It wasn’t until Bobby Herrera was eighteen, in the Army and three weeks into boot camp, polishing his boots by flashlight at 11:30 p.m., that he began to re-evaluate the value of struggle in making him the leader he is today as the CEO of the Populus Group, one of the fastest-growing HR service companies in the U.S.
Herrera recounts that late night in boot camp in his new book, The Gift of Struggle: Life-Changing Lessons About Leading, which, interestingly, Patrick Lencioni called, “A powerful leadership book from the best CEO you’ve never heard of.”
Here’s an excerpt.
Surrounded by members of my new platoon, I found that most of the others were unprepared for long hours of drills, the sergeant’s demeaning profanity, and the systematic breakdown of everything we thought to be true about ourselves.
As everyone around me that night complained about waking up at 4:30 a.m. to start the next torturous day of training, I realized it was not that different from the life I had lived at home. I had already endured years of labor in the fields, rising before dawn. I had already encountered blatant racism, and I was already accustomed to living without material comforts or much free time.
That night it occurred to me that what I had already experienced was as tough as what I would face in the next few months. For the first time, having struggled early in life was turning out to be an advantage. It felt like a gift not to worry whether I would make it through basic training. I never questioned whether I could handle the grueling physicality and mental strain demanded from new recruits. I simply needed to draw on the persistence, strength, and resilience I already had.
I was grateful for the sacrifices my parents had made, but it took longer to internalize that my dad—a humble, powerful peasant—had accomplished his goal for our family. Even though it didn’t feel like it as a kid, he had succeeded in providing opportunities for his children that were never available to him.
Eventually I began to study in earnest what struggle had taught me, why I should be grateful for it, and how I could apply the lessons it offered. In each case, struggle gave me a gift. I realized that I could often look back to an event from my past to find the clarity I needed. When I found myself facing a new challenge, my life experience could provide a new story and a crucial lesson to add to what I knew.
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author.
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