Finding Meaning In My Life Experiences.
I would love to tell you that at 35 I have it all figured out. In reality, I'm as clueless as I was when I was 18. My life has been a whirlwind of personal and professional triumphs as well as public failures, depression, and failed relationships.
The positives? I'm armed with a great deal of introspection, high emotional intelligence, an analytical mindset, and a never quit attitude. Sprinkle in the many failures of myself and others and I've created my own unique understanding of how success should look and feel. As well as, how to achieve it.
Now, I've chosen to use this platform to propel those ideas in the hopes that my story can help others find meaning in their own lives.
The human experience can be confusing. You don't have to journey it alone. This coincides with what I believe to be my God given purpose of teaching and helping others. I know what I would like to accomplish with my life. I plan to make understanding my thoughts, feelings, and the situations that occurred within it the focal point.
I have to be honest with you. I don't know the answer to solving all of your problems. But if you told me at 18 that I would be a college dropout, fight in a war called Operation Iraqi Freedom, become an Airborne Paratrooper & Mixed Martial Arts Master Trainer for the U.S. Military. Then, become an Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker, and Author. I would have probably told you to shut the f%*# up. 😂
I don't have a special program to sell you on how you can better your life. But, I have a hefty bag full of these human experiences. And, I promise as I keep living, I'll keep sharing my truths.
In the end, maybe we can decipher and figure out this thing called life together. 🙂
A Winning Mentality -- My Story
College Dropout, Criminal, and Failure
At 18, I graduated high school, and I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do next. One thing I did know was college wasn't a part of my plans. From the time that I was 13-14, I have always been interested in business. So I figured I would become an apprentice to a business owner and start working full-time. My father didn't like that idea.
My father explained that if I didn't go to college, I had to get out of his house. I was unprepared to live on my own, and because I was a high school graduate with little to no experience, I was off to college 😅. I landed at Pennsylvania State University.
While there, I would meet the woman I intended to marry. Made many new friends, gained the traditional college weight, and did terribly in just about every course I undertook. School just wasn't my focus. I enjoyed everything about college except the reason I was there. Which was to get an education.
At the end of my Junior year, I made the decision to drop out. I attempted to get a job, but it was a difficult task because I had gotten caught shoplifting earlier that same year. Everywhere I went, I could ace the interview, but the background check would keep me from getting the job.
The Final Straw
I was at an interview for a call center where the interviewer told me I couldn't be hired due to my recent criminal offense before even speaking to me. Feeling like a failure for dropping out of college. And basically, being unemployable for any job offering more than $7-$8 an hour. I made my way from the interview directly to the only place I knew would hire me, the U.S. Army recruiting office.
(When I deployed to Iraq this sign taunted me daily with how far away I was from where I originally enlisted.)
There, I met my recruiter, SSG Vicious. He had me take the practice ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test. From there, I chose my job as a 12B (Combat Engineer), took a quick drug test (which I’m sure I failed), and I signed my paperwork to join the U.S. Army, all in the same day.
The Morning After
After telling my parents I was dropping out of college, I remember my stepmother calling me every morning. She would always ask me the same question, "How are you going to pay off these college loans?" So, when she called me that morning and asked the question again, I responded, "I joined the Army yesterday, and they're going to pay for it." Then I hung up.
No more than 2-3 minutes later, my father called, yelling for me to return to the recruiter's office and ask for the contract to be canceled and thrown out. I remember telling my father, "It's already done," Before hanging up the phone. I was just so tired of it all. The feelings of being a failure because I was dropping out of college. The feelings of inadequacy because I was having such difficulty finding a decent job. I was joining the military, and no one could stop me. It was the answer to all of my problems.
Now that I was going into the army, I wouldn't have to return to my hometown and be ashamed of my college failure. No one would even know outside of the people closest to me. I was embarrassed by the life I was leading up to that point. Even though I knew joining the military in 2008 meant I would probably go to war and I was potentially putting my life at risk, it was better than doing the walk of shame around my hometown.
