Life is like whitewater rafting: watch out for rocks

THULE AIR BASE, Greenland -- I've seen plenty of books and articles on how to be successful, including several on how to have a successful Air Force career. Now, I don't think anyone wakes up wanting to fail in his life or career, but it still happens even after following the tips in those "how-to" success books. 

I think it's because knowing how to be successful is not enough. Knowing how not to be successful is just as important. 

I believe that life is like whitewater rafting -- not a box of chocolates. You are going along the rapids, doing well and bouncing along on cloud nine until you hit that rock just under the waves. The next thing you know, you're in your worst nightmare, being dragged across the river without a raft or paddle. If you had known what to look for, you could have avoided that rock -- but you didn't, and this is the predicament you are now in. 

So let me share with you the three rocks to try to hit dead-on whenever you don't want to be successful ... they are guaranteed to ruin your day or life. 

The first is to not care about the people around you. This works two ways. If you are a supervisor and don't care for the people who work for you, sooner or later the mission will suffer and your boss will fire you. The same goes if you don't care about your boss and his needs to do the job. You risk losing your job to someone who does care. 

Not caring for people is also a big rock in your personal life. If you don't take care of your spouse and children, you'll lose them quickly enough to someone who will. If you don't care about your friends, you'll find yourself all alone and will be "That Guy" those American Forces Network commercials keep talking about. This first rock is by far the best way I've seen to prevent you from being successful and seems to have a 100-percent success rate. 

When people say money is the root of all evil, they're not kidding. This second rock is on par with the first, only it works more quickly. In the Air Force, not managing your professional or personal finances is one of the quickest ways to lose your job. It doesn't matter if you are an airman basic or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mismanagement of funds is an equal opportunity career killer. 

Those briefings on how to properly use your government travel card may seem cliché, but I've seen plenty of careers ruined when people didn't heed those instructions. Moreover, you can lose your security clearance by having personal financial problems or filing for bankruptcy. So the money route is without doubt a surefire way to be unsuccessful! 

The last rock to discuss is by far the slowest way to be unsuccessful. This deals with being unbalanced. Anyone who has gone whitewater rafting knows that the raft needs to be balanced on both sides so that it travels forward instead of around in circles. People on the raft know not to stand up to prevent falling into the water. 

If you're a workaholic, you risk one day losing your family or at least not getting to know your children. But if you place too much emphasis on the family, to the detriment of your job, you may lose your sense of purpose and well being - not to mention that promotion opportunity that could have helped you put your children through college. So one's success in life and career is all about balance. 

Knowing how to fail can be just as important as knowing how to be successful. Otherwise, how can you prevent your raft from hitting the rocks?