El Alamein is a small town in Egypt. In 1942, it happened to be the location where a series of battles were waged between Allied and German forces.
Those battles took place in July of that year and then again in October and November. The second series proved to be significant because at the end of that specific conflict, the Allies were victorious, and this marked the first time they had secured a decisive victory on the ground since the onset of World War II.
Of this accomplishment, Winston Churchill famously noted, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but I do believe it is the end of the beginning.”
With the benefit of hindsight, he was proven to be correct. The decisive Allied victory in El Alamein ended up being a turning point in the war. While there were nearly three full years of horror and terror and death and destruction still looming, the Allies began to gain ground on that day and steadily did so for the remainder of the war.
With many countries fighting against tyranny and hatred just to maintain their freedom, it is safe to say that there had never been more at stake than there was during that period of time and yet, an obscure place previously known only to the residents of that town and the surrounding area proved to be the place, time, and location that served as the turning point in the bloodiest, deadliest war in all of World history.
The participants in those battles could not possibly have known how significant the outcome would prove to be. Some of those participants volunteered to be there, but many Allied soldiers were drafted into their respective armed forces and required to fill the role they were assigned. Many of those soldiers had just graduated high school. Many left their families to fight in a place they had likely never heard of with people they had never met against people who were fighting and killing with no regard for previously established rules of engagement.
In Europe, innocent people endured horrible conditions. Civilians were bombed, killed, and kidnapped discriminately and indiscriminately for years while the war raged.
I have read about and thought about this time often over the years, particularly during the last year. As many of us have experienced some of the worst times of our life; fear, loss, and despair have been present and a force to reckon with as we grind our way through the pandemic and everything it has come to symbolize and signify for each of us.
In my mind, the question shouldn’t be when will it be over, it should be when and where is my El Alamein because I can’t reach the end without it. Fortunately, you do not need a world war or a worldwide pandemic to understand the importance of the question.
To illustrate my point, I am going to ask you to think of a challenge or series of challenges that you faced over a prolonged time period. Perhaps, you suffered an illness or an injury that was difficult to overcome. Maybe you lost your job and were unable to provide for yourself or your family.
To fight through those things and come out of that fight healthier and stronger, you most assuredly did not idly sit at home waiting for the tough times to be over so that you could. simply carry on with your life as you had previously enjoyed it. Each day, you did what you had to do, whether you were successful or not. You went to rehab or knocked on the doors of potential employers.
During that time, it may have even gotten worse for you before it got better, but it did get better and, somewhere along the way, you experienced your El Alamein. You achieved your turning point because you did the work, kept the faith, and carried on until you started seeing some progress. You kept at it until you reached your personal finish line.
I would be willing to bet that you learned something about yourself along the way. You learned that you were stronger and more capable than you may have thought yourself capable of being. In other words, your journey created the reward. You did not know when and where your El Alamein was going to take place, but you discovered that if you did what you needed to do and controlled what you could control you would reach it eventually.
No matter how tall the odds are or how significant the challenge is that you face, you will be more capable of beating those odds and conquering that challenge if you focus on the things that you can do each day to achieve your ultimate goal. That focus will also give you a clearer picture of the task at hand. It makes your work more real than it would be if your focus was solely on the abstract question of when and where the difficulty will be over.
Besides, if you are truly living life and making things happen, you already know that the end of one difficulty ultimately gives way to the start of the next.
In some fights, it is impossible to know what toll they will take on you or how much energy you will need to expend to come out victorious, but if you know that there is an El Alamein waiting for you along the way, the achievement of your ultimate goal is more attainable and closer to your tangible reach.
I could even make the case that every day represents a battle or at least an opportunity for something to be gained, learned, or achieved. In that sense, every day presents an ebb and a flow, a chance for you to either take a step backward or gain a new advantage.
Will today be a day you achieve your own El Alamein, your turning point?
This article is part of Scott Arney's Serial Decision Maker educational series.