Feb. 5, 2023

Sharpen The Sword! What Happens When You Neglect Self-Care

Sharpen The Sword! What Happens When You Neglect Self-Care

It's those weeks & months where our time is taken from us when I’m reminded of the importance of adequate self-care or what I like to call "keeping your sword sharp"; being ready for battle, ready for life. When the stuff hits the fan and we are going to war, there is no time to sharpen your need to do that before battle. Once you’re in the fight, you’d better hope that bad boy is sharp and ready! With that being said, I will give a war story for each pillar. This won’t be the normal advice you’ve seen on staying resilient...Instead, I’m going to show you what happens when you don’t.


Earlier in my career I contracted a heart virus from the flu mist vaccine which put me in the hospital for two weeks. Part of my diagnosis was to perform a cardiac catheter, to string a small camera though the artery in my groin, up to my chest, so the docs could see real-time how my heart looked. Obviously, this whole event shook me to my core, but that's another story. The aftermath is what I want to discuss. Upon my return to duty I was exempt for taking a PT test for nearly a year. I stopped exercising and forgot about it. As the months went by it occasionally popped into my mind “Oh no, when was that date again?” The thought of my pending test would fill me to the brim with anxiety so I pushed it out of my head. I chose to not keep my sword sharp.

One day my flight chief called me to the office and informed me my PT test was due this month. I felt my stomach drop. “Had it already been a year? How could this happen? Why didn’t I prepare?” I started to panic thinking about what my career would look like when I bombed this test. Later in the day my flight chief informed me that my test date would be in a week. Could I train for a week and pass? I wasn’t sure but tried to stay positive. Right before I left for the day my flight chief approached me one last time. “Your test is first thing tomorrow morning” WHAT!? I was doomed. I’ll never forget how I felt that morning as I was pushing myself to the brink of death to pass this thing. My legs felt like cement, my lungs were on fire, and my heart felt like it was on the brink of an explosion. My anxiety was through the roof and the entire run, all I thought about was the consequences I would soon face for failing the test. I was running for my life (only someone in the military understands this feeling), and I somehow passed by a few seconds. I vowed that day I would never put myself through that kind of mental anguish again. Putting my problems off was not a good strategy. After 17 years in the service, I’ve never failed a PT test.

Takeaway: Avoidance ALWAYS makes things astronomically worse. Stay accountable to yourself.


When I read the word “mental” a lot comes to mind. Things like going to school, learning something new, thought-provoking group discussions, or reading. Most are already aware of these and understand the value in them. After all, leaders are readers! But what about your mindset? The way you see yourself and the world. My first ten years in the Air Force I struggled with a fear of failure and it became easy to just avoid getting out of my comfort zone altogether. What I’ve learned is leaving my comfort zone had a drastic impact on my ability to elevate thoughts and break mindset barriers. Barriers I didn’t even realize I had. For me, my mindset changed in only a few short years and it all began with coordinating and running a Group Commander’s Call. Leadership was looking for volunteers and at this point I would usually shy away. With the encouragement of a Senior mentor (who really didn’t give me a choice!) my name was put forward and I was selected. What I didn’t realize was the simple act of taking one step towards something I was terrified of would change the trajectory of my life. Little by little, I showed myself what I was capable of. After this successful event I took on a Wing 5K. Then I was an Additional Duty First Sergeant, a Group Executive Officer, and finally I was selected to run the Base Honor Guard which was a life changing experience and something I previously could never see myself being able to perform. Leadership books, discussions, and education showed me what success looked like, I had the roadmap. It wasn’t until I stepped out of my comfort zone that I was able to benefit from it. In only two short years my entire life had changed.

Takeaway: Sharpening your mental sword is useless without application. A fear of failure prevents action and leads to missed opportunities which prevents growth. My dad used to tell me “Fear is the sand in the machinery of life.” And making mistakes is part of the process. Understand it won’t always look pretty, and that’s ok, so start small and build momentum. The success will come faster than you think!


If there’s one pillar the military neglects the most it’s this one. The stigma surrounding mental health in the military has been a part of our military culture for decades. PTSD, trauma, abuse, bullying - all these unfortunate events can come back to haunt us. When we’re younger I don’t think we notice as much because it’s our “norm” and we’re not yet depending on our skillsets and motivation to be self-reliant. Once we’re older we start to reflect on our past and share stories with others. Through these stories we learn that our “norm” actually wasn’t all that normal. Furthermore, the new set of challenges and pressure the military provides can have us react in unpredictable ways. Your past trauma is like a rock thrown in a still lake. The ripples become wider and reach in all directions as time goes on. Things you should have paid attention to start to fester and manifest in ways that are detrimental to your overall health as well as your mental health. Drugs, alcohol, food, toxic relationships - all these and more can be physical manifestations of trying to cope. I convinced myself that I didn’t have a mental health or coping problem and so I certainly didn’t need to talk to anyone about it. Instead, I would go out on the weekends and get hammered. I felt free, energized, and confident. The anxiety and stress were gone. What started as weekends of fun turned into a nightly routine of isolating, gaming, and drinking. My health declined and over time things got much darker for me. I started to question my place in the military and even the world and I felt like all my dreams and aspirations were a lie. Truth was, I hated myself. At that time, I was in maintenance on the flight line, never promoted, and just coasted. I wasn’t a good maintainer and given my competitive nature this really ate me up inside; my insecurities grew to new heights. Here’s the thing: For years I never did anything about these feelings, and consequently didn’t take care of myself. So, what does avoiding therapy (when you need it), look like? My emotional health plummeted, and I had no mental fortitude, much less a sharpened sword. Negative feedback or confrontation - any little thing - would set me off. I interpreted virtually everything as an attack, and I couldn’t handle it. At about 6 years in the service, I was at my breaking point. Luckily, I was able to get a month off work and my parents flew out to see me. During that month I was able to relax and not think of all the things that stressed me out. Although this was a nice break from the noise in my head, I still didn’t take the time to truly sharpen my sword. On the last night before returning to work I finally broke. I had a full-blown panic attack. Crying, and not able to catch my breath, I felt my emotions escalating and I lost all control of my thoughts. Fearing for my safety I called my dad in the middle of the night. He answered on the third attempt and was able to calm me down. Had he not answered, I’m really not sure what would have happened. But the next day I put on a smile and pressed on, no one knew about this “episode” or my current state of mind.

