AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
I’ll admit, I struggled to find an appropriate aircraft analogy to capture personal readiness – balancing work and personal life with resilience to combat life’s hard knocks. But a battleship example was inevitable, having served seven of my last 10 years alongside Navy Sailors.
On August 10, 1628, thousands of onlookers gathered near Stockholm waterways to watch the maiden voyage of its greatest battleship to date. The massive “Vasa” was an impressive construction. At 172 feet high and 226 feet long, the ship was decorated with sculptures and bristled with more weapons than any other ship. Possessing 72 cannons, the Vasa had twice as many guns as the USS Constitution, which was built 170 years later. It also required a full second deck to accommodate this firepower. Stockholm residents and foreign dignitaries and ambassadors gathered to watch the top-heavy Vasa set sail. The ship traveled about a kilometer, keeled over and sank only a few minutes after leaving port. The cause? The Vasa was imbalanced, lacked structural resilience and was simply not ready.
Balance + Resilience = Personal Readiness
Note that I haven’t added other important elements to this equation, like training to standard, task qualification, resources, leadership and other items that contribute to mission readiness. These items are vital, but we’ve been perfecting their execution and we’re pretty good at it. The Vasa is a lesson in personal readiness. I believe the relationship between balance and resilience applies to how Airmen can ensure they’re always ready to accomplish the mission.
When it comes to personal readiness, balance means not neglecting any aspect of your life to the detriment of the other parts. This means figuring out a way to work, sleep, eat, spend time with family, exercise, and get some downtime, without negatively affecting the other activities.
This is easier said than done. While it’s initially hard for folks to wrap their head around the idea that spending too much time at work can negatively impact your performance at work, we know spending too much time in any non-work area of our life can hurt performance. If you eat, sleep, or even exercise too much, you’ll be out of balance and it’ll take its toll on your ability to execute the mission. By the same token, if you don’t get enough sleep, exercise or family time, there are known consequences to those deficits.
Most of us put in some crazy hours at Aviano and I know we all give 100 percent when the mission demands those long nights, early mornings and weekend duty. But like the Vasa, if you’re so heavy with “cannon” that you neglect to take care of the other parts of your life, you’re ultimately going to sink and more importantly, you’ll lose effectiveness as troubles stack up in the other areas of your life.
I’ve heard folks say they’re trying to “find balance” and I would contend that it requires more than seeking. You must actively create balance in your life and continually reassess how you’re doing in this regard. Some say that work-life balance isn’t possible in today’s Air Force. I disagree. It’s not only possible, but essential to your personal readiness.
For the Vasa, master ship builders have said the warship didn’t have enough “belly” or a deep enough draft to carry the heavy upper deck of cannon. A deep hull on a ship is a lot like resilience, in that it stabilizes the vessel against stressors. While resilience is awash in our language these days, this idea of building up a reserve of “bounce back” from life’s troubles has always had a tremendous impact on personal readiness.
Airmen need to make time for positive outlets of stress. Leaders need to help them carve out the time for these activities. Having a deep reserve of resilience allows us to carry more load (“cannon”) at work and remain effective – even, afloat. I’ll admit, I was once one of those folks who was perplexed by the idea that learning to play guitar, rock climbing, gardening, woodworking, singing at church, volunteering your time, etc., could help you be more productive.
With so much work to do, who has time for hobbies and volunteering? But there is strong proof Airmen who have invested in these activities have more self-confidence, fewer mood swings and improved ability to work with others. Healthy hobbies and habits help Airmen build a reserve of resilience that keeps them grounded or moored when a heavy workload comes their way or strong winds try to blow them off course.
How’s your balance? Are you pursuing excellence at work and at home? What keeps you stabilized when times get tough? What positive hobbies and habits do you nurture to build your resilience?
As for the Vasa, it was recovered from the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor 333 years after it sank. It’s preserved in the Vasa Ship Museum in Stockholm and is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. My family and I are planning a trip to go see it later this year. When we do, you can bet I’ll be thinking about how a balanced life and a resilience reserve can keep us ready for anything that comes our way. Sempre Pronti.