The truth of achievement

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amanda M. Rebhi
  • Science & Technology Transfer Acquisition Manager SAF/AQV, Venture Strategy & Initiatives
Yesterday, I was humbled to learn that the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center selected me as the Outstanding Military Acquisition Staff Officer of 2020. While it is a huge honor to receive recognition at this level, and I could not have done it without the contributions of my team, coworkers, and leadership at PEO Digital, the recognition brings both pain and a lesson I’d like to share.

On October 14, my life imploded when my daughter Liliana Beatrice was stillborn from placental complications. I almost died with her. But here I am. Instead of the glow of pride in my achievement and recognition of the last year of hard work, I am picking up the shattered remnants of the dreams I held for the future. I am wondering how to scramble the strength to keep walking my path to whatever comes next. Truth be told, the night I lost her I went from a high-striving overachiever intent on my career to simply a mother ridden with grief.

Albeit newly bereaved, I sense I will carry this pain for the rest of my days - and anyone who has lost a loved one or buried a child knows this to be true. In the aftermath of losing my daughter, the world looks different to me, things like awards now seem so meaningless. Truly, awards themselves are unimportant. Yet, if we do it right, the work we accomplish is meaningful. Life is meaningful. But short. We cannot afford to lose sight of the often intangible ways we contribute to the world and influence those around us.

My daughter’s time in my life was fleeting, and while I never had the chance to know her, her impact on me will be lifelong. Ultimately, all our lives are fleeting, yet the impact we can make is literally infinite. In the words of Gandalf, which I have repeated to myself over and over these last several weeks, “all [you] have to decide is what to do with the time that is given [you].” In the end, will we have prioritized correctly? Will we have retained our morals and what truly matters in life?

I have always felt I should not strive for awards, but instead strive to do good and be a positive agent for lasting change. Too often officers chase awards and stratification and forget that our careers are based on the principle of service before self. Too often professionals chase career ambitions and forget about the importance and priority of family - of those who we want to be there when we walk through our front doors or when we look to the front row of our retirement ceremony. 

With intimate and tragic insight, I can definitively say at the end of the day it is not the award that matters but the work that went into it, the impact made regardless of any paper recognition, and the relationships thoughtfully and deliberately cultivated over the years. In 20 years, I guarantee no one will remember, or care, that I won an award. But hopefully my impact at PEO Digital will have carried on and I will have continued to cultivate the relationships that have been so critical to me in my time of need.

For now, I take each day one at a time. I am not sure what my future holds; admittedly, I wonder what I will do with the time I have. Yet I smile knowing that my baby girl played a part in this award. Liliana was present with me as I went about the work that went into achieving this distinction. So I will cherish it, and I will commit to continuing to do my best to leave a positive impact wherever I go. That is how I will honor my baby, that is how my Lily will continue to live through me.

While I carry my daughter in my heart and strive to be a woman she would have been proud to have as her mom, I can only hope others can learn from my experience. What is it you work to achieve? Do you place emphasis on the right, often intangible things - the impact and the relationships, or hold in high esteem the easy tangibles like awards that are easily forgotten? Do you sacrifice your coworkers, peers, and subordinates to chase prestige? Do you sacrifice your family to your ambition? When your name is announced as the winner of an award, will your smile be for the recognition...or for the memory of the impact made and the lives touched?