The Gift of the Goat: Using Strengths as Bait to Achieve Success

by Travis Blair, US Army Veteran, Operation Supply Drop Volunteer and creator of The Zarf

When I was a US Army intelligence team leader in Afghanistan, I was given a goat. It was 2008, and elders from a village walked to the combat outpost where I was deployed with a goat as a token of gratitude. The only time I’ve been given an animal before was as a child when my parents got me a puppy. Difference is, this was more like being given an Applebee’s gift card. In Afghanistan, goat is enjoyed for lunch. They were appreciative that we arranged a visit from a local contractor who owed us a favor, to work on their community center in need of repair. This was meaningful to me, because this village was neutral in terms of favoring Coalition Forces or the Taliban. After consulting with the Afghan Security Guard commander to have the goat slain and prepared the proper way by their cook, I planned to host a lunch. The guests invited to the lunch would be elders from another neutral village. The main course? Goat. The main goal? Intelligence. I used the goat given from a village to feed another village. We made more acquaintances. In the months that followed, we arranged shuras (shura is Arabic for consultation) with village elders to build new relationships and in those meetings attempt to plan subsequent shuras. The goat as a concept became a bait that I set to help me accomplish goals. I recall being given a second goat later in my deployment, but you never forget your first.

credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

This was a lesson to me, and something that I want to share. The gift of a goat was a good thing that I used as bait to arrange another good thing. The goat actually personified (goatified?) a concept that I’ve since applied in life. I’ve found that any good fortune bestowed upon me was the result of a bait. Understanding that the bait is actually a personal strength, I’ve found that I am able to pursue ambitions by analyzing good things that have or will happen.

Fast forward a few years after that deployment to last year. I had my first book published after writing it in 2007 while stationed in Fort Hood. The publisher was small, and it obtained crowd-sourced funding for each of their graphic novels and children’s books. Having a book published was a dream of mine nearly all of my life, so I was ecstatic. Shortly after my book was funded and the initial copies sent were to backers, however, the publisher closed its doors. I was frustrated, and felt my dream had not been fully realized. The book rights back in my possession, I had two choices–be happy that my book was made even if it never saw shelves, or analyze it for bait. I decided that my published book was a rewarding experience itself, but that I would look into the strengths I used to catch it to see what I could catch. There’s a difference between not being content and wanting more from a dream. I want to dream bigger, and need to use the right bait.

The mindset I’ve embraced isn’t a novel approach. We’re all told to learn from things in order to improve. But by analyzing good things to see how I can get more from them, I have been able to pick apart what I’ve done right and wrong in order to pursue more of the right. Some bait works while some does not. Whenever I find myself fortunate enough to have anything good happen to me, be it tangible or otherwise, I try to look at how it happened. What bait worked to catch this good thing? What trait did I exhibit to accomplish this? This does two things. One, it helps me understand my strengths by thinking about what I could have done to make that good thing happen. What bait did I set to arrange the shuras? I realized it was my networking ability and empathy. Using those strengths as bait, I was able to network with others during my deployment and continue to strengthen ties with the community. My children’s book contained determination as well as collaboration skills with the illustrator. I’ve since used those strengths as bait in an attempt to accomplish future creative endeavors. The second benefit from analyzing good things is the appreciation of it. If I were to optimistically expect things to happen simply because life is good, I would neglect the appreciation that I should have in life. My wife played a large role in the publishing of my book. I realized this when I analyzed how the book came to my door. If I were to just attribute it to the universe, regardless of the role that the universe might have, I might have missed the fact that my wife’s support was critical and I would not have appreciated it. And of course, it’s tough to be pessimistic about life when you hold close the good things happening in life and analyzing how they happen.

Now when something happens, I analyze it. A job interview goes my way, and I am thankful and introspective. How did it go my way? Did I project a positive attitude? Did I confidently answer questions in a way that showed I was prepared? Maybe the interview hasn’t happened yet. What bait could I set in order to land the gift of a successful interview? It is possible to be proactive if you think you know what bait would be needed for such a good thing. I could have a physical training test approaching. Thinking ahead about what bait could catch a good score, likely a disciplined physical regiment and healthy diet, I would want to look to see if I have such bait yet. Do I want a happy wife living in our wonderful home? Of course! What bait could I set in order to land one? Aside from appreciation, a chair devoid of laundry, a sink without dishes, and a vase full of flowers just might do the trick. Once I started looking at how good things happened, I wanted more good things to happen. Using the same mindset, I can set up for success by pre-baiting. Foresight is harder than hindsight as being proactive is harder than being reactive, so this needs dedication on my part.

With any good thing that I am fortunate enough to have, I analyze what strengths brought it to me. What have I done to accomplish this that can use to develop into more? It isn’t that good things come to those who wait. Good things come to those who use bait. Thanks to one delicious goat, I am now more appreciative and ambitious.