At Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS or just ‘Selection’), there is a long and arduous obstacle course named The Nasty Nick.

It was named after Col. Nick Rowe, a Green Beret legend after his service in Vietnam and brazen escape after five long years in captivity as a prisoner of war.

According to, “Nasty Nick includes 25 obstacles that span across two miles. They are specifically designed to confront candidates’ fear of confined spaces and heights, not to mention test strength and stamina overall, both physically and mentally.”

As candidates move through the course, they are closely monitored by an impassive and ambivalent cadre. Their level of ambivalence is actually a bit disconcerting and very disquieting if I’m being truthful.

As they stand watching with their ever-present clipboards, you will hear them quietly telling wanna-be Green Berets, “Candidate, you’ve failed to properly negotiate this obstacle.  Would you care to try again?”

Not attempting an obstacle quickly leads to candidates voluntarily withdrawing (VW’ing) from Selection.  Read: quitting.

My teammates and I wove the phrase into our everyday lexicon, and it became a standard meme for anything we didn’t ace.

Massive argument with your spouse?  Candidate, you failed to negotiate that obstacle.

Forgot something on the packing list?  Candidate, you failed to negotiate that obstacle.

Messed ANYTHING up in your personal or professional life?  Candidate, you failed to negotiate that obstacle.

But there is an awesome lesson here.

Too many of us think failure is fatal and that even minor screw-ups should define who we are as individuals.

We think we’ve failed if something doesn’t go according to plan or isn’t 100% in line with our expectations.

Nope, you’ve just failed to negotiate that obstacle.  Get up, dust yourself off, and try again.

Failure doesn’t define you unless you let it.  It’s a choice.

As a Christian, I know the last perfect person walked the Earth over 2,000 years ago.

When I remind clients of this, they often look at me askance while trying to figure out the joke.

There is no joke.

You will – I will- fail.  We will fail to negotiate the obstacles placed in front of us.  Some of these failures will be brutal and extremely painful, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get up and try again.

I’ve even taken this belief further.  I seek out failure.  I want to fail as quickly as possible so I can adjust fire and try again.

Why?  I’m not a masochist; I do it so I can improve.  So I can find the flaws in my planning, recognize limiting factors to success, and overcome them.

Also, I hate complacency and despise apathy.  I’m engaged in what I do and deliberate in my efforts.

The 2023 Gallup State of the American Workplace report says, “In 2016, 33% of US employees were engaged – involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace….  The majority of employees (51%) are not engaged and haven’t been for quite some time.”

They also say an additional 16% of the US workforce is ACTIVELY DISENGAGED, bringing the total to 67% of your peers. They’ve not only failed to negotiate any obstacles, but they quietly VW’d (quit) without telling you.

Too many organizations self-award awesome-sounding marketing buzzwords to themself.

They are “elite” or the “gold standard,” while in practice, they actively avoid all obstacles.

As a result, they slowly die.  Like a fruit stuck on a vine, it quickly starts to rot.

Acknowledge the obstacles you face.  Give them your best effort.  When you fail (and you will, but so will I), get up, dust yourself off, check for injuries, and try again.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Winning takes effort and determination.  Nothing good comes easy.

It’s a conscious decision you have to make each day to stay your course, keep your faith, and overcome the obstacles (both large and small) that you face.