It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.1
—Leon C. Megginson
Two years ago, the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being released The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.2 The report noted that “to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.”3 For us, as a Corps, the well-being of every member of our team is absolutely vital. To echo the Chief of Staff of the Army, General James C. McConville: our people are our number one priority.4
The Judge Advocate General and I often talk about our Corps’s Constants—principled counsel, substantive mastery, servant leadership, and stewardship. We depict each of these as points on our Corps’s North Star; leading us as an institution ever-forward, regardless of circumstance. By focusing on our Constants, we best achieve and maintain excellence—both as individuals and as a Regiment.
Rather than being a separate tenet of our Constants, resilience underpins each of them. Delivering principled counsel takes strength and courage, often in opposition to momentum-gathering group-think. You cannot master the practice of law, day in and day out, without the fortitude to push forward beyond the slings and arrows of daily life. Likewise, without resilience, servant leadership is an absolute impossibility. As noted author Eleanor Brownn famously said, “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”5 Finally, personal and institutional resilience lie at the very core of stewardship. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change,”6 and notes that stewardship is “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”7 We are all stewards of our Corps. Stewardship of our Corps demands that we responsibly care for our Regiment, our teammates, and ourselves.
In our line of work, resilience is fundamental. We are in the business of helping commanders, Soldiers, and Family members solve problems. In many cases, we must simultaneously guide our clients through some of the most difficult professional and personal circumstances they may face in life, while also confronting our own personal and professional challenges. We all need to be able to get back up when we get knocked down. And we will get knocked down, repeatedly. Resilience allows you to focus on what truly matters and to find a way to get past the incessant noise that surrounds each of us every day. By being ready and resilient—rather than reactive—by striving to take care of ourselves and those around us, we are better positioned to be principled counselors, substantive masters, servant leaders, and effective stewards of our great Corps.
I know, I know—easy to say, but tough for us all to do. Sometimes, we look at others who we believe have achieved success, and we think that it must have come easily—that perhaps that person does not face the same struggles we do. That is the Iceberg Theory of Success—the idea that everyone sees a person’s accomplishments floating on the surface but not all of the struggles, the failures, and the determination that is often deeper and larger, just beneath the surface.8
Take the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), for example. We all know someone who is incredibly fit, who will score high on that test, and it is convenient to say, “But it’s easy for him! He’s a PT beast!” It’s also easy to say to ourselves, “It’s just harder for me than it is for that person.” The truth is, everyone struggles. Everyone has to put in work, whether preparing for the ACFT, a cross-examination, or presenting a new idea to your boss. Resilience is in the work. It is also in openly sharing what’s weighed you down and letting others know how you overcame or are overcoming the obstacles.
So, how do you cultivate resiliency? I wish I could tell you there was a foolproof method that would work for everyone, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to find a healthy outlet that works for you. For me, simply put, I rely on my faith, my Family, and my friends. I find that time spent reading a daily devotional, or in prayer, or with my Family or friends is a way to unplug and recharge that works well for me. Exercise helps, too. Finding time to walk away from the daily grind to clear my mind helps me to get back in the game. If you have a particular self-care regimen, share that with your peers and your teams. Talk about what works for you—particularly with people who may be struggling. The pages of this edition of The Army Lawyer are dedicated to discussing wellness and resiliency, and we hope you find insight and inspiration from your colleagues, leaders, and professionals sharing their insight, expertise, and experiences.
You simply cannot serve those whom you lead—and we are all leaders, regardless of position—without taking good care of yourself. Right now, take a critical look at yourself and be honest—are you focusing on your well-being? If the answer is “no,” then take stock of what needs to change. Not sure what needs to change? Talk to your friends, Family, co-workers, or teammates about how they find balance and resilience in their lives. If you are struggling, consider talking to a chaplain, a licensed clinical social worker, or other professionals embedded in your unit. The resources exist. Please use them. If the answer is “yes,” that you regularly focus on your own well-being, that’s great . . . but that is only step one. Look around you. Are others on an unsustainable path? Are others having difficulty coping? Are you setting the example by making your wellness a priority? As a leader, colleague, and friend, you must recognize the signs when someone is struggling. Have the courage to intervene and help your “co-counsel,” and know what resources are available to help them. As we all know, if you see something, you have to say something.
You must take care of yourselves and each other. Our greatest asset is our people—every member of our Regiment . . . and I am proud to serve with each and every one of you. TAL
1. It Is Not the Strongest of the Species that Survives But the Most Adaptable, Quote Investigator, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/05/04/adapt/ (last visited Dec. 8, 2019).
2. National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations For Positive Change 9 (Aug. 14, 2017), http://lawyerwellbeing.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Lawyer-Wellbeing-Report.pdf [hereinafter Report].
4. James C. McConville, 40th Chief of Staff of the Army Initial Message to the Army Team, https://www.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/561506.pdf (last visited Oct. 17, 2019).
5. Eleanor Brownn, http://www.eleanorbrownn.com/ (last visited Oct. 17, 2019).
6. Resilience, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience?src=search-dict-hed (last visited Oct. 17, 2019).
7. Stewardship, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stewardship?src=search-dict-hed (last visited Oct. 17, 2019).
8. Steve Mueller, The Iceberg Theory of Success, Planet of Success (Mar. 31, 2017), http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2011/the-iceberg-theory-of-success/.