You either get it or you don't

  • Published
  • By Lt .Col .Christopher Urdzik
  • 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
Among my favorite movie quotes is one attributed to John Wayne in "The Sands of Iwo Jima" when Wayne, playing the role of Sergeant Stryker, says to a new Marine in his trademark voice, "Son, life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid."

Dr. Phil McGraw puts it another way in his book "Life Strategies" when he says in life, "You either get it, or you don't. Become one of those who get it."

When I was a teenager back in Pennsylvania, my father would take me fishing along with his friends. At one particular lake, there was a well-known fishing hole where an old tree trunk had fallen into the water providing an outstanding haven for bluegill fish. Anytime you'd cast your line there, you were guaranteed to come away with a bursting net of fish.

One night, my dad, his friend Steve and I visited the lake. We cast our lines near that old tree trunk expecting to reel in a healthy catch that night. But after about 20 minutes, nobody had even a nibble. For some reason the fish weren't biting.

Finally, my dad reeled in his line and cast it in the opposite direction of that old tree. All of a sudden he caught a fish! Then BAM! And BAM! He reeled in two more.

He said to me, "Chris, cast your line over here. This is where the fish are biting." Following my father's instructions, I too started reeling in the fish one after another. My dad called over to his friend, "Hey Steve, cast your line over here." But Steve responded "Nah, I should be able to catch fish from around this tree trunk."

At the end of the evening, my dad and I came away with about 80 fish. Steve came away empty-handed. Now, I'm not sure what motivated Steve's decision, but our objective that night was to catch fish.

Although this happened more than 30 years ago, I think of that story every time the topic of career progression comes up and someone says, "I should be able to get promoted just by doing my job."

My first real day on the job in the Air Force, after basic training and technical school, was back in February 1982 here in the then 4th Component Repair Squadron. My new supervisor took me to the phase dock to help de-panel an F-4E aircraft. Reaching into my toolbox, he handed me a speed handle, told me where to start and walked around to the opposite side of the aircraft.

Now, I had never seen a speed handle before in my life, and as far as I was concerned, it had to be an inferior tool. Looking into my toolbox, I found a tool I knew how to use very well - a ratchet wrench. So I chucked away the speed handle and began de-paneling the jet in earnest with the ratchet wrench.

About 20 minutes later, my supervisor came back to check on me. Using my trusted ratchet wrench, I had managed to remove only 12 of 150 hi-torque fasteners from the first panel. Needless to say, I received some direct and immediate feedback, and I used a speed handle from that point forward.

So what's the point that ties these two stories together? Simply this: Whether you're 18 or 38, when someone mentors you on where to cast your line for success or hands you a new tool to tackle a problem, don't let stupidity, stubbornness or foolish pride prevent you from acting on the good advice. Become one of those who get it.