How Are You Going To Climb That Wall?

Navy pilot and Commander Karen Fine Brasch had a wall to climb to earn her titles. She grew up with a pilot father in an era when few women rose to the rank. As a child, dad told her she could be anything, and you better believe she believed him. Now, the rest of the world may have had a hard time with that view, but it’s also what makes this a real lesson in facing adversity and having grit.

Brasch made it into the Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) at 21. The sign over the entrance read, “Adversity tempers steel.” The stress started from the beginning. She remembers being weak academically and physically at first. In an environment designed to weed out the weak, she had to figure out how to survive if she ever hoped to be steel.

Not long into AOCS, she met her match. It came in the form of a solo climb over an eight-foot wall. She and several other female cadets were stumped by the obstacle. That is, they were stumped until they realized the barracks bathroom had a wall of the same size and height. They had found an after-hours sparring partner.

Once the men had gone to bed, the girls rallied and practiced. She remembers the bruises they all had down one side of their bodies from their strained hurdling up and over the cement wall. When she completed the obstacle on the real course a few weeks later, the instructors looked on with surprise. Positive surprise. She’d shown grit.

Brasch’s experience is a reminder of how obstacles and training come in more forms than one. Practice can come in all sorts of formats. We have a chance to hone our skills and let “adversity temper steel” by seeking out any and all forms of adversity to put the practice reps in. As a wise man once said, “Wax on, wax off.”

The wall on the training course might be the same as the wall in the bathroom. The negotiation in the boardroom might not be that different from the negotiation with the customer service rep over the phone. The empathetic conversation with the client might be similar to the heartfelt talk with a friend.

Practice makes perfect. It’s a good thing it’s everywhere. It’s a great thing when we stop and notice.

For more on Karen Fine Brasch’s story (and this is a great story), see “It Never Occurred To Her That She Couldn’t: Navy Pilot And Commander Karen Fine Brasch” by Shannon H. Polson.

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