When I was a US Army intelligence team leader in Afghanistan, I was given a goat. It was 2008, and elders from a village walked to the combat outpost where I was deployed with the token of gratitude. They were appreciative of assistance my team had given their village. This was meaningful to me, because this village was neutral in terms of favoring Coalition Forces or the Taliban. I’ve never been given a live animal as thanks before, so after consulting with the Afghan Security Guard commander, I decided to host a lunch. The guests invited to the lunch would be another neutral village. The main course? Goat. Take the goat given from a village to feed another village.
This was a lesson to me, and something that I want to share. I realized that the respected men of a village bringing me a goat was a kind gift, and I wanted to know what I projected in order to receive it. What bait did I set to catch such an animal? In the case of this event, the gift actually was an animal. With life, however, any good fortune bestowed upon me is a gift. And I try to see what bait I left that led it to me.
Fast forward a few years to last year. I had my first book published after writing it in 2007 while stationed in Fort Hood. The publisher was small, and obtained crowd-sourced funding for each of their graphic novels and children’s books. Having a book published was a dream of mine nearly all of my life, so I was ecstatic. Shortly after my book was funded and the initial copies sent were to backers, the publisher closed its doors. I was frustrated, and felt my dream had never been fully realized. The book rights back in my possession, I had two choices — be happy that my book was made even if it never saw shelves, or be grateful for the gift and study how I earned it. I decided that my published book was a reward itself, but that I would cash in the reward to pursue further ventures. There’s a difference between not being content and wanting more from a dream. The book being a gift, I looked at what bait I set so I could obtain it.
The mindset I’ve embraced isn’t a novel approach. We’re all told to learn from things in order to improve. But by knowingly looking for personal strengths to pull from accomplishments, I can use those strengths to accomplish more in life. Whenever I find myself fortunate enough to have anything happen to me, be it tangible or otherwise, I try to look at how it happened. I don’t say this because I dispute things like God’s will or the universe. What I’m saying is I inspect the good pragmatically. This accomplishes two things. One, it helps me understand what I could have done to bring it to me. If I were to peek inside the gift I’ve received, no matter what is it, what would I find? The goat contained my networking ability and empathy. I applied that to network with others during my deployment and strengthen ties with the community. My children’s book contained determination as well as collaboration with the illustrator. I applied those to future creative endeavors. The second benefit from inspecting a gift pragmatically is the appreciation for what it is. If I were to optimistically expect things to happen because life is good or for any other reason, I would miss the details. My wife played a large role in the publishing of my book. I realized this when I looked at how the book came to my door instead of just attributing it to external causes. And of course, it’s tough to be pessimistic about life when you hold close the good things happening in life and breaking down how they happen.
A job interview goes my way, and I am thankful and introspective. How did it go my way? Did I project a positive attitude? Confidently answer questions in a way that showed I was prepared? Maybe the interview hasn’t happened yet. What bait could I set in order to land the gift of a successful interview? It is possible to be proactive if you think you know what bait would be needed for such a gift. I could have a physical training test approaching. Thinking ahead about what could catch a good score, likely a disciplined physical regiment and healthy diet, I would want to look to see if I have such bait yet. Do I want a happy wife living in our wonderful home? Of course! What bait could I set in order to land one? A chair devoid of laundry, a sink without dishes, and a vase full of flowers just might do the trick. Once I started looking at how good things happened, I wanted more good things to happen. Using the same mindset, I can set up for success by pre-baiting. Foresight is harder than hindsight as being proactive is harder than being reactive, so this needs dedication on my part.
With any good thing that I am fortunate enough to have, I consider what brought it to me. With any good thing that I would be fortunate to have, I consider what could bring it to me. The gift of a goat comes to those who use bait. What bait? That’s up to you to figure out.