When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a soldier. At age 19, I got that opportunity, but realized after a few short weeks that joining the army was a big mistake for me: I was a real hot-head back then, and resented being told what to do during every waking moment. So, I paid the penalty fee that allowed me to effectively buy my way out of the army and be released back to the civilian world, in order to figure out what to do next with my life.
All armies live and die by process and procedure, and part of that was I needed to do a kind of exit interview, with the base commander who was named “Prendergast”. The entire interview went like so, as I remember it:
Me: march into his office, salute.
Prendergast: “Do you think you were treated fairly during your time in the army?”.
Me: “Yes, sir”.
Prendergast: “Okay, dismissed”.
And that was it, my very brief army career was now over. But now after more than twenty years have passed, I still think about Prendergast.
I think about the amount of cocky young hot-heads like me that were marched into his office, every other day, who thought they had it all figured out. I think about his stoic indifference to me, just another name and file he needed to close as cleanly as possible, and how he would have much preferred to be doing something, anything, different at that moment. I think about his professionalism, and his courtesy for me in accepting my decision (he did not try to coerce me into staying, unlike the junior officers on base). Mostly, I think about how many small decisions, and large decisions, he had to make every day, and how much crap came across his desk.
As a leader now, albeit in a very different field, I think about Prendergast more and more, and when crap comes across my desk, I think about him stoically processing big dramas and little dramas from his spartan army office.
When I have doubts, I think about Prendergast carrying out his duties, and my doubts dissipate.