“Never give up, and never, ever quit.” S.Sgt Travis Mills.
We are constantly facing some form of adversity. Be it in our personal or professional lives, in a social, physical, mental or emotional context, no day is without its challenges. Adversity comes in many forms, in many levels of intensity. Some are more intense than others. SSgt. Travis Mills lived through one of the greatest imaginable, and “Tough as They Come” outlines his story.
SSgt. Mills’ memoir is not a light read in the context of what is being discussed, and this is evident from the shocking leap into the first chapter. He describes the accident in which he became one of only five quadruple amputee survivors from the conflict in Afghanistan. But for such a solemn topic it is an easy going book – the author’s humour and cheerfulness in the face of adversity is reflected in almost every page. He leads you through the tales of his early life with a great amount of levity, describing how he happened to fall into a career in the US Army as so many still do.
The meat of the book and the learning lessons truly come when the story of Travis’ early life and army career is set out, and the subject returns to that of his wounding and the subsequent cataclysmic shift that occurred in his world. At this time he had a young daughter and a wife who looked to him for support, and now in a twist of fate he himself was the one who needed supporting. He had to learn to do everything again, to rebuild his life from the ground up. The ultimate in adversity.
The story of his return to capability and confidence is one that would warm the coldest heart. Written in the same vein, of joviality and joy of life, Travis takes you through the absolute struggle of his ability to be self-sufficient and strong for his family. But not only that, he then had to find a new purpose for himself as his original mission of serving the United States in combat was impossible. The mental challenge that this causes is in the same magnitude as the physical. It is the reason that so many veterans who have seen combat collapse upon returning to regular society – they no longer have a mission.
SSg. Mills finds his new mission in charity work and public speaking, raising the profile of wounded veterans and the care and support which they receive. The Travis Mills Foundation whose motto was conveniently quoted to introduce this post is an organisation designed to ease the transition of wounded veterans into a stable civilian life, and they do this through offering a fully-funded retreat in Maine where the veterans and their families can go to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
Travis Mills teaches all of us a lesson about resilience. For those of you who haven’t heard of the “No Complaining Diet”, or the 21-Day No Complaint Experiment, the concept is designed for those of us beset by first-world problems. It is far too easy in the days of instant gratification, and easy acquisition of any need or want to complain at the first appearance of difficulty. To moan, to swear, to disparage and to generally deplore all the hardship that we suffer. But the problem is entirely psychosomatic.
Negative mindset develops negative attitude. Positive mindset builds positive attitude.
This seems so simple to state, yet in the modern world it seems not to be intuitive. In the words of Earl Nightingale, “we become what we think about”. By framing the small hardships we face in such an aggrandised way, we are never truly prepared to face great challenges. We drop ourselves below challenges that we should by rights be able to handle.
In contrast, the positive mental attitude, the combination of lightheartedness and strength that Travis Mills took into the US Army and all the challenges that come with it was what led him to be able to be able to not only survive but to thrive in the wake of his accident.
The way in which you frame the world is the way in which life will respond to you. This takes me back to one of my favourite quotes, by William Murray of the Scottish Himalayas expedition.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”