It’s after lights out. I’m lying in my bunk in the Army’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) holding barracks trying to fall asleep among fifty other soldiers in bunks on either side of me. Having just finished Basic Training on Sand Hill, Ft. Benning, GA., I’m waiting for the next OCS class to start. I have a month of this. For officer candidates, this place is limbo.
With regard to rank, officer candidates aren’t really anything. Although I’m still enlisted, all rank status is lost during the course and any enlisted soldier now outranks me. Typically in the military, there is some disdain in regard to how enlisted personnel feel about young inexperienced officers, and venting these opinions to officer candidates is a common practice for no fear of repercussions.
As I’m trying to fall asleep my mind is racing. Here, the confidence of the day always turns to doubt. Maybe these more experienced enlisted soldiers are right? After all, I have the experience of a new Private, so how could I possibly lead men who had spent years serving? What if I don’t know what to do when everyone is looking to me? What if I make a bad decision and someone gets hurt?
I feel the vibration of my flip phone hidden under my pillow. I hoped it was my girlfriend back in California calling to tell me everything was going to be okay, but it turned out to be my older brother. I answered, and I could tell right away that something wasn’t right, so I slipped away to the only place you could talk in the barracks after hours: the bathroom stall.
He told me he was recently promoted to editor-in-chief of a popular weekly newspaper, and as the youngest editor in the paper’s history at 27, many critics were surfacing who thought he was the wrong man for the job. I could tell that these negative opinions were wearing on his confidence.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I was proud of him for putting himself out there in a leadership role instead of being comfortable as just another writer in the background. Suddenly, it popped into my head. I couldn’t remember who said it, but at this moment I could remember something I read years before:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Theodore Roosevelt, "Man in the Arena"
While I had remembered this to help my brother, it was something I needed to hear. Even though I’d read it before, in this moment I believed it; it had new meaning. It was okay to have doubts, but it wasn’t okay to let those doubts keep me on the sideline. I chose to be an officer because I believed I could do the job better than the next guy, and I couldn’t worry about vocal naysayers who made the choice to criticize leaders rather than lead themselves.
Fast-forward seven years to opening a brewery: I still find that anytime you separate from the crowd and follow your true passions there will be critics telling you it can't be done; that you’re doing it wrong; how they could’ve performed better than you, even though they chose not to make the choice. At some point in time, these cynics listened to the critics of their own moment and now assume the collective opinion of the crowd, which only serves to maintain the way things have always been done because it’s safer. Not an evil proposition, but serves as a foundation of regret; of a life spent trying to fend off the inevitable.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the shouting of people in the stands, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice the few willing to step out onto the arena floor and lay it on the line. This uncommon minority serves as living proof that daring achievements are possible with courage as their only prerequisite. Find your inspiration, put yourself out there, and see what you’re made of.
These words have come to define who I am, and who I will be. With that, our new Double IPA shall bear a name in honor of those who step into the arena, unaware and unmoved by the critiques of those poor and timid souls who remain on the sidelines. On Saturday, June 13th, we debut "Victory nor Defeat."