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  • Rob

How To Handle Your Next 'Night In The Barrel'

Everyone has had times when things seem to be going wrong all at the same time, and everything you do seems to aggravate the situation. As an ex-Navy aviator, we sure had times like this, usually at night around the ship. We affectionately called it a 'Night in the Barrel' and we all have had one (or more). Like most things in life, how you react to this is the important part. Given the current hard times, many of us may have this feeling tat everything is going wrong! However, how we handle these times is what gets us through and may even make us stronger.

This is the next in a series of articles where I reflect back on my experiences in the Navy and how some of the skills we learned (often the hard way) could be applicable in today's new norm of work/life.

Not sure exactly where the phrase comes from but it is well known among Naval aviators. My 'night in the barrel' came one night off the coast of Puerto Rico on a routine flight. I had been operating around the ship for a few weeks and things had been going well, no drama. Landing on a ship at night is a combo of skill, luck and confidence. The first is certainly drilled into you during your training but sometimes the other two escape you and it may be your time for a 'night in the barrel'.

The short version of this story is that for whatever reason I could not seem to get aboard the ship. This can be due to foul deck (something wrong in the landing area), a wave off for a bad approach or a bolter (your hook just skips over the wires). For whatever reason, you miss getting back to your cosy bed and you are STILL in the air as everyone else is aboard. There are not many more lonely places than sitting in the cockpit of the only jet still airborne (watching the low fuel light come on) knowing that close to 6,000 people are down there waiting for you!

I did obviously get aboard and can distinctly remember the moment that I walked into the ready room preparing myself for the endless jibes from my fellow squadron mates. Of course, there was the usual banter common the ready room on any given day but I distinctly remember someone saying, “You finally had your 'Night in the Barrel’” followed by a huge laugh. The stress seemed to lift (just a bit). By acknowledging that 'this happens to us all' it helped diffuse the amount of anger that I had with myself.

Of course being a competitive bunch, what is the next thing that happens, I am put back on for next night's flight schedule. Great! A chance to redeem myself, but more importantly it signalled that this was a normal part of the job. Sometimes these things happen, what is important is get back in the saddle and get back out there. Finding out that this was not career-ending, but simply part of the job, really helped to put it behind me.

All of us working now certainly have tough days. We are staring at so much uncertainty that there are times when we all feel nothing is working out for us. It can feel overwhelming and really dent or even break our confidence, just like that pilot flying around the ship at night. I know laughing at adversity is not always our first reaction, but sometimes that is what is needed to put these setbacks behind us and move on.

There are certainly lots of techniques and training available for dealing with stress and I encourage all of you to find what works for you. But I do think there is something about drawing a line under a particular situation. Call it whatever you want, maybe a "night in a barrel' works for you. At least for me, acknowledging that a) these things happen b) it will get better and c) this is just part of the job, really helped me to put this night behind me and get back out there fresh the next night.

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