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Aaron Littles, 34, Journey Real Estate Investments executive, leadership coach, Marine Corps veteran:

I would like to tell you about the best summer ever. It’s 2007 and it’s hot and there’s sand. But we had no beach and it is not clear water. We are in Iraq and it was my first deployment. I had just finished giving my first convoy brief and it went horribly, horribly wrong. I had the map upside down. ‘The medical plan, you guys don’t need to hear that. Evac plan, reinforcements, you don’t need that. Okay guys, we are just gonna go over here and we will figure it out.’

I started seeing all these eyes look at me and starting feeling all this weight … this burden of command. And I started to really sink down under the weight of it because now I am responsible for all these lives. I am 26.

So I proceed to go to the corner, and cry, and I am devastated. All the years. All the training, and that’s what I just did?

So my colonel comes up to me: ‘Littles! You know what you are doing. I trained you myself for the last six months. Shake that off, Sailor. Let’s go. Let’s go Marine. Get right!”

(He sniffles, he breathes). ‘Yessir.’ ‘What Littles?’ ‘Yes Sir. I got it. I will take care of the men.’ So I get right. I pull it together. I get the brief together I get the guys motivated and ready to go and we take off and we are heading down the road. But it still proceeds to be the worst convoy of my entire life.

Two trucks go that way, (he motions falling over to one side), three trucks goes this way (motioning to the other). One truck tire catches on fire – do tires catch on fire? What’s happening here?

And of course, there’s a terrorist. And he had a bomb. It blew up. No one got hurt. I didn’t see it. And I am responsible.

Why do I share this with you? Why do I tell you about the biggest failure I had in the most important situation? Because we all have opportunities in front of us as leaders as people where our character is revealed. But our character isn’t defined by our failures. It’s defined by what we do after the failure.

My unit proceeded to become one of the sharpest units in the four months we were supposed to be in Iraq. When you go home and come across obstacles and hurdles. I don’t want you to just fall down and stay down. I want you to get up and fight. Get up and be counted. That’s what I did and I believe you can do it too.”

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