“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“There’s been a knife fight in Main Engine Room 1.” 

It was 4 a.m. As “officer of the deck” on a US Navy Destroyer, I should have been focused on driving the ship. But the call consumed me. It had to be a sailor in my division. 

The last thing I needed was another personnel issue. Just the week before, I had to punish a sailor for sleeping on watch. I knew my division was worn down. We had been at sea for the last six months. Three more to go. But how had we gotten to this? 

Off watch three hours later, I stormed into the engineering log room ready to lay into the sailor. Why would you pull a knife on someone? But when I got there, I stopped. I found him sitting in a corner sobbing. 

“I’ve ruined everything,” he said.

We both knew he’d likely be discharged from the Navy –  his ticket away from a hard life.

I stared into his eyes. This wasn’t just his mistake. This was my failure. I was supposed to be the leader. Instead, I was frustrated, tired and angry. My division followed my example. 

Inevitably, the future will bring days of exhaustion and challenge. There will be external circumstances that seem unfair. But when that seed of frustration starts to take root, I will remember the consequences of my past failure. I will choose instead to carry the weight of leadership.

— Ellyn Creasey