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  • Writer's pictureSarah Skedsvold

"The Story Behind the Story: Pt 2" *REPOST 2/6/20*

So here I am, Friday morning, listening to Tim Ferriss and Brene Brown talk for a second time and there it was…the inspiration for fashioning together and telling a deeper level of my evolution.

I canceled all of my plans for today, and had to put this together…this deeper story has to see the light of day.

I’ve got to give details about the source of my inspiration first, for some context before I jump into the story. Even though it looks like the setup for a college term paper, I promise you, it helps me write...

In The Tim Ferriss Show: #409 featuring Brene Brown, Brene and Tim talk about:

  • Finding the sweet spot between High Achieving (at the cost of self-abuse) and Embracing Imperfection (at the cost of complacency)

  • “The Race to Nowhere”

  • Mid-Life Milestone

  • Armor

  • 100% NET relationships

  • Developing families

Chasing Excellence...At What Cost

No doubt, I was a high achiever most of my life, and I have all of the certificates to prove it.

During my career in the military, I volunteered for extra duties, I attended schools WAY ahead of schedule, I volunteered for overseas missions, I went back to college and grad school and collected up a hand full of diplomas, and as a result, I quickly ascended the enlisted ranks because I was chasing excellence.

…or was I?

The truth is, I was just attempting to give my career meaning in the eyes of a really close friend who was no longer in my life. She’d said that I should have gone to law school…I was destined for more than military service…I had changed…there’s nothing left to talk about…

I hadn’t thought about that in a long, long time, and I’ve never really told anyone about it.

In order to give my career meaning, I had this make-believe rabbit I was chasing. To somehow make my career worthwhile enough to offset the cost of my best friend. I never gave anyone physically in my life a voice to question my time away, my extra assignments, my long hours. I had a voice in my head that was louder and more persistent. They never had a chance.

I tracked acceptance by graduation certificates and annual reviews. I wore my military service and my competency in all things logistics and operations very proudly because that’s all I had allowed myself to value.

A Race to Nowhere

I was driven to be the fastest, sharpest, most committed Soldier I could possibly be, and it showed…

Here’s my military promotion history:

  • Private (E-1) - 1998

  • 18 years old

  • Private (E-2) - 1999

  • 18 years old

  • Private First Class (E-3) - 2000

  • 19 years old

  • Specialist (E-4) - 2000

  • 20 years old

  • Sergeant (E-5) - 2001

  • 20 years old

  • Staff Sergeant (E-6) - 2004

  • 24 years old

  • Sergeant First Class (E-7) - 2012

  • 31 years old

  • Master Sergeant (E-8) - 2016

  • 35 years old

Here’s where that got me…

Within the North Dakota Army National Guard, I am the only Soldier I know of who achieved the rank of Master Sergeant (E-8) and walked away from a 16-year full-time career with an impeccable record of service.

I, unquestioningly, placed my job above myself and my family. The military didn’t force me to do that. The military was just the ecosystem that I’d happened to be in.

I have a quote from GEN Eisenhower on a bulletin board in my “office”. I’ve had it for close to 10 years, that I can recall, and it basically says that Soldiers will endure just about anything if they feel like they’re getting a square deal from their leadership and that their work is both understood and appreciated.

I found myself in a spot with none of that...I won a race to nowhere…and it was pretty crushing.

So I collected myself up from feeling lost and like a failure, I changed course and cut a new path

The Universe Speaks...

At the time, I didn’t have the words to explain why I left a secure and comfortable career, that by all accounts, I was good at, despite a pretty big time recently failed inspection. I just knew that my day to day life had to change...

In the podcast, Brene talks about the developmental milestone of middle-age and how it’s not a crisis, an unraveling (and I’ll get into that here in just a second).

Throughout life we pick up this imaginary armor, initially to protect us from being emotionally hurt. As animals, we are programmed to avoid things that have knowingly caused us pain, and the body doesn’t know the difference between emotional pain and physical’s all the same.

