Tales From a Former Nice Guy - "Attacking Discomfort" - By Austin G.

As far back as I can remember, talking over a class of peers when called on by the teacher was terrifying to me. Delivering some sort of presentation seemed like the worst punishment imaginable; sweating, shaking, and a lump in my throat so big that my airway would barely let out squeaks. So, through the years of school and even into college, my survival method was to avoid public speaking at all costs. The teacher asks for a volunteer to read, my head sunk a bit lower. It’s surprising how well you can avoid something like this indefinitely when it’s your greatest fear. That is until you decide to do something bold that exposes your every weakness. You see, my dream was to finish college and commission as an Officer in the Marine Corps. Seems idiotic given my background, but what I lacked in leadership and confidence, I had twofold in ambition and tenacity.

Even through years of College ROTC, I was able to keep my head below the radar and avoid leadership positions. I always thought to myself, “I should really be enlisted, I need to take orders initially rather than give them and grow into leadership roles.” For whatever reason, I kept on my path. The survival method was exposed in Officer Candidates School when this timid 20-year-old was thrown into platoon leadership billets and forced to prove why I was there. It wasn’t pretty. I was sent to a review board about two weeks before graduation to decide my fate. My drill instructors knew my weaknesses and made the case to the colonel that I was nervous and too weak to lead Marines. At that moment in time, I didn’t disagree with them, though I didn’t say that. Fortunately for me, I knew how to play the game and my college unit prepared me well. I knew how to score high in leadership when it was tested. My fitness and academics were near the top of my platoon. The colonel sent me back to my unit to graduate. While I knew deep down I had slipped through the cracks, I also knew the work had just begun.

A year later, back in Quantico, every single day of the six-month Basic School was suffering for the new 2nd Lieutenant that felt out of place. The difference is that I wasn’t hiding anymore. I was no longer actively trying to stay under the radar, but accepting the challenges coming at me and doing my best to keep my mouth above water. There was a day the OIC Captain of my platoon told me straight up that I had to fix my issues before I got in front of Marines I’m supposed to lead, or else they’d eat me alive. That’s when I took the next step forward. Every opportunity I could find, I was volunteering for the presentation, the speech, the opportunity. Fast forward to my first duty station and they’re handing all the new lieutenants the miscellaneous BS billets. I volunteer to take on a role that requires I lead presentations to NCOs once a week. The intro meeting with all 120 NCOs at once was very shaky and I was obviously nervous, but in that meeting I was forthcoming about my issue and that I had volunteered for this as a form of bloodletting to shed my remaining weakness.

In total, it was about four years from the time I was thrown into the deep end at Officer Candidates School to the day I gave an hour-long presentation to my entire 400 Marine unit. Some of them had watched over those years as I went from timid and nervous to a confident public speaker. The most significant part of this story is that I had grown from the Officer Candidate that did not belong into the Captain that absolutely loved leading his Marines and guiding them to be better people. Following my End of Active Service, I took on a career in consulting that required someone who could lead meetings and speak well in front of crowds. This type of career would have never been an option without years of pain and discomfort, but no good life comes easy.

I discovered through this experience, as I’ve told anyone who knows about it, that it’s no easy process to fix a weakness. It’s something that must be sanded from your skin, and there’s going to be a lot of blood and plenty of pain. As Nice Guys, we tend to gravitate toward what is comfortable. We accept our weaknesses as limitations and hide below the radar, so we aren’t exposed. But what we often miss is that the things that make us the most uncomfortable may be our greatest opportunities to grow and improve. I’ve found that the greater the discomfort and fear, the greater the weakness. The greater the weakness that you turn into a strength, the more life-altering it is to your development.

Don’t be the guy with ambition that has to take the mediocre career path, because you can’t stand to hear your voice go over a quiet room full of people.  Don’t accept that you are a smart, driven person, but you can’t put down the alcohol and be consistent. Definitely, don’t accept an empty marriage, because your career and friends are great. It’s that big deficiency in your life that is holding you back and preventing everything from going to the next level.

My advice to you is to find the what makes you uncomfortable, the things that scare you the most or give you the most anxiety, and relentlessly attack it until it becomes comfortable. Once you become a man that consistently turns new-found weaknesses into strengths, the entire trajectory of your life changes, and a man with no weakness is a force of nature.

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