Mental fortitude: the fire within



Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Shanece Johnson
Superintendent of the Jeanne M. Holm Center


11/9/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.-- -- As I sat watching a pre-season National Basketball Association game, I found myself pondering the 2011 playoffs. I'm still flabbergasted that the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat.

Turning to my husband, the self -roclaimed basketball aficionado, I asked what happened. Didn't Miami have the "dream team?" Didn't they shell out almost $50 million to get and maintain some of the best players in the league - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?

My husband gave me this look, as if to say, "Here we go again with the questions during a game." But he did finally reply that the Mavericks simply had more stamina.

Me being me, which is usually overly analytical, couldn't settle for physical strength being the only attribute to their success. After all, the Miami Heat team consisted of elite athletes who dominated during regular season.

Needless to say, this conundrum plagued me for about a week, and as I was performing my fitness assessment, the answer suddenly hit me. The deciding factor in the playoffs wasn't athletic ability or salary - it was mental fortitude.

Mental fortitude is an internal drive that allows you to press through pain, depression and any other difficulty. It is an inner voice that tells you that you can do anything you set your mind to. This characteristic raised the Dallas Mavericks above the Miami Heat and is the core trait that divides superstar Airmen from their peers.

Over the years, I have talked to many Airmen, ranging from airman basic to general officer. As the years passed it was easier to differentiate those who would rise to the top of their professions from those who would only strive to meet the average success targets in rank, education, responsibility, etc., within their career fields.

Those who rose to the top didn't necessarily posses or depend upon an Albert Einstein-like IQ or George Clooney-like charisma. For the most part they were your average everyday Airmen. What the superstars had in common and what set them apart from their peers, was an internal belief that they could succeed at anything no-matter the odds and a "never give up" attitude.

This is what mental fortitude, or as I affectionately call it, the "fire within," is all about.

In the military it isn't necessarily the best speaker or most technically sound individual who rises to the ranks of chief master sergeant or general officer. Often it's the person who tenaciously completes tasks when others have given up due to seemingly insurmountable odds.

If you are in doubt about the weight of mental fortitude on performance and success, think about the Air Force fitness assessment.

Statistics show that the older than 30 age group boasts a higher percentage of "excellent" fitness assessment scores over the younger than 30 group. At the same time, statistics show that the younger than 30 age group lays claim to the highest fitness assessment failure rate.

Scientifically speaking, the stats should be reversed. The younger group, normally stronger and faster, should outperform the older group.

One of the reasons the crusty old military types leave the youngsters in their dust is an inner drive to succeed, a "complete the mission" or "I will not fail" mindset. How many times have you seen master sergeants and majors outfitted in all types of knee braces and ankle supports still getting their PT on?

On the other hand, how many times have you witnessed those younger than 30 walking during unit PT sessions or complaining about the weather or workout space, or simply saying they can't perform an exercise without even trying it first?

I tell you, mental fortitude is what separates the older group from the younger group.

But it not only applies to athletic prowess; it is displayed in every aspect of our lives. We just need to learn how to harness this secret weapon and use it to reach our full potential.

Whenever you are faced with overwhelming difficulties or you find yourself up against someone with more education or raw talent, just think about the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks prevailed despite the Miami Heat possessing the "dream team." The success factor can be directly attributed to mental fortitude.

We are familiar with the saying "you are what you eat," but I say "you are what you believe." Dig deep and set that inner fire to full blaze. I guarantee that you will be victorious no-matter the challenge--fitness assessment, promotion, education and family endeavors.

You have the technical and professional know-how. Now find your mental fortitude to conquer and succeed!