Hell Week. A term made famous by US Navy Seal training, when B/UDS volunteers go to the selection course to find out if they have what it takes to be a member of one of the world’s most elite special forces units. Famously immortalised in the 1997 Demi Moore film, G.I. Jane, which also starred Viggo Mortensen (but you might not remember because he wasn’t Aragorn, yet).
There are a couple of scenes where the trainers show the trainees the Bell. Traditionally, trainees who decide part way through the training that this isn’t for them go to the Bell and ring it, announcing their shame-faced surrender.
I recently read a quote from a senior SEAL officer, and the gist of it was that he could tell the ones who’d take to campanology the minute he saw them. They would be very fit young men and women, but there was an air of pose, of mock strength hidden by all the shaped musculature. In essence, he suggested that for all that apparent physical tone, the motivation behind it was narcissistic and would fail at the first challenge. And he’s usually correct.
The true SEAL (and by extension Royal Marine, SAS Trooper, GSG9 Kommando and so on) has all the physical capabilities required of their role, but they also possess deep character strength.
I think they may also possess a mental approach which supports that strength. I think they know that when all is said and done – the pain stops, eventually.
They know that the discomfort, the effort and the pain are all temporary states. They know from experience that it’s hurt before, but it stopped hurting and normality returned. They know that this will be the case again and again, so they accept the agony. And, as we all know, next time the agony takes longer to arrive, takes less of a toll when it does, and dissipates faster afterwards.
If we just keep training. If we just do what have we do, and in doing so get better at it.
I truly gasp when I hear about people who sue their employers because of the stress ‘they’ caused by asking too much of the employee. It seems, more often than not, to be related to the levels of paperwork. When I read that I think of people facing bullets and winder how they feel about administration-induced stress.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no saint. I do try as hard as I can (sometimes!) when training but I, too, fall into the ‘It’s all too much’ way of thinking and mentally stroll towards that Bell. But more and more I am beginning to realise that there is some – a lot of – truth in the expression ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us better’.
I wish I’d learned that 30 years ago.
When you’re in work and feeling the strain of the amount of work you have to do, or its nature, just remember that other, well-known tenet – ‘This too, shall pass’. It usually passes just after you walk out of the door of the office. Furthermore, remember that when you finally go, everyone manages without you.
(I have only had one call since I left work, and that was from someone who didn’t know I’d gone.)
‘Your’ important work gets passed to someone else. The world keeps turning. It’s a bit sobering but it’s also quite liberating. Apply that at home-time – the work can and will wait.
So I have two lessons, today.
Everything (including us) is temporary, including the ‘stuff’ we hate doing. And we aren’t the centre of everyone else’s world, just our own.
And you can’t really ring the Bell on that one.