention because the person’s positive attitude seems out of place with what is going on around them. These people seem to rise above the difficulties by showing enthusiasm for their challenges instead of dread. In doing so, they often lift the spirits of those around them because genuine enthusiasm is highly contagious. Unfortunately, a person’s negativity and its ability to sink the spirits of an entire group is also contagious. The challenges we face don’t necessarily define who we are as people; but how we choose to carry ourselves in handling those challenges does.
Teamwork is the third choice we make every day that defines us. I think teamwork simply means helping those around you and putting their needs ahead of your own. Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach, John Wooden, eloquently described teamwork as, “The star of the team is the team.” Coach Wooden stressed this simple concept to his teams and they won an unprecedented 10 national championships in just 12 seasons. He realized the simple truth that there is no limit to what a group can achieve if its members play for the glory of the team instead of their own personal gain.
It’s important we recognize that our work ethic, attitude and teamwork are choices and not dictated to us. Such awareness allows us to consciously approach each with an understanding that our decisions define us. Coach Wooden sums it up best, “In the end, the choice you make makes you.”