They say in the Army that you can’t spell lost without an LT (Lieutenant).
As a cadet, I had not done well in land navigation during my critical junior year of college ROTC. However, I figured it all out my senior year and had become a master of the compass, maps, and terrain association. But it seems that once they pinned that butter bar on my shoulder, that I relapsed into ignorance on this most important of topics.
Fortunately, I was on a training exercise and NOT a real combat or this could have been disastrous.
Not All Roads are the Same
I was leading a team of fire support soldiers and placed them in a great spot for observing the battlefield. After ensuring that the troops had food and water, I left with the company commander to a series of briefings. In the daylight, I knew right where they were and knew that my NCO would be improving our position until I returned.
The briefings went on for much longer than I had anticipated and it was very dark by the time that we were heading back to the battlefield. As we came to a certain bend in the road, I knew that my soldiers were right over the next rise so I let the commander know he could drop me off and I would see him after the battle.
He did so. I took off full steam up the hill. Since I had not eaten dinner yet, I was very motivated to get to the top quickly. At the top of the first hill there was a small gulley and then it began to climb again. I was a little surprised that the gulley was there, but thought maybe it was hidden by trees or some other obstacle when I was looking at the same roadway from above.
I pressed on and pushed up the next hill assuming that I would find my troops rotating through a night watch.
As I approached the top of the next hill, I still did not see our vehicle.
Now I was concerned. My training kicked in and I did not panic. However, I realized that I was NOT where I thought I was and there was no way to communicate with anyone in order to get help.
I was lost.
My mind was racing about what to do next. So I decided to sit by a tree and take a short nap in order to clear my head.
Twenty minutes later, I awoke and was freezing. When I had been moving, my body temperature had kept me warm and I had not even noticed that it was a cold night. I resolved to go find a path and try to find my way around to get back on track.
After trudging through the dark, I finally found the road and started working my way around to find the correct place. My mind raced with embarrassment but I was hopeful that I could find my soldiers and they would never find out that their faithful leader had been lost for several hours.
I must have missed the road or maybe taken the wrong one – I’m just not sure – but no matter how I turned, I simply could NOT find my soldiers.
Everything looked the same in the dark.
A Way To Get Back on Track
Fortunately, I stumbled upon another lieutenant from whom I could borrow a radio to call my troops to come and get me. I had to swallow my pride and decided that it was worth the ribbing I would take and asked to borrow the radio.
Unfortunately for me, the vehicle was where it was because they had broken down and it had no power to work the radio. All around me were broken vehicles. But I finally found one that had a working radio. With that, I called my troops and they rescued me.
Of course, they were more than happy to help me – but they made fun of me for the rest of the training exercise, singing songs about my incompetence. In a strange way though, that event cemented the relationship I had with my soldiers and we began to work well together after that.
We became a family of sorts.
Find Your Way
It’s not easy to get back on track. But here are a few lessons to take from this situation that could apply – whether you are literally lost or if you are simply living a confused life for sometime now.
1. Stop and Think
When you realize that your life is unmanageable, STOP and re-evaluate.
I used to drink too much and it caused me multiple troubles. I was consistently broke and miserable. Once, I even quit a job so that I could relax and just drink away my misery.
I woke up one day with the rent due, little that you could call food left in the house, little hope for a better life, and I was covered with vomit from the previous night’s drinking binge. As I cleaned up the mess, I knew that I needed to rethink my life. I need to get back on track – a better one, the right one.
That day was a defining moment. Re-evaluating means that you put everything on the table and look at how it is impacting you personally. Some things might be fine for other people – but if it is keeping you lost, it needs to go. You must stop long enough to breathe, rest, and think.
2. Get Moving.
Once you are done thinking, TAKE action.
Too many people stop after evaluating the situation and go on ‘victim mode‘. Yes you did wrong, were wronged, or maybe society is simply messed up. But staying there is NOT helpful.
Get moving. Figure out one action that you could take that will get you out of your mess. In my case, it was a phone call to my mom and dad. This got me heading toward the road that I wanted to be on. That one call helped me to get back on track.
3. Find Solutions.
Don’t stop until you get a solution. Sitting out in the woods would NOT have helped me that day when I was lost in the woods.
I backtracked and discovered a place where I could more easily find my way around. Even though that path did not get me to my solution, it did get me moving. Yes there were frustrations like the other radios not working, but I needed to press on. I needed to live with grit.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Don’t let pride stop you from asking for help.
Men for instance, are terrible at asking for directions. There was no doubt my soldiers would make fun of me. I would not have respected them if they did not taunt me. But my mistake and my willingness to go to them for help showed them that I was humble, and more importantly, not arrogant.
We bonded. When we enlist others to help us it can give us some of the best relationships that we will ever have in our lives.
The day may very well come when you find yourself lost. Maybe you are alone, jobless, and afraid. Do NOT hold back. Stop for a moment, re-evaluate, and get moving towards the success that you were designed to live.
With grit, hard work, and perseverance, you can get back on track.