Things Aren’t Always Awesome — And That’s Okay

Sometimes we all just need to hear, “You’re damn right it sucks.”

On a particularly frustrating day on an excessively screwed-up mission, I got some bad news from higher headquarters that we needed to change routes and go back through the potentially bomb-laden roads we just came through. The way I got handed the information was so casual that it stung — it was clear that the delivering officer had no idea of what that meant for us. A change in mission was much more than a phone call for us.

After doing some thinking and getting my head straight about what needed to happen, I delivered the news to my senior sergeant first.

His reply: “Well, sir, that just f***ing sucks.” There was no hyperbole, no whine, no hint of him doing anything but calling it like he saw it.

It was one of those times where you have to really think about how to respond to a statement. Sure, I could’ve tried to find the bright side and given some motivational speech about how it was going to be okay. But the truth was that we were tired, frustrated, and really ready to be done and off the roads. I said the only thing that I could while being honest…

“You’re damn right it sucks.”

“When do we roll out?” He was a fine sergeant because he knew that it didn’t really matter that it sucked. The fact that it was a shit sandwich didn’t change the fact that we were going to be eating it.

Yes, it did suck. But it was another one of those otherwise non-eventful missions that you secretly hate and love at the same time. You love them because nothing majorly bad happened and you hate them because your stories are lame. I was blessed to have a lot of those.

A few years earlier while in training, I was horsing around as one of the road guards for our running formation. If you’ve never seen a modern U.S. formation run, road guards are the soldiers wearing kooky-colored reflective vests and running ahead of the formation to block traffic. Apparently some driver missed the 45 troops running in the middle of the road, so it became policy to have road guards.

Anyway, I was joking around and laughing with the other road guards and having a good time, which was unusual for me given how much I hated running. I was looking over at my buddy when a pothole mysteriously appeared and ate my foot. I was mid-smile when I suddenly knew that I would be kissing the concrete, and somehow or other, I managed to tuck, roll, and get back to my feet in one smooth movement, all the while never losing pace.

My buddy, unaware of the mysterious pothole, gazed in amazement. From his vantage point, it looked like I had decided to dive forward and do a combat roll. He yelled “Airborne!” and said it was the most hardcore thing he’d seen in a while. My telling him that I really just about busted my ass didn’t change his excitement or praise.

A dear friend of mine was expressing how frustrated she is about the normative pressure to be awesome. She wasn’t feeling the awesomesauce and was a bit disenchanted with the idea that everything was awesome and good.

Here’s the deal: sometimes things suck. We all have bouts of loneliness, sadness, frustration, anger, pettiness, and all those little dirty bits that make us human. There are plenty of times when the only thing you want to do is scream, fight, and knock some sense into some happy, no-need-to-worry-everything-is-chill sad sack. There are also times when you don’t even want to hear that it’s okay to feel however you feel because you don’t want to turn some feeling you don’t want to have into something that’s positive or okay.

For my part, I feel lonely, sad, frustrated, angry, scared, and hesitant on a fairly regular basis. I tend not to talk publicly about it much because a) when I look inward, I normally find some vice at play and can work on it, b) I tend to tuck and roll about everything, and c) I have a supportive network of people that I can talk to about it. I also don’t like causing people concern when there’s nothing they can really do to help — I’m quite sure my mom wouldn’t have made it through my teens and twenties if she’d known how many messes I actually got into and out of.

That said, I do wake up excited. I have an amazingly supportive and patient wife who tolerates both my excited chatter and my down-in-a-hole moments. And my work with talented, creative, and compassionate people keeps me focused on positive possibilities. “Blessed” is the word that best captures most of my days, and, strangely, it can be harder to express that things are good than that they’re bad.

Yet I wish I had the courage to show the dark when it comes up, the wisdom to see that it could be just as helpful to you, and the empathy to let you feel whatever you want to feel without qualifiers. We’re all a work in progress — and I appreciate Erica’s example in the Failure Manifesto.

I’m fighting every natural habit and inclination that I have right now, to end this post with what you might need to hear if you happen to be in one of those dark spots…

You’re damn right it sucks.

Charlie Gilkey is an author, business advisor, and podcaster who teaches people how to start finishing what matters most. Click here to get more tools that’ll help you be a productive, flourishing co-creator of a better tomorrow.