There are times when we hit a wall and can’t imagine how we are going to get through it or around it. But the truth is, we’ve been here before. Sure, a different point in our life and a different wall, but we’ve done this before. We overcome obstacles each and every day. Some are rather small, like getting through the checkout line at the supermarket. Others are more weighty, say for example, dealing with a personal conflict with a friend, child or spouse. We usually get through these obstacles instinctively. But what about the really big obstacles in life? The ones that stop you dead in your tracks? The ones that glare down on you, instilling fear and insecurity? Man, those just suck!
And yet… we’ve been there before. Search your mind for the very first time when you did the impossible. Maybe it was in high school or college or even last week. Think about a situation you found yourself in when, deep down, you feared that your best “ain’t gonna be good enough.” What do you think my first impossible moment was? Completing my first film? Getting my first professional acting role? Having my first nationally published cartoon? Nope. None of those “impossible” things would have ever happen if it weren’t for 30 pushups…
I enlisted in the US Army right after high school. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be an actor. But… what if I failed? That was something I deeply feared. So, at 17, I begged my parents permission to become a soldier. It was not what they wanted for me. It was not what my friends wanted for me. I couldn’t articulate the reason for my choice at the time but it was this: I figured if I could survive Army Basic Training, I could survive anything!
And so my eggs were in one basket. I reported to Fort Jackson and submitted to the hardest eight weeks I had even known. We marched, ran obstacle courses, and trained for combat in sweltering heat and oppressive humidity. One member of our platoon collapsed due to heat stroke, complete with convulsions. He left our platoon and never returned. Still, I did everything that was asked of me. But, by the fifth week it was apparent to my drill sergeant that I would not be able to pass the End-of-Cycle PT (Physical Training) Test. Specifically, I could not do 30 pushups. Not even close. Sure, I earned an Expert Badge in marksmanship, I could run 2 miles wearing combat boots in the allotted time and I could do more than enough sit ups. But 30 pushups? That was impossible for me.
I was summoned to the Captain’s office at the end Week 6. Only two weeks left until graduation. The captain calmly explained the situation to me: I would be recycled to Week 3 with another platoon and repeat the past three weeks. Or I could quit and go home. He made it clear that he was not going to let me stay in his company if I was not going to pass the PT Test. I had hit the wall. I hated the thought of leaving my company to join another. I hated even more the prospect of returning home as a failure. The captain had a Vietnam unit combat patch on his right shoulder. He was here to make soldiers and weed out any weak links. After a long pause he told me, “Drop and give me as many pushups as you can!”
I dropped into the front leaning rest position and began doing pushup after pushup. I had never been able to do more than 20 before. In the stifling heat of the captain’s office, with failure and humiliation staring me right between the eyes, I managed… 24. Not good enough, I knew. But I stayed in that front leaning rest position, my weak arms shaking now. He watched me do nothing. Not another single pushup. Nothing. I just stayed in that position until he ordered me to “recover.” I snapped back to attention.
The captain looked long and hard at me and then said, “I was going to recycle you today, but I’m going to keep you in my company. You know why, private? Because you never dropped to you knees; you never quit.” Just like that, I was dismissed.
However, I could still only do 24 pushups… How could I get to 30? I owe that feat to a guy named McKinney. When he saw that I was still trying in vain to do 30 pushups only two days before the final test, he pulled me aside and said, “I can guarantee you’ll pass if you do what I say without question.” McKinney had never spoken to me before. “Okay,” I stammered. All of 5 foot 3, McKinney took me into the latrine and had me do pushup after pushup until I my arms gave out. Then he’d thrust me between two sinks and stretch my arms out before making do more pushups. We repeated this ritual until I reached 100 total. McKinney, it should be noted, did 100 consecutive pushups each and every night! He told me not to do any pushups the next day (Sunday) in order to rest my muscles. Only on Monday morning, when I took the actual End-of-Cycle PT Test, would I know if I could do 30 pushups.
I did 37 pushups that morning. Next, I passed my sit ups with flying colors. But, inexplicably, I was falling behind the pace for the minimum two-mile run portion. This was the final part of the End-of-Cycle Test and I was about to blindsided by failure. Then another guy in my platoon, Schwimmer, slowed his pace and dropped back to me. He got me breathing right and pushed me to go faster and get back on pace. When he saw I was good, he sped off. He finished with a much slower time because he came back to help me. And so I passed. I did the impossible for the first time in my life.
I’ve never viewed any problem or situation the same way since. When people remark about my tenacity or my relentless drive to succeed, I owe it all to five minutes in the captain’s office when I refused to quit. And also to a little tough guy named McKinney and a kind-hearted fellow named Schwimmer.
So, whenever you think your best ain’t good enough, remember that you can do the impossible. Just don’t ever quit and don’t refuse help if a person feels kind enough to offer it!
I’m just saying…