Takeaway: You can’t out-run your demons. They are always with you, waiting to strike when you’re most vulnerable. You have to learn to stay ahead of them by talking to someone, asking for help, being honest with yourself, and finding the strength to talk about your issues out loud. Get ahead of it, keep the sword sharp.


Spiritualism is always a touchy subject because of the many different beliefs people serving in the military have today. Truthfully, I believe in Christianity. However, I’m not one to frequently pray or attend church services. Those things are certainly “spiritual” to me, but I feel there’s more to spirituality than just those things. For me, being “spiritual” is to have deep, meaningful connections with others. It’s being vulnerable and operating from a place of love. It’s having a strong sense of purpose, meaningful relationships, and a deep understanding of your values. The opposite is being selfish, unaware, withholding information, gossiping, isolating, attention seeking, and not celebrating others (especially your peers). Your ego is guiding your emotions. In 2019 I became one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of The Year for Air Force Global Strike Command as the Honor Guard Program Manager. An OAY is an incredible achievement that most Airmen never reach. It’s being one of only 72 Airmen, out of roughly 328,000, for that respective year. Before this accomplishment, I hadn’t won a darn thing. Most of my career I struggled to maintain my spiritual pillar but was filled with ego and insecurity. I didn’t have love in my heart, though I did experience fear. But after the OAY experience of 2019, I felt validated - like I cracked the code to success. I met all the leaders who ran the Air Force. I became part of their network, and I finally felt like I mattered. In my mind, this was my new life and there was no going back to the old Josh. After the six-month high of winning this award, things died down and life went back to normal. Public Affairs wasn’t interviewing me, I wasn’t in the base paper, I wasn’t going on exciting TDYs, and my special duty (Honor Guard) was ending. Soon, I wouldn’t have this super elite and high-vis mission, which was a problem because at this point it was my identity. It was around this time that COVID hit, and we were on lock-down. During that first month, I had a lot of time to stew on my soon-to-be new way of life and perceived irrelevancy. As a result, I went on full attack mode knowing my ego was fighting for its life to stay relevant. After my 12 OAY experience I felt that I would never need another award again to feel validated and fulfilled. During the lockdown this feeling changed and I decided to submit myself for the OAY award once more. I was told it was highly unlikely for anyone to win two years in a row at that level but the feeling of being invisible was overbearing and I went forward with it, along with many other awards. I poured hours into the award packages and even reached out to past winners across the Air Force and received copies of their submissions to better guide me. I was confident that I had the best packages, however out of 4 submissions not one of them made it past the first stage. I probably looked like a jerk, but even worse I felt like a jerk. The truth was my spirituality was wrapped up in a title versus myself, God, or family. I was a husband, father to two children, and by all means successful in so many other areas of my life - this is what I now keep close to my heart.

Takeaway - Your life purpose, values, and relationships should have a foundation rooted in what you actually love the most. A title, position, or award is temporary and will be old news much sooner than you realize. The people in your life, the places you’ve been, the lives you’ve changed – those are joy, those are forever.


Gratitude is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I understand the concept but wasn’t sure how to exercise it. Was it simply saying thank you? Was it meditating on what you’re appreciative of? I thought maybe I was just wired differently. The truth is everybody exercises gratitude differently and I just didn’t have the emotional intelligence to know if I was exercising mine properly. When my emotional IQ was much higher, I became more vulnerable. Vulnerability is something I now consider a superpower, but it’s something we have to learn. When I reached a place in my life to feel more secure, I started to highlight teammates in-person and online for their families to witness. I would list their accomplishments, their Air Force story, and why I was so proud. More importantly, I was in a place in my life where I was comfortable articulating my appreciation and what I loved about them.

Takeaway - It takes a lot of courage to give someone negative feedback, but it takes a tremendous amount courage to give positive feedback. Are you secure enough to praise others? Leverage your vulnerability and break barriers. Don’t just think about something you appreciate about someone, say it! By helping make those around you better, you are making yourself better as well. I’ve found that gratitude is simply being grateful for the important things in your life. This might be missing piece to sharpen your gratitude sword.

Final Thought - The pillars outlined above take a tremendous amount of discipline but is well worth the effort and will empower you to be fully present for those around you. Neglecting any of these pillars and what they represent can place you in a position that is hard to recover from. Sharpening your sword is an investment for the future. It’s the foundation of resiliency. At its heart, resiliency is the ability to withstand and recover from difficult life events.— Rodger Dean Duncan, Forbes, 26 Apr.