I’m terrified and I will not fail

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

I was sitting on the floor at Denver International Airport waiting for a flight to San Antonio. I leaned against a cool glass window in jeans and a black tee shirt, holding the Airman’s Creed on a business card with tiny letters in my hands.


Several other trainees-to-be and I were taking turns reading it out loud in an attempt to both quell our nerves and get a step ahead. I was almost 23-years-old and terrified that joining the Air Force was the wrong decision.


“And I will not fail,” we repeated.


For the next three years I lived my life as an Airman. I survived basic training, moved to Biloxi, honed my passions for photography and writing, met my husband, excelled at my job and grew as a person.


On my last day of active duty, I wrote a commentary in an attempt to quell my nerves about returning to the civilian world and leave some kind of mark. I was eight months pregnant and terrified that separating from the Air Force was the wrong decision.


“And I will not fail,” I wrote.


I also wrote, “It can be easy to blame everyone and everything besides myself for an inability to accomplish my goals. But "And I will not fail" convicts me to take responsibility for my success and not accept my own excuses. It's not ‘I might not fail,’ it's not ‘I'll try not to fail’ and it's not ‘If I fail it's not my fault.’ It's ‘I will not fail.’”


For the next three and a half years I lived my life as a civilian. I pierced my nose. I had a child. I got my degree and found a high-paying job. I finally lived close to my family after a decade away. I built an even stronger relationship with my husband.


I wasn’t failing.


But I also didn’t feel complete.


About four months after “settling down for good” in Texas, I got a Facebook message from a friend who happened to be my supervisor when I was at Keesler Air Force Base. She told me about an opportunity to pick up almost exactly where I’d left off. So, I took it. This time, I’d be in the building across the street as a full-time public affairs specialist with the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing.


On the drive back to Biloxi I took deep breaths in an attempt to quell my nerves. The kind where the air finally reaches a part of your lungs that seems strewn with imaginary cobwebs. Once again, I was terrified that I’d made the wrong decision.  


Maybe I have a pattern. Or maybe I just worry too much. It’s probably both.


For the past three months I’ve lived my life as an Airman again. In such a short time I’ve had dozens of thrilling opportunities: to help flood victims in Baton Rouge; to meet Kate Hudson and Kurt Russell; to fly into and smell the inside of a hurricane; to watch my family flourish; to remember how deeply those last five words of the Airman’s Creed are ingrained into who I am.


I’m writing this commentary in an attempt to quell my nerves. I’ve been a noncommissioned officer for about five minutes now. Ok, a month. But a month really does feel like five minutes these days. What if I’m not ready to be a leader? What if I make big, messy mistakes? What if I misguide my future Airmen? What if I was a good Airman but I’m just a mediocre NCO?


I’m terrified. But if my pattern is real, maybe being terrified is a sign that I’m on the right track. The unknown is always scary.  But facing it is the only way to grow.


So, I’ll probably keep making big, drastic decisions, worrying that they’re the wrong ones and then soaking in every moment of this life – even the mistakes. I have people who care. I have opportunities. I have everything I need to succeed, as long as I do the work.


And I will not fail.