A popular video that still makes the rounds on the Internet, a now-retired Admiral and Commander of Naval Special Warfare (SEAL), shared that your best days begin by making your bed. Today, I read a post on Facebook from the Naval History and Heritage command which reminded me of my early Navy days. It has a series of illustrations of how a Sailor’s uniforms were folded so they would fit in a seabag. Folding precisely was necessary to fit in the minimum space provided (shipboard life has exacting space for each member). While many of us had parents who modeled that sort of self-discipline of making your bed, folding your clothes, taking out your laundry to be washed and dried, and other household chores growing up, many did not. But the military service branches, when we all entered recruit training, would change us all into the sort that had an eye for detail, precision in our activities, and ability to stow our military uniforms and personal effects in the space we were given.
More than two decades have passed since I was part of a shipboard crew, and half that since I last wore the uniform. While the attention to detail and attitude about priorities and performance may still be part of my DNA, sadly other habits have gotten sloppier. No sharp creases in my skivvies, nor do my belongings neatly fit in my much larger “coffin locker” (the small storage space below each sailor’s bunk aboard ship) closets and a 5 -drawer dresser. Linens on my made-up bed would never bounce a quarter, nor do I take 3-minute showers (spray to wet, soap down, spray to rinse, get dressed). I do not stencil my underwear, nor do I fastidiously clean floors, walls, showers to Navy standards. While standards have been stretched over the years, the habits of nearly 30 years do result in frequent “field days”. And I still have Army, Navy and Marine veterans who may visit from time to time. Informal inspections can happen at any time (and my spouse keeps me mindful that a clean home is an inviting home) so I am well-stocked with cleaning agents.
The “Perseverance” Rover landing successfully on the surface of Mars this week is a metaphor for the amazing success of a team – thousands of people – who rose to the challenge of putting that vehicle on a planet 300 million miles away. Human beings focused on delivering their best effort can make ambitious goals possible. This has been the case since before recorded history up through sending probes beyond our solar system. Over thousands of years people have advanced their understanding of the universe from erecting temples aligned with the relative movement of stars and planets, navigating across oceans, to physicists, engineers technical specialists, and support teams landing on other worlds. Closer to home, it is tragic that a microscopic organism, one (or more- mutations) of billions on our planet, in the 21st Century has killed or harmed millions of people across the world in the last eighteen months. Prompted by the urgency of finding a vaccine, a lot of dedicated people have been working to determine the nature of the COVID virus, obtain cooperation of billions to slow infection, and then test and distribute a vaccine to eight billion people in the last couple months time.
In both of these examples, the challenge of getting humans to work together, to seek to understand, or to solve a complex problem is tested. We can send probes to study Pluto and Oort Cloud objects, but preventing species extinction, or mitigating natural and man-made disasters seem impossibly difficult. Problems mobilize communities for a period of time, but it requires ongoing teamwork and collective vision to make meaningful change. However, if every person took the opportunity tomorrow and every day after that, to make a small yet positive change in thought and action, we can achieve goals. The book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear, introduces an insight into how in every endeavor, small yet continual process improvements can achieve incredible results. Perseverance is a necessary attribute whether it is landing on Mars or solving an endemic human problem.