My Personal Hell
When I got to my new unit, I was assigned to 2nd Platoon, 2nd Squad and I’ll never forget my first encounter with my team leader Sergeant Van. He was a short and scrawny, but fiery guy with bad teeth. To put things in perspective, I never feared Sergeant Van physically. I respected the power he had over me as a soldier in uniform and that’s where it ended.
There was a few new soldiers who had made it to the unit the same week as me and I’ll never forget the first thing Sergeant Van said during a meeting amongst our team in the 2nd Platoon office. He looked at me, noticed that I was overweight and out of shape and told me that I reminded him of another guy he served with (who I never met). He said, “That guy was a piece of s@#% and I’m expecting you to be a piece of s@#% too.”
This was the beginning of what became my hell.
Abuse of Power
Sergeant Van beat me down to the ground. Not physically, but mentally. He used every opportunity he could to belittle me. I got smoked (forced to do physical activity to total exertion) almost every day. I can't remember many days where I left the company building without having a smoke session at least once.
I was being disrespected so much, called all kinds of names that mentally, I was so worried about every little thing I did, which caused me to make even more mistakes. And for every mistake I made, there was a smoke session coming. Even when I thought I was doing the right thing, I'd get a phone call from SGT Van. He'd tell me to come back to the company after I thought I had escaped for the day, then he'd smoke me in front of the company for everyone to see.
There wasn't any other new soldier who received the same amount of punishment as me. Looking back at it, it was apparent I was being forced to suffer through an abuse of power. Because I was just getting out of basic training, I was none the wiser. I had no clue how the regular Army worked, but it wasn't working for me.
**Month's later, other soldiers who witnessed this abuse of power would tell me they knew SGT Van was wrong to do that to me, but they said nothing when it was happening. They kept their mouths shut as I suffered. Maybe it was just fun to watch.**
As a result of constantly getting into trouble and not necessarily being able to pinpoint why I was being treated this way, I decided to work on my physical fitness. For most, this would be a good idea. But not for me. I went from doing morning physical fitness at 0630am to receiving smoke sessions throughout the day (sometimes 2 or more). Immediately after that, I would work out at the gym hoping to accelerate my level of physical fitness. It didn't work. It actually made things worse.
Sure, I was 20-30 pounds overweight. But now, it looked like I could barely do push-ups or other exercises. In reality, my body was hitting failure often because I wasn't given much time to recover. The night workouts at the gym, lifting weights, and running would leave me even more sore the next day. As a result, I looked even more pathetic and deserving of these smoke sessions than I did before.
There were times that I would be on the receiving end of a smoke session, and other soldiers would get down with me just to show how pathetic I was. They'd show they could easily do push-ups or specific exercises better than me because I was hitting muscle failure so quickly.
It got to the point that every night I would go to bed, my body was so sore that it hurt to roll over. And as I felt this pain and soreness, I would remember that I had to find a way to get to sleep because I would have to do it all over again the next day. Just the thought of another day of hell would reduce me to tears. And I'd just cry quietly until I passed out.
I remember feeling so helpless, thinking to myself, "I have to go through this for 3 whole years!"
Mentally I was at such a low point that doctors at the medical center on base told me I was suffering from depression. Never having experienced depression before, I immediately dismissed their claims. As a result, I never got any help.
At the time, I was 22 years old and being put through hell by a guy I barely knew for reasons unknown to me. No one was coming to rescue me. No one was going to be there to help me overcome it. I had to find a way to do it myself.
(Along with being a combat engineer (12B) I was the Platoon Leaders Driver and I got to drive a Bradley!)
How did I do it? — Caffeine, Creatine, & Anger
Some people smelled blood in the water after I had a few weak moments. They attacked and made fun of me in hopes that it would crush me. It didn't, and I used that.
Above all else, the most important thing I learned to do was stand up for myself. If I felt what was being done was unjust, I didn't allow it. I argued, threatened, and almost came to blows with other soldiers and my superiors. Not only did I stand up for myself, but I also stood up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves. I never turned a blind eye. If I saw a problem, I addressed it immediately.
