Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reflections: “Never give in, never give in…”

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
-          Winston Churchill, October 29, 1941

Warning – this posting will be longer than my usual musings.

At many dark times in my life I have referred to the above quote by Churchill to bring me through ‘sterner days’. There are many and shorter variations of Churchill’s famous quote about never giving up. I wanted to find the original Churchill quote and discovered that this familiar quote was not 29 words long, but rather contained in a speech.

The famous quote was neither at the beginning nor the end, but hidden away in a long paragraph recounting Great Britain’s progress during the first 10 months of World War II. Churchill delivered this speech, which contained the sentence about never giving in, at his old school, Harrow Hall (where as a boy he almost flunked out). The famous words are contained in the following paragraph of the speech:

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done.
Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.
But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our School history, our songs, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
I live in New Zealand now but in May 2017 I will travel with my wife to New York City and attend Fordham University’s commencement ceremony in the Bronx and received my undergraduate degree in Organizational Leadership. Earning this degree has been a very long journey for me – 36 years to be exact.

In September 1981, I began my college studies at New York University as an 18-year-old freshman majoring in Finance. I was supposed to graduate in June 1985 but that didn’t happen. I had a great time in college – a little too much of a great time! In 1984 I was barely passing my classes.

During my studies at NYU I started playing on the school’s basketball team during my freshman year and was named captain in my first year with the team. I then became co-captain in my junior year. But at the start of my senior year and would be fourth year with the team I quit to focus on my classes in the hope of graduating on time. At that time in my life, quitting the team and saying goodbye to some of the guys I knew since freshman year was the hardest thing to do. I love those guys that I played with to this day. I felt devastated that I was letting them down. They all said they understood my decision but I could see it in their eyes and on their faces they were surprised I left the team at the beginning of my senior year.

At first quitting the team made sense. I felt at the time it was the responsible decision to make because I was not going to be a professional basketball player. I was tall, 6’6”, but not nearly good enough to get drafted for the NBA. But I came to realize that it was not being on the team that held me back from studying harder but my lack of commitment and discipline to “hit the books”. At that time, I didn’t know it but the guys on the team was the support system I could have utilized to help me with my studies. I was too embarrassed to tell the guys I was almost flunking out of college at the beginning of my senior year.

After leaving the team I floundered even worse with my studies. I moved from living on campus to moving back home with my mother, commuted to NYU for classes and started working a full-time job that was initially part-time. After taking a few classes after 1985 while I was working I decided to stop pursing my undergraduate degree in 1988.

In late 1989 and early 1990 I was disappointed in the direction my life. I had several low paying jobs between 1985 and 1990. I felt that I was not using my full capabilities of what I could do and then I started to think of joining the military. I said the military, “Why not?”. The military could pay for me to go back and finish my degree. I researched what branch of the service I wanted to join and in August 1990 I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

I completed my six weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas at the age of 27. Then four months of training at Kessler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi in my Air Force career field, Communications-Computers Systems Planning and Implementation Apprentice.

A medal from the Air Force
From 1990 to 1997, I was a Project Manager for Communications and Computer Systems in the United States Air Force.  I was stationed in at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While at Kirtland AFB, I was selected 542nd Crew Training Wing Outstanding First Termer of the Year for 1992.  During the last two years of my  enlistment in the Air I was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio.  During this assignment I was selected to serve on a Source Selection Technical Panel for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. The panel was convened for the procurement of computer systems valued at $55 million. 

 Accepting Outstanding First Termer of the Year  
During my years in the military I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it all; performing outstanding at my military job, going to school, volunteering for additional duties at work and in the community. And to a certain point I did succeed and was recognized during my military career.

Outwardly I had the appearance of success but inwardly I was trying to fill the ‘hole’ of quitting the basketball and not graduating from NYU. While in the military I took college courses at Southern Illinois University and Wilberforce University but never put it all together to complete my undergraduate degree. I didn’t know this until many years later but deep down in my subconscious mind I did not feel worthy of success. I said to myself that my ultimate goal was to complete college but keep making excuses and sabotaging myself.

