March 7, 2024


Not Rock Bottom … but Bedrock

By Paul J. Bailey

A stock image of a female looking out a window.

Failures and setbacks are painful and difficult. They are also the greatest sources of experience and lessons. Use them to your advantage.

In a social media post, a British soldier discussed how she had been selected for an assignment as a military mental health nurse. She bravely discussed her own mental health challenges and the drive she had found to help others. The soldier wrote, “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before things start making sense.”1

Rock bottom. People often associate this term with alcoholism, drug addiction, or some other type of unhealthy lifestyle. It is described as what you must hit before turning your life around. But what if it is something else? It is not rock bottom ... but bedrock!

Experiencing Rock Bottom

Rock bottom describes the absolute lowest point. It conjures images of darkness, failure, and crisis. Bedrock is the place you must find to build a solid foundation, a place of support and stability. It exudes a sense of positive possibility and awe at what will be built upon this place. The British soldier found her bedrock and used her dedication, time, and understanding to move past her struggles and setbacks and achieve success.

Deputy Chief Paul Bailey

Deputy Chief Bailey serves with the Middletown Township, New Jersey, Police Department and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 281.

Failure can come to you in many ways. It can be some external force, totally out of your control, delivering a set of circumstances that are almost insurmountable and test you to the core. Think natural disasters, protests turned riots, illnesses, and the like. Or, failure can originate from within, where your confidence, attitude, or expertise betray you.

People sometimes feel that they cannot fail. They disregard the facts presented to them and the situational awareness needed to make informed decisions and properly lead others. As if that was not enough, there is the failure brought about by one’s own mistakes, which are then amplified and broadcast to the world by others.

These are the “snipers” who take joy in highlighting the shortcomings and mistakes of other people. They are the ones who tend to be cowardly and pessimistic. Such individuals love to poke holes and complain. Worse yet, they refuse to lead because leadership requires taking a stand and making decisions, and they lack the will and integrity to do so. Yet, that knowledge provides little solace in the sting of the moment.

As I read the soldier’s post, I saw that in talking about her struggles, she described the hard work she put in.

  • Ownership: She mentioned “immersing” herself in the psychology of mental being.
  • Dedication: She wrote of “teaching” herself.
  • Time: She described a two-year struggle.
  • Understanding: She wrote that the road had not been easy but that it had all been worth it.2

Helen Keller, a person who knew a great deal about struggle and setbacks, said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."3 Too often, people dealing with setbacks in their lives, whether personal or professional, become overwhelmed at the situation and have a difficult time seeing their way through the storm.

Finding Bedrock

So how do we help our people find their bedrock? Equally important, how do we find ours? Unfortunately, these are difficult questions with no one right answer. Resiliency, like motivation, is mostly internal. We can help establish it in our organizations, but, ultimately, the strongest source is found within. This is when leadership kicks in.

It is a lot like the oxygen mask on an airplane. Stay calm and secure yours before helping others. This is easier said than done when you are in the middle of a personal crisis.

First, acknowledge your mistakes. Often, we see people who refuse to acknowledge their own missteps. They provide a host of mitigating factors as to why it was not their fault. Worse yet, they blame others. Conversely, it is refreshing when someone takes accountability. Often, you see that the unnecessary drama and ripple effects associated with the situation fade quickly after someone takes ownership. It is viewed as honorable: “Well, he did the right the thing. He fell on his sword.”

Second, realize that failure is hard and heavy. You do not have to carry it around with you. Put it down. By relieving yourself of that burden and weight, you can better focus your introspection. A critical self-analysis can be cathartic. Of course, people should not beat themselves up. However, constructive criticism can allow oneself to consider the points and critiques from other individuals’ vantage points. For those who instruct others, when you come to the end of the training and the students complete their anonymous course reviews, are you driven by the high praise or the suggestions for improvement? The highlights reinforce our esteem, while the lowlights drive us to do better.

“Bedrock is the place you must find to build a solid foundation, a place of support and stability.”

Third, know that time is your friend. One of Winston Churchill’s famous quotes during World War II was “When you are going through hell, keep going.”4 It is a great quote, but do not look at it from a perspective of place. Look at it as a period of time. Just like the soldier and her two-year struggle, know that time works to your advantage. Time allows you to put distance between you and the failure, allowing the dust to settle and the sting to fade. Your hard work, dedication, good decisions, and effective leadership, coupled with time, allow you to move past the failure.

Your ability to rebuild and get beyond a setback serves as a positive example for others. It inspires them to move on in the same manner and find their own bedrock. Your experience with failure and open ownership of it shows others that they too can deal with whatever errors they have committed. Experienced leaders know that today’s “crisis” is tomorrow’s “shoulder shrug” and next year’s “no big deal.” Leaders must convey to those having a difficult time that it really will be OK and that this failure is something they will move past.

Further, good leaders do their best to stay in touch with what their people are going through. That personal connection makes for a better workplace and more rewarding relationships. Of course, this does not mean you have to be best friends with everyone in the department. But taking a moment to acknowledge the positive things that happen to your officers (e.g., arrests made, volunteer work, academic degree earned) paves the way for personal outreach to someone going through difficult times. Every simple note, text, or email expressing support adds a brick in the path. It is an investment in your personnel that builds over time.

This type of support does not go unnoticed. Your fellow officers know that regardless of your rank or assignment, you are in their corner and rooting for their success. Such knowledge may be the simple thing that reinforces their resiliency and gives them the courage to reach out to you for guidance or support. The example you set allows them to see the roadmap to moving past failure. In doing so, resiliency is improved, not just in the individual but throughout the agency.


You messed up. You failed. Maybe you have even been disciplined. However, you can move ahead. Be sure to acknowledge your mistake and take ownership. Remember that failure is hard and heavy — put it down. Conduct a self-examination. Finally, recognize that time is your friend.

This is your bedrock.

“Your ability to rebuild and get beyond a setback serves as a positive example for others.”

Deputy Chief Bailey can be reached at


1 Natalya Platonova, LinkedIn,
2 Ibid.
3 Helen Keller, We Bereaved (Isha Books, 2013).
4 “Winston Churchill Quotes,“ BrainyQuote, accessed February 27, 2024,