My transition out of the military was not chosen, nor was it a pretty one. It was a slow disintergration that left me hurt and bitter.
The first thing I wanted to do was find a job and prove “them” wrong.
Thank God that didn’t happen, because instead of jumping into work again I spent two years understanding what was really going on in my life.
Here’s what I learned…
Life Is Not About Figuring It Out
Life is not some cosmic exam or test. Life is much more of a journey full of experiences that shape us like a craftsman shapes a piece of wood.
For my of my childhood and adult life, I had learned that failure was bad.
Moreover, if you fail then you will lose your job, friends, approval of important people and more. Unfortunately, this is not a helpful perspective or life-rule to live with … because we’re all going to fail at some point.
But if we let it, the stings of failure can our most powerful lessons and drive us to new paths, achievements, or revelations about what’s truly important.
How? You have to learn what to do with your experience.
My First Year In The Military
My first year in the military was rough because my first commander, CPT Gronenthal would intentionally say things to get me frustrated and to test my self-control.
He loved getting under my skin and giving me impossible tasks, just to see if I would bite the bait or make it happen.
Sometimes I did. Sometimes I failed.
But, truthfully, CPT G had my back in the failures.
Of course He would counsel me at times, but he also stood-up for me because I was trying. It was only when I stopped trying and gave up that he would lose his patience.
His goal was to teach me that solving problems and learning to be self-motivated and resourceful, no matter how bad the situation looked, would forge me into a respected and reliable officer.
Most importantly, CPT G taught me that being a good officer is not about figuring out the problem or apologizin for makiing the mistake. It’s about how I walk through the fire of life and the long-term effects of my leadership.
Sometimes Being Stuck Helps Prove Who You Are
During my last two years in the military, I served with no hope of promotion.
I tried to end my contract, but it was not approved. Moreover, because of a blackmark on my officer record, I lost my deployment award, I was stripped of my promotable status to Captain, and I was never promoted.
I knew it would happen, but the truth is it hurt like hell watching my identity fall apart before me.
The cold reality was to the military I was just another number.
Yet I still had to show up to work everyday as an officer. I was accountable by my contract to continue serving, showing up to physical training at 6:30AM, and conducting myself as a professional each day.
These God-driven circumstances, although tough, were actually the time where I had to realize my “hallucinations” of reality were “not real”. Moreover, I was put in the position where I was working for my battalion commander — even though he had signed the paper that ended my career.
The moment you start working for something without a clear payoff in sight is the moment your beliefs start becoming convictions and your convictions start forging your true character.
Talk about a some rough luck! But, as it turns out, it was a stroke of luck.
My former commander and I have a stellar relationship now because I made a choice. I’m not going to let my circumstances define my character.
I could have easily become a bitter and worthless officer. I could have served minimally and disappeared each afternoon like a few of the Captains I knew.
But, I decided that for the next year I would prove people wrong about me, even though there was no promotion, no paycheck difference between me and my peers, and no apparent benefit in strong relationships with my bosses.
It was during this time that I learned who I really was.
Mentors, Traveling, Time, and Jesus
Towards the end of my two years in the military, I quickly realized that I had no clue why I wanted to incur about $200,000 in debt to an MBA program.
I couldn’t write a genuine essay to save my life. And I was bitter, hurt, and still unable to shake the pain and shame of my career’s ending. So, I decided that I needed to do something that was on my heart to do: travel the world and figure out my relationship with God.
So, I decided to travel with 22 other Christians for 11-months serving around the world (a.k.a. The World Race).
It was the best and most irrational decision I ever made. But I knew in my gut that it was what I needed to do. Why?
- I needed space from my friends, family, and people who knew me to think, decided, and make changes
- I wanted to see the world and live in other cultures — which allowed me to see what was consistently true about me, my motives, my habits and my character
- I learned that routine, rhythms, and values are essential to my health, sanity, and happiness
- I realized that people are a lot more important to me that possessions, wealth, and influence (although I enjoy, appreciate, and desire those things)
Sometimes You Need To Waste Your Time
This process and these realizations did not happen overnight. They took time!
I “wasted time” having conversations, thinking, sleeping, writing, experimenting, procrastination, stalling on decisions, researching false-starts, failing a my first blog, listening to young people, sharing my story, hiking, learning foreign languages exploring foreign cities, laying in bed sick-as-a-dog, sobbing uncontrollably, screaming at God, criticizing others, praying, reading, losing sleep due to terrible conditions, rooms, and beds, dancing with refugees, singing songs, and more…
I took the time I needed to come alive again!
I re-learned how to be a human being in a world that seems possessed by productivity hacks and convictionless spirituality, idolizes people who appear to be successful, and makes more lists about things that I can imagine.
More importantly, I unlearned a lot of my habits and thinking about failure, learning, money (which I’m still learning about!), spirituality, faith, history, the Bible, God, careers, getting old, sex, and relationships to name a few.
Because most of the best things in my life cannot be bought with money. They have been bought with my time, blood, sweat, tears, and daily commitment to making those things a priority.
Know Your Season + Know That Most People Dont Know What’s Really Going On
One day in Myanmar, my buddy Luke and I decided to try a Franciscan exercise where you literally sit and talk to a tree, plant, or flower until it seems like the right time to stop.
I know. CRAZY. DUMB. IDIOTIC. But hold on!
I did it. I sat there with a start of a small tree and simply began talking to it. Then, after about ten minutes, I stared at this little tree and began writing down what came to my mind (it’s “response” if you will).
Over a year later, I’ve looked at this note numerous times because the lines I wrote during that space of waiting profoundly touched me:
Life is filled with little false starts each day.
The branches which are cut off still have fruit to show.
There are moments where we feel exposed and they too will fade…
Just grow and grow and grow because no matter the direction, life will emerge at the end.”
Bottomline: Just because people are heading a certain direction or have plans doesn’t mean they are necessarily good plans or a good direction to go.
Some plans need to be cut off — they’re the wrong way to grow. Yet, there is still something to show for that part of life if we look closely enough.
For me, I decided to take a serious cut in pay for two years because I knew that I was hurting deep down, and I knew that no one else could fix it but me.
I had to do my homework. I had to figure it out.
What You Might Need
I needed a mentor, like the scene in bridesmaids where Melissa McCarthy pretends to be life and starts beating on the Kristen Whig, to say, “This is life! What are you gonna do? Are you gonna keep hiding or are you going to fight for yourself?!”
I also needed time, places, and people to help me start figuring out how to heal and decided what pieces are important.
Now, four years after the devestating blow to my army career, I am finally taking the next step. Truthfully though, I wouldn’t be ready to walk into that step without my transition season!
I needed my transition to create the vision and decide what was really important to me for the next 20 years of my life.
So, if you’re in a place that it seems to be taking time, that’s fine. It’s okay that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s okay if you have false starts along the way and need to go back to the drawing board 15 or 20 times before you figure out what’s right for you.
Just keep trying, making decisions, don’t quit, and most importantly… be honest with yourself and others in the process.
After all, Abraham Lincoln failed in numerous elections for more than 20 years before becoming President. How’s that for grit?
WHATEVER YOU DO: Don’t self-impose expectations or a time-line to figure it all. Trust God and handle what you know he’s told you to do. Then, stay within the grace of a day you’re living. In time, even if it takes four years like me, life will bring things together and the river will push you along!
“Don’t Push The River” – Richard Rohr