Facing Your Crucible
cru·ci·ble/ˈkro͞osəbəl/ A place or occasion of severe test or trial
I live just a few miles from Parris Island, South Carolina. It’s one of two locations in the United States where the United States Marine Corps (U.S.M.C.) trains its recruits. Before a recruit can become a Marine, each recruit has to endure and complete ‘The Crucible.’
Here is how the U.S.M.C. describes it:
“’The Crucible takes place over 54 hours and includes food and sleep deprivation and over 45 miles of marching. The Crucible event pits teams of recruits against a barrage of day and night events requiring every recruit to work together to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and help each other along the way.
“The obstacles they face include long marches, combat assault courses, the leadership reaction course, and the team-building warrior stations.
“The Crucible is a rite of passage that, through shared sacrifice, recruits will never forget. With that memory and their core values learned in recruit training, they can draw upon the experience to face any challenge in their path.’”
Every leader has to face his or her personal crucible. Some shrink back and never lead - others rise to the occasion. The leader who chooses the latter often becomes a great leader. Leaders are often forged during crucible moments. The severe test or trial brings out the greatness.
Harry S Truman served as the U.S. president during the closing days of World War Two. He gave the go-ahead to drop the atom bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
His biographer, David McCullough writes:
"When he learned that Roosevelt had died and that he was now president of the United States, Truman told a group of reporters: 'Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know whether you've had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, l felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.' Though not privy to Roosevelt's war strategy and military secrets, Truman stepped into the job with alacrity and confidently made decisions that led the country to victory in the Second World War."
Harry Truman's story is an amazing one. Truman said that as a young man he never assumed any positions of leadership. His early life appears to never have prepared him for the mantle he would one day assume. He spent his early years working on a farm and selling men's clothing and wares in a haberdashery. His appearance wasn’t one we expect of a leader: he wore thick, Coke-bottle glasses, and was forbidden by his mother to play any roughhouse games. He was a bookworm and a self-described “sissy.”
Called to serve his country as the U.S. entered ‘The War to End All Wars,’ he fought in France. It was there that he met his crucible moment face-to-face.
Truman was in charge of an artillery battery. As German bombs were falling around him and his troops, his men fled in fear. In the midst of this, Truman's horse fell on him. Things were about as bad as they could get, and it was in that crucible moment that something rose up in him and he started screaming at the men: “Hey, back here and finish the mission!” It was later related by those same men that they were so shocked, they turned around and followed his leadership.
In later years, Truman, reflecting on those days, would often say that he discovered two things about himself: one, that he had a little courage, and two, he loved to lead people.
In the middle of chaos with life and death in the balance, he led. Those were his crucible moments which set him on a journey to become President of the United States. And, as president, Truman made what was one of the toughest decisions any world leader has ever had to make.
Is there a major decision in front of me right now?
Could this be my crucible moment or season?
What decision do I need to make?
Make the call.
 Character Above All: Ten Presidents From FDR to George Bush (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 39-59.