In December 1997 my enlistment in the military was completed and I didn’t want to re-enlist for another term. After my enlistment, I moved back to NYC and has worked as Adjunct Computer Instructor and Program Operations Specialist at LaGuardia Community College School of Adult 

and Continuing Education from 1998 to 2000.  I left that job because of the self-imposed pressure I put on myself.

After terrorist attacks on NYC at the World Trade Center in 2001 I got a job as an administrative specialist for an architectural & engineering (A&E) firm that was contracted by the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide financial assistance to public applicants. While working at the firm I also collected one of the firms largest overdue accounts receivable.  Through effective negotiation and organizational skills, I was able to collected 100% of the receivable outstanding in the amount of $1.7 million.  I was promoted to Accounting Manager of the NYC office of the firm and was making a good salary but still felt empty because I didn’t have my college degree. I still wanted to complete my degree but was afraid of failing once again and not completing it.

While working as a Accounting Manger I was not taking care of myself. I worked 12 to 15 hours a day and came in on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sunday to prove to myself that I was worty of the position. I “burned out”and I quit the job at the age of 43.

I quit to get rest and reevaluate my life. Instead of reevaluating my life and how I was living, I became depressed. I would not reach out to my family or friends for support and isolated myself. I started to gain weight and ballooned to over 300 lbs and was feeling sorry for myself. I needed help but would not ask for it. My family, through much persistence, said that as a veteran I should go to the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan and seek assistance. With the insistence of my family I went to the VA Medical Center in 2007 to ask for help.

I was stubborn and thought I could get myself back together on my own but I was wrong. Again through the persistence and intervention by my family I went back to the VA in 2011 ready to turn my life around. I accepted every assistance the VA offered. I had to climb out of the hole I was in. I lost my apartment, no job and had almost no money in my bank account. I had to humble myself and start over at the age of 48.

I was at the VA almost everyday. Woody Allen has a famous quote “80% of success is showing up”, and apparently the other 20% is completing what you started. I showed up and took advantage of everything the VA offered. The VA has a program called Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) that helps veterans gain the confidence and routine of going back to work. My work was not glamours. I was a housekeeper at the VA Medical Center. I mopped, cleaned bathrooms and hospital room, vacuumed, picked up garbage, and washed walls. I did everything I was asked to do without complaining. As I was doing that work I remembered the following quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

I continued to show up and one day I was lucky. One definition of luck is “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. A VA social worker saw the work I was doing with the CWT program and recommended me for the opportunity to interview for a full-time VA job. I interviewed for the position of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Specialist in the Homeless Veterans Supported Employment Program. I was hired for the job. I kept getting lucky. I loved  the job of helping veterans and providing them individual vocational assessment, and job development to help them find employment.

After a couple of years as a VA Employment Specialist I interviewed for another position at the VA as a Transition Advocate. I was hired and began assisting transitioning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) veterans and their families regarding, eligibility for VA benefits. I felt enormously grateful for what I was doing and how far I had come by not giving up on myself. I did not do it alone. My family and support system “jumped started” me and I had to do the 20% of completing what I started. Maybe I had the “grit” within me all the time but it was covered by a lot of insecurity, negative thinking and past failures. I remembered all my failures but never my success.

While working at the VA in 2013, I enrolled at Fordham University as a part-time student at night to finish my degree. I was ready this time, determined and most importantly equipped with confidence in myself. I had some challenges along the way going back to school, probably like most adult learners but I kept at it.

In 2014, I met a wonderful beautiful woman from New Zealand and fell heads-over-heels in love. I left my job at the VA and moved from NYC and landed in New Zealand on July 4, 2015 to spend the rest of my life with her.  We got married in June 2016 and I could not be happier.

While I was adjusting to life in New Zealand I continued studying online at Fordham completing my final nine courses for my degree in Organizational Leadership. I now work as a Program Facilitator at the New Zealand Department of Corrections.

I wanted to tell you this story to encourage you to keep preserving and doing the small tasks and strategies as stated in previous blogs everyday and to, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
My first bungy jump in Taupo, New Zealand
One of my journeys was 36 years in the making
I have a wonderful life, love and now my university degree!
If I can make it so can you!


  1. Aaron - Thanks for sharing your powerful journey with others. You have truly been an inspiration to me. Congratulations on all your achievements.


    1. Thanks Ric for taking the time to read it!