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Best Worst Day

November is all about gratitude. I’m grateful for one of the hardest days of my life.


When I entered the United States Marine Corps and put on that uniform, a feeling of strength came to me, as if I had become the master of my own destiny. And that feeling was tested almost beyond what I could bear the day they took me and 11 other recruits to “the beach.” Trust me, you do not want to be on a Marine Corps beach! Sergeant Smith and Staff Sergeant Morris had decided this was the day to weed out the quitters. So far, their efforts had been highly effective—my platoon started with 115 recruits and only 75 of us graduated.

It was hotter than a snake's ass that day. In deep sand and off-the-map humidity, they put us through drill after drill. I have never heard the word “ZUBER!” yelled so many times in one day. Sergeant Smith had me double time in place for what felt like an hour, side-straddle hop until my feet went numb, and do Marine Corps pushups until every muscle in my arms, chest, and back gave out. Then it was flip over and do lying leg lifts six inches off the ground until my abdomen, heart, and lungs felt like they were about to explode.

Sound tough? You have no idea. Especially because I was still reeling from what felt like a near-death experience earlier that same day—the “gas chamber.”

As a training exercise, we had been exposed to a non-lethal but still toxic gas known as “CS gas” (chlorobenzylidene malonitrile). In a small room filled with it, they told us to take off our gas masks and recite our social security numbers over and over. Within minutes, every one of us felt like we were surely DYING. With every breath, every part of my body inside and out burned until I was soon regurgitating everything in my system. When there was nothing left, that changed to dry heaves. The snot and tears were streaming down my face, completely outside my control. Grown men were jumping around like kangaroos, screaming and bawling like newborns. My eyes were sizzling in my head—I was convinced I'd be blind if I even got out of there alive.

But I did survive! Without being blinded, and without giving up! OOH-RAH!

There was no time for relief, however; because next thing I knew I was straining on “the beach,” sweating so hard that a puddle the size of Lake Erie was forming in the sand under my body. “Blow into the sand and get it in your neck and eyes and ears, Zuber!” yelled Sergeant Smith. “Just QUIT! All you have to do is quit and this will all be over!”

I suddenly realized a priceless truth. Even in unbearable conditions with the voice of authority screaming at me to “Just QUIT!” the choice about whether to go on or give up was mine alone. I chose to hold on, no matter what. And I made it through.

Sergeant Smith looked me in the eye and said, “Zuber, no matter what happens in life from here on out, nothing will ever be harder than this day. When you're stressed out and the world feels like it's caving in around you, you'll be able to look back on this and laugh! You didn't quit. You never gave up.”

I knew then if I could make it through that day, I could make it through anything. I learned that the only person who could make me quit—was me. And the only person who can make YOU quit is YOU.

What’s the worst - best day of your life?


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