In the 2011 military science fiction action film Battle: Los Angeles, the earth is invaded by an unknown alien force which attacks by surprise, threatening to wipe out the entire human race. The aliens, it would seem, are out to colonize the planet and strip it of its natural resources.
The film follows a group of Marines led by Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (played by Aaron Eckhart) as they try to protect civilians in the city of L.A. from the alien onslaught. Throughout the movie, the group of marines face unimaginable odds. The aliens are bigger and stronger than the marines, are more technologically advanced and have superior firepower. As the movie progresses, some members of the platoon are killed or badly injured. But the marines push on, refusing to give up. Throughout the movie, the soldiers huddle up and yell “Retreat, hell!” before engaging in battle with the alien forces.
When one civilian asks what the words “retreat, hell” mean, Staff Sergeant Nantz explains that in the first World War, a unit of Marines was storming the enemy when orders came down to abandon the mission and retreat. One officer stubbornly yelled out “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” and bravely continued the fight.
As it turns out, this story isn’t just a couple of lines from a Hollywood movie. It actually happened. According to popular legend, on June 2, 1918, the 51st Company of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was sent to reinforce the French and British troops who were fighting the Germans at Belleau Woods. It is said that soon after the US troops arrived, they were ordered to retreat by the French, whose army was being battered by German offences. Upon receiving the order, Captain Lloyd W. Williams, who was in charge of the US Marines is said to have yelled “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The rallying cry stuck, and since then, has been used by the 5th Marine Regiment of the US Marines as a mantra as they go into battle or face difficult situations.
The beginning of a new year provides the opportunity for individuals, groups and organizations to reset their priorities and set challenging goals. Millions, perhaps even billions, of people from all across the world make new year’s resolutions. We promise to exercise more, worry less, spend more time with our families, eat healthier or start new businesses. We commit to writing that book we’ve been thinking about, start a new blog and reconnect with college buddies and old friends. But, eventually, real life sets in, our resolve weakens, and we fall back into the same bad habits that we had in the previous year. As boxer Mike Tyson famously said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth!”
Chances are, that in 2020, each and every one of us is gonna get punched in the mouth as we pursue our goals. Instead of jumping out of bed to hit the gym, we’ll be tempted to click the snooze button. Instead of writing the first chapter of our book, we’ll binge watch that new series that just premiered on Netflix. And, instead of eating a healthy meal, we’ll stop by our favorite fast food joint on the way home.
Perhaps, there is something that we can learn from Captain Williams. In war, as in life, it is necessary to tactically take a step back, regroup and launch a counter-offensive. It is likely that, in 2020, after we get punched in the mouth, we may have to regroup and launch another attack as we follow through on our commitments for the year. But, this is much different from abandoning the fight and retreating completely – which Captain Williams, and several other influential people, refused to do.
Writer J.K. Rowlins’ script for Harry Potter was rejected by publishers 12 times before she found success. Stephen King’s manuscript for the novel Carrie was turned down 30 times before finally being picked up by a publisher. Actor Mark Ruffalo was rejected 600 times before he successfully booked a role.
Before Walt Disney formed his company and created characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, he was fired from a newspaper job – allegedly for not being creative enough. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was rejected from prestigious film schools at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Steve Jobs was kicked out from Apple, the company he founded, before returning several years later, creating innovative products like the iPad and the iPhone, and leading the company to dizzying financial success.
And inventor James Dyson created 5,126 prototypes for his bagless, cyclone technology vacuum cleaner before finally getting a prototype to work. When he tried to license his technology to the major vacuum cleaner companies, he was rejected multiple times, which forced him to create his own company. His business empire is now worth nearly $5 billion.
All of these famous and successful people refused to retreat from pursuing their dreams – despite being punched in the mouth multiple times! In their own way, in their own words, at one point or another, they must have said to themselves “Retreat, hell! I just got here!”
And this is the lesson that all of us should be taking into 2020 and beyond. Whenever we are faced with challenging situations, we should be able to confidently look in the mirror and tell ourselves: “Retreat, hell! I just got here!”
Even if we stumble in our new year’s resolutions. Even if we don’t get accepted to our dream college. Even if we don’t get that job we really, really wanted. Even if our manuscript gets rejected by a publisher – keep on pushing!
Or, as Captain Williams would say, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!”