So we grow up through life, we pick up this piece and that piece of imaginary armor and build this suit. Eventually though…the suit of protection acts as this mask. It is heavy, and it is limiting and it harms us more than it helps us any longer. We can only do what we’ve always done in it…there’s no room for growth and change…

“The universe comes down, puts her hands on on your shoulders, pulls you in and whispers in your ear, ‘I’m not fucking around. You’re halfway to death. The armor is keeping you from growing into the gifts I’ve given you. That is not without penalty…time is up.’”

It blew my mind to hear that and I completely broke down. Suddenly, there were words to a feeling that I’d had in my heart 2 and half years ago when I walked away from my full-time military career and 2 months ago when I walked away from my full-time CrossFit coaching career to start Nine-Four Coaching…

I had felt like I built this suit of armor and it was my responsibility to stay in it as a punishment for choosing to create it. The day, the universe finally got a hold of me and told me not only I could but I had to take the armor off were the most painful, but freeing days I have ever experienced.

It is mindblowing to me that something can be useful for a time and then released when it no longer serves us...without penalty. I’ve heard it, I just never internalized it. I believed, for better or worse, you make a commitment and stick with that commitment...I had a hard time reconciling the good feeling of following the universe’s encouragement, with the guilt of not honoring my commitments. Her words allowed me to release a lot of that guilt I was holding on to.

To have words to explain my experience is an unbelievable gift. It was difficult for me to explain why I left my full-time job with the Guard, and why I left the gym. I’ll be honest, as much reassurance as I offered to my family and friends, I wondered sometimes if I was making the right choices. They felt right, but I just couldn't rationalize all.

Inspecting my Armor

Brene said that, as humans, we need to be seen, be heard, be loved and we need to see, hear, and love others. The armor is a barrier to both.

I still have armor. I pick up new pieces and remove old pieces. I am seeking to remove more pieces than I collect…I’m working on it…and that’s okay.

  • I’m learning to ask questions, even if I’m afraid of the answers

  • I’m learning that I don’t have to jump into chaos just and forsake structure just because I’m taking some armor off. I still like making my bed in the morning, washing dishes so I don’t go to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, eating the same breakfast and lunch most days, planning most of my week out.

  • Just because I like structure, I can also appreciate and like unpredictability as well; it’s okay if I go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink sometimes, have an unexpected breakfast or lunch date, cancel all of my plans for the day because I was inspired to create and expand the reach of words that were magical to me this morning…

I look different from the people in my life without all of my armor. I look different to myself too.

…and that’s okay.

I imagine it’s been uncomfortable for folks who know me to see me without some of my armor. Just because it’s uncomfortable today doesn’t mean it will be uncomfortable tomorrow. Where there’s love, there’s always a way back.

I’m taking off my armor for me. It’s another's a responsibility to take their armor off for themselves too. There’s no right or wrong way, it’s just progress.

What am I REALLY Doing with Nine-Four Coaching…

Especially the analogy about removing the armor, it really hit home for me. I have had a unique experience and complicated relationship at times with the military, but it still resonates with me.

I see Nine-Four Coaching as a source for tools and talks where people will feel compelled to start taking off their own armor because they see and hear and feel the love and acceptance on the other side.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I am willing to either find a way or create one. With individuals, teams, communities, and companies.

I know it sounds pitchy and like it should be on an ad…Here’s the deal, I am no longer willing to sit idly by with the tools in my hand and not put them to use myself or offer them up to help someone else out. Part of that is telling folks that I have the tools to begin with and making them easy to get to.

So, I am writing these words on this screen…I’m talking to you on my podcast…right now.

In the future, I’ll be talking to you in person at local breweries, coffee shops, and service clubs... during your leadership development seminar…during your annual staff retreat.

Ultimately, I want to be a part of the planning and executing real organizational change within the North Dakota National Guard…I know that is a bold statement for me…I have had a complicated relationship with the North Dakota Guard, but…it will always be my home.

This has been an unexpectedly unbelievable morning for me. I hope you check the Tim Ferriss Show podcast episode for yourself, there’s a lot more in there than I covered today.

Take some inspiration for the day. Don’t look for it. Seek it out, find it, put it in your pocket, and take it out.

Don’t wish for a great day. Make it a great day; it’s yours to create and enjoy.

Make it a great day!


Additional Resources

Tim Ferriss Show #409, featuring Brene Brown

iTunes link: here

Spotify link: here

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