Hey, everyone! My name’s Ian. I write about mindful things to help us grow, be happier, and take better care of each other over at justcarealittle.com, and I’m really stoked to be guest posting here at It’s All About The Journey.
When Jonathan first reached out to me about writing something for him, I was immediately intrigued by the title of his site. For me, “It’s All About The Journey” sums up my whole outlook on life for the last few years, and that journey is what I want to share with you today.
It seems a little silly now, but, until my mid-twenties, everything I did had been in pursuit of one goal. From the emphasis on my grades in school, to my choice of university, even the major I finally decided on; everything I did was aimed at securing a competitive four-year Army ROTC scholarship and following in my dad’s footsteps as Active Duty Army officer. Then, once I secured the scholarship and entered college, all of my attention was focused on earning that commission. My entire focus was on the future, and I never really took time to just live in the here and now. I didn’t know it yet, but I would come to regret that blind focus in years to come.
We’ll start our story in the spring of 2015. Why? Because that’s when, with just over a year left of school, my carefully laid and meticulously followed plan evaporated in one afternoon.
You see, everything about the ROTC system is a competition. Everything from grades, to extra-curricular activities, to physical fitness and in-program leadership positions, is recorded and documented on a points scale. From that scale, a Cadet’s branch of service –Active Duty, National Guard, or Army Reserve– is assigned in the first few months of their Senior year. It’s a simple system –the more points you have, the more likely you are to get your branch of choice– and Active Duty slots are contested down to one one-hundredth of one point. It’s an all encompassing lifestyle, and I had been focusing on it for most of my life in one way or another.
But enough background, let’s get into the story.
In spring of 2015 I was sitting solidly in the middle of the national ranking for an Active Duty slot. I had worked my butt off for years to get to that point and only four months –and one ranked Physical Fitness Test (PT test)– separated me from my goal. That is, until I had to have a very minor knee surgery right before that final PT test.
At first this wasn’t such a big deal. It wasn’t a major surgery, and stuff like this happened all the time (in fact every PT test has an official make-up date), I would just take the test the following week. Easy, right? Well….no.
The bomb dropped a few days before the test.
That day, at the start of my Military Science class ( and in front of the class, which sucked), I was informed by my Master Sergeant that “Big Army” had decided not to allow me to make up the test. Apparently there was “a surplus” of Cadets commissioning the next year, and the Army didn’t need one more to be in the ranking for active duty. So, my request for a make-up was denied. Remember how competitive the points are for Active Duty? Well, each ranked PT test is worth six full points. Without this one, I freefell out of contention for Active Duty, all the way down to the Army Reserve category. In that moment everything I had worked for from the time I was 7-years-old disappeared. I was devastated.
Ouch, right? Lets flash forward a little bit, to the end of 2016– which had been the hardest year of my life.
You see, because my whole university career (and life, honestly) had been focused on that one goal, I hadn’t done the necessary unpaid writing work as a student to ensure my journalism degree would be useful. Why should I? I was going to be in the army. The degree was just a means to that end, right? Apparently not. Well, because of this oversight, I couldn’t get a job after graduation. Print journalism was a dying field, and I simply hadn’t put in the work to build a portfolio for online news-sources, so I was working as a mall-cop. Also in that year, my wife (I got married in January of that year) had developed some serious health problems and wasn’t able to work, so we were scrambling to survive on one too-small paycheck. I felt stuck, depressed, angry at the world, and was so focused on how I had “failed” in my only goal in life that I couldn’t see any of the positive things that we’re starting to happen for me.
Finally though, in the beginning of 2017, I decided I was done feeling sorry for myself and started to focus on what my life was now, and instead of what I’d “lost.” It was time to start moving forward again.
And I never would have guessed where that progress would take me.
Eventually, after weeks of thinking and talking with my wife, I enrolled at a local trade school to become a welder. Why a welder? Because I would never have to bring my job home. The previous year had shown me that I needed to enjoy my life; and I was determined to focus more on making my journey great instead of living for a goal.
So, finally, after another a year of 65-hour work weeks and full time school, I had done it. I had a career I was truly proud of– not because it was part of “the plan”, but because it’s what would let me really enjoy my life.It was long a long, hard, exhausting process, but it was also extremely rewarding. And that rewarding feeling has only grown in the three years since.
You see, something really interesting happened when I graduated from that program: because there was no longer a hard end date or big goal to work toward, my life suddenly felt huge and full of crazy possibilities. For the first time ever I didn’t have an evaluation coming soon, or a target to aim for somewhere in the distant future, and today I’m free to simply enjoy my journey. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling
And now I invite you to take a similar, if slightly less life altering, leap. I invite you to take a look at your life and see what your focus is. If, like I was, you’re so focused on some goal or far distant opportunity that it consumes your life, take a step back and see if it’s really that important. If it is, cool, keep chasing it, but don’t forget to stop and enjoy the trip from time to time. But if not, if you’re only on that path because it’s what you’ve always done, you’ve got an opportunity. Maybe your journey is supposed to go in a direction you never expected. Maybe you should let it.
Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,