First off let me say this is not a “how-to” guide. It’s a question I’m processing at present. Nor is it a comment on Australian Army processes, just my experience of one part of them.
Recently I attended an Australian Army Officer Selection Board (OSB). The purpose of which was for the Army to assess my suitability to become a Chaplain, which is an officer position. The board assesses whether or not candidates have the attributes to be an officer within the Australian Defence Force and also whether they are suited for their chosen role (chaplain in this case). The OSB is a whole day event with various activities designed to assess you, it concludes with a final formal interview.
It is a lot of work to get to the OSB. A fair amount of time and effort is required, as well as passing several hurdles including physical, mental and aptitude tests. Suffice to say that by the time you’re there, you’ve invested quite a bit in terms of time, money, effort and commitment. For me it’s been a dream of over 4 years, with the last 7 months particularly being focused on getting there. I even shaved my beard off and cut my hair short.
I was not accepted. #fail
The board did not feel I was ready to become a chaplain with the Army. It was during my formal interview that I was grilled by members of the board and ultimately asked to come back in 2 years with more experience. It was painful to say the least.
I felt really rejected, I felt gutted, I felt like a failure, I felt ashamed. Not only had I let myself down but everyone else who had believed in me and made it possible for me to get there, not just physically (it was quite far from home) but to be invited in the first place.
I was told that while my conduct for an officer during the day was up to standard, my experience for the role was not. I wanted someone to blame for this and it wasn’t going to be me.
I blamed the panel, I blamed the member of the panel who grilled me the hardest, I blamed others for not helping me prepare better. I looked everywhere but me.
I had prepared as much as I could, as much as anyone told me to. I had got my fitness up to scratch, I had given it my all for the past 4 years in chaplaincy roles. I had the merits, I had the qualifications, I had exactly what the Army wanted and more. Except I didn’t.
I remember calling my amazing wife and telling her the bad news. We had been planning on more income, a new lifestyle, a new adventure. And now nothing. She was as upset as I was, and there was nothing I could do.
Surely my experience was fine, the panel must have some hidden biases against me I told myself, they were looking for reasons to say NO rather than yes. The questions they asked were deliberately confusing I told myself. They asked questions that they already had answers to in order to trip me up. The panel made up their mind before the interview. I was left in the lurch by others who should have helped me prepare more.
These are the things I told myself so I didn’t have to look at me. But It’s been enough time that I have been looking at me.
The above statements might be true, they might have an element of truth of some degree, but in reality even if all of it is true, I want to own the loss and learn from it, I want to act as if the door was wide open and I failed to enter it simply because I was not ready or capable.
I want to ask questions of myself rather than find reasons to blame others. It’s hard, it’s still raw and hurts a bit.
How could I have prepared more in this situation? Could I have asked me questions? Should I have been more ready in terms of my specific knowledge? Could I have spent more time in prayer and communion with God? How could things have gone differently?
At this point I must confess there are some elements at play, as I understand them, that I believe did work against me. But I want to seek to understand those elements better. Perhaps my understanding is out of place. What were the things that I said that gave the board the impression I wasn’t ready, maybe it was the things I didn’t say also. I want to wrestle with these things. If a 10 minute interview can determine the next 2 years of my life it’s probably worth paying attention to.
The alternative of course is that I flip them all the bird and say thank goodness I’m not part of it. I don’t really think there is much in that response though. Such response denies my own suffering and pain, it denies me the opportunity to learn and grow from this experience and makes monsters of all the board members.
Pushing into my pain and failure with honesty will let me grow and become ready should I have another crack at it in 2 years time. But the whole process hasn’t been a loss.
I want to dwell on the positives as I process the negatives. I have my fitness at a level it hasn’t been since I was in my early 20s. My mental health is perhaps the best it’s ever been. To get to this place I had to get my ordination approved and fast tracked. This process was supported by my church, the regional executive, the state executive and national executive of my denomination. Plus the chaplain’s department of the army had to approve it also. If nothing else ever came of this then that alone is huge and outweighs the army application. But right now I can’t quite feel that, it’s still a bit raw I guess, but I am reminding myself constantly and its working.
A final few positives, a board member gave me their phone number and invited me to call them to discuss my interview in more detail and the president of the board on the day said that they had 4 attempts at OSB before they made it. I guess tenacity really does pay off.
As I have reflected I realised that I had sought to make myself immune, “I had done this, I had done that…”. The reality is a lot of that is true. I think in focusing so much on the goal I had shut out the reason I was heading there in the first place. The reason is God and my relationship with God. I had been quite distant from God. This at least serves as a reminder to be closer, make time for the whole point of it. Seems weird to attempt it at all without the reason and purpose in view. #humbled
I’m ready to push in to God and let God be the centre again. I’m not sure what it looks like from here, but I have faith its all good. So as I walk into the pain and failure with open heart and mind, it might hurt, but its better than pretending it doesn’t hurt to fail. To quote Boy and Bear “If failure don’t hurt, then failure don’t work anymore.”