When I was a child, someone published a book entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Although I never read the book, its title is certainly catchy and its premise rather clear. The idea that our foundational lessons in childhood can be carried through a lifetime is alluring and, in many ways, valid. Nevertheless, I'm not sure how much my own kindergarten experience set me on the right course in life. Sure, I had good teachers, but all I remember from kindergarten is finger painting, little notes pinned to my shirt, and nap time, which was more an exercise in seeing how much trouble my friends and I could get into than it was about napping! But that's another story.
The period in my life that I do look back upon fondly as a time of significant character development and personal growth is the first five years of my military career. In those years, I went to basic training and Infantry School, completed ROTC at James Madison University, graduated from Airborne School, and endured Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, GA. And it was in those years that I was introduced to a man who, though not my contemporary, would nonetheless have a profound influence on my philosophies of life and leadership. That man is Gen. George S. Patton.
Gen. Patton is known as much for his bravado as he is for his strong leadership qualities. Nevertheless, I like to focus on the latter and, in particular, a profoundly pithy statement he made while (I presume) the commander of Third Army. He said, "Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory." As an early teen, I often avoided real challenges. I liked the easy road. But somewhere along the way (around 8th grade, as I recall), I realized that the easy road was taking me nowhere. So, I started working harder, challenging myself more, and taking risks. And you know what happened? I failed...a lot! But you know what else happened? I started to see progress. Doors started to open for me. And when I did occasionally succeed, I felt like I had never felt before. I felt exhilarated, alive, and confident. And this motivated me to try more, work harder, and seek out even more challenges.
As a pastor, chaplain, soldier, and leader, I've encountered so many people over the years who like the complacency and ease that come when traversing the easy road. Yet, so many of them sing the same song: life is boring, people are horrible, and there is little meaning to things. To these folks I say, "Take a lesson from ol' George!" Find something that challenges you...something that requires old-fashioned elbow grease, a little resolve, and a dash of perseverance. Find the hard road, put on some good tires, and go for it. When you achieve your goal or objective, not only will it boost your confidence, but you will also experience exhilaration like never before. Who knows...maybe you'll even feel victorious. And if that's not a lesson you learned in kindergarten, well, then, learn it today!