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My success is far from the bright lights of Silicon Valley where the sneakers are expensive and the sushi is free flowing. Instead, I have cut my teeth on ordinary success like an honorable discharge, a Bachelor of Science, and a Master Naturalist certification.
Writing these fancy titles is an easy way to boost my ego, but there is no success without the suc. It’s best to embrace the suck.
For some, the suck is a mild discomfort that I would call indigestion. Some impressive humans never had to study for a test, found easy money from their lucrative yet fulfilling job, and think the best day is a day of digging holes for fences.
I’m not one of them.
My gold-star embrace the suck in success has been earned one set of ugly tears at a time.
My first painful memory of suck in success was when I was caught gundecking.
“[Gundecking is] to fake or falsify especially by writing up (as a series of official reports) as if meeting requirements but actually without having carried out the required procedures,” I would say that is accurate Merriam-Webster.
I was standing at attention and being scolded for not responding to the radio while on watch. Watch consisted of wandering the ship checking pumprooms for flooding. My face became engulfed with flames of embarrassment as the officer in-charge doused the charges.
The watch supervisors were minutes away from calling a ship-wide, 5,000 sailor search. They had been calling on the radio for a while and my lack of response caused increasing concern that I was hurt or dead somewhere in a pump room.
My excuse for radio silence was that I was in a pump room with no service. The reality was that I was in my shop watching a submarine movie. The shop was well insulated and blocked radio signals.
Of the many Navy memories that cascade through my memories, this is painful to the point of modern-day embarrassment even though it happened decades ago.
Embarrassment takes a long time to tarnish.
As I tried to find an example of grit, this uncomfortable memory came gurgling to the surface.
Gundecking is low on the scale of offenses compared to other unwise decisions of drugs, drunk driving, and absence without leave (AWOL) that seemed to roll through fellow shipmates. But, as a Type-A, prideful human, it was a low moment.
It did become a touchstone memory for the importance of grit.
“Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out, and not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years,” says the grit OG, Angela Duckworth.
For the rest of my Navy career, I was a sailor who was exactly where she was expected. I may not have been happy but damn it if I wasn’t reliable.
I had to learn the power of passion. Passion has a way of blinding the viewer to failure or at least making success worth the risk.
In college, I wasn’t the fastest, smartest, or beauty pageant material. I was curious, excited, and had abundant nature nerdiness. It’s how I survived a last-minute 50-page paper on my 25th birthday, unending exams, and the dreaded group work.
If my passion for being a park ranger wasn’t as brilliant as the sun, I would have left the low-paying, infrequent job sector a long time ago. Right around the time everyone was having mini heart attacks from the ice bucket challenge.
There are plenty of ways success can suck but passion is the payday. Passion is what makes the long hours, the constant cascade of questions, and poop patrol worth it.
It may take a special kind of meat package to have this trait and it wanes with age, but when someone tells me that I can’t do something, my mind goes straight to, hold my coffee as I prove you wrong.
I’m in good company.
Diana Trujillo, the flight director from NASA’s Mars Perseverance, understands this unique burn. Part of the reason she wanted to get into the space field was to prove her family members wrong. “I wanted my — especially the males of my own family — to recognize that women add value,” she said, adding, “it came from wanting to prove to them that we matter.”
In my younger years, I heard a rumor that my dad wagered against my Navy enlistment. The rumor was, he didn’t think I would follow through with the 4-year commitment.
Did I have a swirl of uncertainty that is common for big decisions for a 17-year-old? Absolutely! Four years is a long time!
When I heard this rumor, it set fire to any residual doubt. I became an inferno determined to burn the critics to a crisp.
I never found out of it was true and in the end, it didn’t matter. There was no way I was going to back down when a family member didn’t think I could succeed before I left for boot camp.
Embrace the Suck
I can’t get to success without going through the suck.
I’m chasing a few flavors of success (early retirement, traveling to all seven continents, and figuring out where I can skinny dip without being arrested) but I still need little reminders that I need to embrace the suck before I get to success.