Adapting to a New Normal

Adapting to a New Normal

Turning to those who have relevant life experience and advice to share can provide us with the greatest sense of hope and purpose during uncertain times. In a virtual interview in our 2020 Winter Griffin, our Vice Captains Adam Stone and Jacob Curry spoke to past pupil and Vietnam War veteran John Stretch (Class of 1963) on his advice on maintaining a positive mindset against all odds.

The Importance of Goals

As infantry soldiers in Vietnam, we were well trained and knew what we must do every day to give us the best chance of success, most importantly ensuring the survival of ourselves and our mates. For example, all Australian Infantry soldiers when on operation were required to dig a hole (a ‘shell scrape’) to sleep in. After patrolling on a Search and Destroy mission all day, in swamps and thick jungle and in very hot conditions, we would take up a defensive position and “dig in”. You may have had little or no sleep the night before, you might have had enemy contact during the day. Fatigue and sore limbs made no difference. You still needed to dig in. At Fire Support Base Anderson at the height of the Tet Offensive in 1968, we came under mortar and rocket attack on three occasions at night. Had I not done a good job of preparing my shell scrape, I would not have survived. It was one of a number of small things necessary to do each day to achieve my goal.”

“Whether you are doing everything possible to survive in a war, whether you are dealing with COVID-19, or whether you are striving to attain a particular ATAR score, the formula for success is the same. Know what you have to do each day to progress towards your goal, and do it. If you find this difficult to identify, seek assistance from someone you respect and trust. Never be afraid to implement healthy routine in your life, to do those things daily that lead you on your journey to achieve what is important to you.”

Learn to Live with the Uncomfortable

“Learn to live with uncomfortable emotions, although this may be extremely tough. This is something I learnt early and painfully in the jungles of Vietnam. After a particular busy time on operations in the Army, I had to cope with the realisation that ‘life was cheap’. We had mates killed or wounded, and they were gone. We were a superior force who dealt with the enemy and just moved on. It’s an issue that haunts soldiers fifty years later. We will take it to the grave with us.”

“This lesson is also applicable to my life today, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic surrounds my family and friends. If you can achieve this, you emerge much the better for it. This may well be the greatest challenge of all, but enduring tough times is a great achievement and gives us confidence in other areas of our lives.”

Take Time Out and Turn to Your Support Network

“I have very fond memories of my years at Salesian College. I was fortunate to have an amazing teacher, Fr Bill Edwards, who became a great mentor and friend for many years after schooling. Fr Bill wrote to me every week while I was in Vietnam. On my return from the war zone, I stayed with him at Lysterfield for a couple of days. The most precious gift he shared with me was that in the more complex and difficult times in life, do not hesitate to take time out.”


“Don’t be afraid to seek professional help when the going gets too hard. It’s imperative that we are wise enough to seek help when necessary. In my most challenging times, I find time to pray – a very informal prayer seeking personal peace and the strength to do what is required of me. Today we live with COVID-19 lurking in the background. I can’t solve that, but I can do each day what is recommended for survival.”

“I am now in my senior years. My goals today address health, fitness and family. Friends and holidays are very important to me and I ensure that both receive serious attention. My wife, children and grandchildren are precious, and they are a priority. With a little thought and planning, each of these enhances the quality of my life, and provides lots of fun.”