8: Positivity in the Wake of Adversity

8: Positivity in the Wake of Adversity

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Positivity in the Wake of Adversity

Happiness is an attitude.

We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.

~Francesca Reigler

Joining the Navy was the most daunting and life-changing decision I have ever made. I still clearly remember the anxiety of being dropped off at the Naval Academy for my first day of “plebe summer,” the boot camp–style session leading up to the first year of school at the Academy. Watching my parents wave goodbye with tears in their eyes, I was full of doubts, wondering if I would regret accepting my appointment as a midshipman. My fellow plebes and I were corralled from one group of red-faced, order-barking upperclassmen to the next as we recited mission statements, statistics, and songs from memory… and it was only day one! I was terrified — not of the calculated chaos enveloping me, but that I didn’t belong.

Four years later, I proudly received my diploma from the Secretary of the Navy, graduating in the top one hundred of my class. I endured the trials of the Naval Academy for four years, and I have not regretted it for a moment since. The Naval Academy was a haven of success, an isolated, high-achieving society complete with a hierarchy of authority and an endless catalog of rules. It plucked young men and women from ordinary, unremarkable lives and sharpened them, transforming them into officer candidates with the tools and potential to become great military leaders. Upon graduating, I could see the ways I had changed since that first summer. But next came the true test — life in the fleet after four years of relative seclusion at the Naval Academy.

I reported to my first ship as the Repair Division Officer in 2011. I was immediately placed administratively and operationally in charge of seventy-eight sailors. Simultaneously, I was expected to learn all there was to know about the ship and its component departments. I qualified as Officer of the Deck, wielding responsibility for the safe navigation of a billion-dollar warship. I fought fires, flooding, and toxic gas leaks, and piloted the ship during a successful man-overboard rescue. Between visits to foreign ports, I spent hours in the balmy steam engine rooms learning the systems, and counseled and comforted my sailors when their fortunes took a turn for the worse. Over those first three years, I acquired a lot of knowledge and a little experience, and was once again transformed into a more mature and capable leader.

If joining the Navy was the most difficult decision I had ever made, embarking on a deployment to the Middle East onboard my third ship, an aircraft carrier, was the second most difficult. Not that I really had a choice in the matter. My ship was deploying, and everyone assigned to the ship, including me, had a compulsory invitation to ply the waters of the world with the ship.

I love the outdoors. Given the opportunity to choose, half a year cooped up on a gray-hulled ship was the antithesis of how I would spend my time. There would be times of suffering, no doubt. I would miss my husband, family, and friends with all my heart. I would miss the running, surfing, and hiking that was such a central part of my everyday life. I would miss sushi, driving my cute little hatchback car, and a good glass of red wine. I would miss being a girl — picking out clothes, jewelry, and shoes to wear.

In all honesty, I was terrified. I was afraid to “lose” so many months of my life — my life as I wanted to live it, anyway. This was to be my first full deployment. In the months leading up to our departure date, I found myself in denial, choosing not to think about what my future held. When the date drew near enough that it became imprudent to ignore my fate, it felt like a loss of control over my life. Accepting what I had to do changed me. It was a moment of great maturation and an opportunity to discover new ways to turn a less-than-ideal situation into an occasion for personal growth.

I deployed, and despite the many challenges of being stuck on a ship at sea, I seized the opportunity to prosper. I refused to view the deployment as a “prison sentence,” as some of my more negative shipmates dubbed it. For me, it would not be wasted time. Instead, I viewed it as a chance to pull away from life and reflect on the person I was. If I didn’t like the way I handled certain situations, why not use my months at sea to practice becoming the person I aspired to be? Indeed, this was a blessed opportunity to practice patience, kindness toward others, and discipline. It was also my chance to set and realize tangible goals, like finishing the first draft of my first novel.

An enthusiastic athlete, during deployment I participated in a variety of workout classes offered in the ship’s hangar bay. I kept a workout log and made time for the gym on a daily basis. I chose to focus on the potential for personal growth rather than the negative aspects of my situation. I found that I was able to dictate my own attitude and outlook by actively pursuing personal and professional goals.

The days went by more quickly when I stayed busy, so I didn’t allow myself to become idle. I emerged from deployment half a year older, but undoubtedly more mature. I was proud of the opportunity to serve my country, to truly give back in a manner that was wholly sacrificial. I believe that in overcoming daunting obstacles, we better ourselves because we gain fresh perspective on what we can truly achieve. Improving our lives, no matter what kind of complication we must surmount, is simply a matter of changing our own attitudes toward the cards we’ve been dealt.

~Katie Cash

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