The experience initially broke me mentally. But I made a choice not to remain broken. I picked up the pieces. I set goals and visualized accomplishing them. I busted my ass, and I did it the only way I knew how and that was by outworking everyone.
My Military Goals
- 1Become an Airborne Paratrooper by completing Airborne School.
- 2Become Air Assault Certified by completing Air Assault School (The toughest 10 days in the Army).
- 3Earn a Ranger or Sapper Tab by completing either Ranger School or Sapper School.
I noticed the few soldiers with these accomplishments garnered the most respect in our company. So, I set out to earn them. I hit the gym hard, I read everything I could get my hands on about nutrition and dieting, and I put in a relentless effort.
In just a few months, my hard work started to show. People would ask me what I was taking, and I showed them. Caffeine pills, creatine, & protein powder. My motivation and driving force was the anger, depression, disappointment, and anxiety I felt from my first year in the military.
Through this process, I learned to transmute my feelings into something productive and worthy of attaining. In this instance, it was my health and level of physical fitness, but this process can be used for any goal or aspiration. To this day, the name-calling and disrespect I felt in the military is a motivational tool I use for other personal goals and development.
The most satisfying part. When I left the armed forces, I had become the most accomplished amongst the soldiers who arrived with me and after me.
From Sh*t 💩 To Shamrock ☘️
I became all that I could be. I ended up losing over 40 lbs and becoming a physical fitness stud. As a result, I successfully completed Airborne School and became an Airborne Paratrooper.
Next, I was given a chance to complete Levels 1-4 of the Army Combatives program, becoming a Brigade Master Trainer of Army Combatives.
Thanks to these and many other accomplishments, I earned respect and notoriety from my military peers. I went from being the sh*t bag no one wanted to be around to the guy others came to for motivation and advice.
Although I didn't get the chance to complete all the goals I set out to on my original list. An important lesson I learned is although the goal is the objective you're striving to accomplish there is something critical that has to happen. You must become the person capable of achieving the goal.
By the end of my third year in the military, I can, without a doubt, say I was ready for any school or obstacle the military could throw at me. Air assault school got canceled the weekend before I was supposed to go. Also, I was told I couldn't go to ranger or sapper school unless I re-enlisted, which I had no intention of doing.
The cherry on top of it all, SGT Van demonstrated his respect for me toward the end of my time in the Army. We actually went to Airborne School together, and he even asked me to help train his soldiers in Army Combatives.
Who would have guessed it! The guy he said would never amount to anything is now suitable to instruct his soldiers in a training program. Proving SGT Van wrong may have been the highlight of my military career.
What can you learn from this?
My time in the military was by far the most challenging and most valuable three years of my life. It rocked me to my core and took me outside of myself. I learned that things in life will not come easy. I will have to fight for them.
In high school, I was a top athlete. Sports came easy to me, I enjoyed playing them, and my skills increased effortlessly beyond the level of others. The military was completely different. I didn't want to be there, no one liked me, and I was terrible at everything. I had to put in the time, effort, and work to be great.
Most importantly, I learned to never allow someone's opinion of me to become my reality. I saw other soldiers who did. I could have succumbed to the sh*t bag status I was given when I first got to my unit. It would have been much easier to give in to those early opinions of me.
And that was the second lesson I learned. If you take the easy path, your life will be hard. But, if you're willing to take the challenging path, your life will become easy. I saw other guys take the easy route. Those who chose the easy route got ridiculed and belittled. They decided not to get better, and our opinion of them never changed either. They just accepted it.
On the other hand, my life in the military got easier. I earned respect and admiration from my peers and superiors. When opportunities arose, I was one of the first to be mentioned. The hard days and disrespect that had been a daily occurrence were no more. I didn't need anyone to push me because I was pushing myself.
I didn't want to be good. I wanted to be the best. I took the more challenging route and received the benefits and blessings that came from it. Don't listen to the doubters and the naysayers. Choose yourself every day and become the best possible version of yourself. The world will thank you.