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Fear of failure: Beyond the Blue

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Senior Master Sgt. Alan Gage, 22nd Maintenance Squadron flight superintendent, poses for a photo Dec. 17, 2020, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Gage shared his story as part of McConnell’s Beyond the Blue initiative, which takes steps to normalize help-seeking behaviors. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Alan Ricker)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – As he stood in front of hundreds during his promotion ceremony in December 2017, Senior Master Sgt. Alan Gage, currently the 22nd Maintenance Squadron flight superintendent, had finally obtained his dream. He would now be in a position to give back to the men and women he served with.

“I had finally made a step towards being involved in an organization where I could positively affect the people, or have a positive [influence] on people that work for me,” Gage said happily.

However, on January 3, 2018, he was informed that a glitch had occurred in his records, which put him past the cutoff for promotion. Gage was told that he was awarded too many points, causing him to have to remove his senior master sergeant stripe.

He described how the joy he felt and shared with family, friends and colleagues during his promotion in December was completely gone.

“I had failed before,” said Gage as he described failing previous tests and deadlines. “This was different.”

He spent a lot of time in 2018 trying to find what went wrong with his promotion, while others told him to move on. Eventually anxiety, depression and fear of failure creeped into his life.

“Ultimately, where I was at in my head was that I failed, but the reality was that I felt like I wasn’t a success,” said Gage as he thought about the effects the ordeal had on his mental health.

While recollecting the past, he shared his favorite quote by Muhammad Ali, “You don’t lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down.”

“I’ll be brutally honest with you,” Gage said remorsefully. “I stayed down. I didn’t want to get back up.”

Within the same year he sought out help from the mental health clinic.

“I let go of a lot of fear using mental health techniques,” explained Gage. “Focusing on things that were in front of me, focusing on positive things about my family — some of it was to focus outside of myself and really look at the people looking up to me.”

In 2019, he was notified of his selection to promote for a second time, and is currently using what he had learned from his past to lead 145 active duty Airmen within the 22nd MXS maintenance flight.

“Talk about failure and how to progress,” advised Gage. “Understand that failure is okay.”

Gage shared the importance of preparing for failure and being resilient. To help with his resiliency, he has continuous conversations with family, friends and a mental healthcare provider.

“Always be prepared to say ‘I need to talk to somebody,’” explained Gage.

Airmen of all ranks can access a variety of additional resources at www.resilience.af.mil.

McConnell’s Beyond the Blue initiative takes steps to normalize help-seeking behaviors. These stories communicate the struggles and create conversations that go below the surface. If you or someone you know is struggling with grief or having thoughts of suicide, contact the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then press 1 or access the online chat by texting 838255.