In 480 B.C. in the mountain pass of Thermopylae, 300 hundred Spartan soldiers faced an invading Persian army that is reported to have numbered from a quarter million to two million. It is written that on the eve of battle one of the Spartan officers, Dienekes, was told that the Persian archers were so great in number that when they released their volleys the arrows blocked the sun.
Dienekes replied, “Good, then we shall have our battle in the shade.” That’s embracing the suck, my friends.
The Spartans held on for 7 days. On the 5th day of battle, seeing the inevitable outcome, the Persian king sent a message to Leonidas, king of the Spartans. He would spare the lives of Leonidas’ surviving men and give them their freedom on one condition – they must lay down their arms.
Leonidas sent a 2-word reply, “Molon Labe,” – Come and get them. The Spartans battled on for 2 more days down to the last man and remain, centuries later, an icon of valor.
Warriors have embraced the suck for ages. But you don’t have to be a warrior to make such a choice in the face of insurmountable circumstances. You can be an 11-year-old boy like Brendan Foster. Watch and listen to his story – video linked below. It takes about 2 ½ minutes. Grab some tissues first.
Here’s the deal.
As I travel the country to train on leadership, I know I can’t change the especially difficult circumstances officers face these days in their agencies and communities. I fly in the day before and depart quickly after. Many of the officers feel they’re not in a position to change the circumstances either. So then the question becomes, “What do you do when the circumstances seem insurmountable?”
Epictetus, the great stoic philosopher, said,
“Circumstances don’t make the man, they reveal him.”
He should know. He started life as a slave.
You can pretty much give up and still collect a paycheck. We all know people like that. Or, you can chose - like Brendan Foster and the Spartans – to never give up. Not because you will necessarily win the battle, beat the odds, or be successful, but because – in the end – that’s the story your life will tell.
A description and one more example.
Among his many achievements, Teddy Roosevelt was the top cop of New York City. He eloquently described embracing the suck,
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again … who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Embracing the suck is about entering the arena against insurmountable circumstances – again and again – for the honor of fighting the good fight.
Last year, across a valley in Arizona, a final call went out on police and fire radios.
"Lincoln two, Lincoln two. Last call for Lieutenant Shuhandler, last call for Lieutenant Shuhandler. Rest in peace, sir. We've got it from here."
We’ve got it from here. Even as they embraced sorrow and grief, Eric Shuhandler’s fellow officers picked up the gauntlet. Some of them knowing they might be laid off soon.
May I live to be deserving of such men and women. May they continue to find the strength to embrace the suck and battle in the shade.
About The Author:
Described by Calibre Press as "the indisputable master of enter-train-ment," Val Van Brocklin is an internationally sought speaker, trainer and noted author. She combines a dynamic presentation style with over 10 years experience as a prosecutor where her trial work received national media attention on ABC's Primetime Live, the Discovery Channel's Justice Files, in USA Today, The National Enquirer and REDBOOK. In addition to her personal appearances, she appears on television, radio, and webcasts, in newspapers, journal articles and books. Visit her website: www.valvanbrocklin.com