Walk Away, Or Try Harder?

One of the toughest questions you’ll ever ask yourself is whether to walk away or try harder. I for one, have always struggled with this dichotomy. I’ve always associated walking away as giving up or not having what it takes. For many, including myself, it’s a shot at my pride and a reflection of my self-worth. But what if walking away is sometimes the better answer? Maybe it’s not quitting or giving up. Maybe you are literally just making a decision to walk away from something that is no longer your dream or passion. I’ve been fighting with this exact question the past 6 months. Should I walk away? Or should I try harder?

Basically the story goes like this. I’ve served in the military for the past 6 years and about 3 years ago I decided that I wanted to be an officer. For those of you that don’t know the difference, there are typically two routes in the military — Officer and Non-commissioned Officer. Basically officers create the plan in the military and NCO’s execute that plan. Officer’s are higher ranked, generally have more prestige, and are responsible for the primary decision making in the military, whereas NCO’s execute and make the officers look good. So, for the first 3 years of my military career all I could dream about was being an officer. So I put in my OCS packet and my time had finally come to join Officer Candidate School (OCS). I had my chance to take a stab at making my dream come true. I had drilled for about 4 months at Phase Zero(pre-OCS) and the day before I was supposed to leave, I got a phone call saying that my orders were cancelled. No reason, no explanation, no nothing. My heart sank. I was devastated.

So here I am, 3 years later, 1 deployment under my belt, and I had reached my goal of E-5 (Sergeant). So far I had accomplished everything I wanted to do in the military. Except that one thing — become an officer. I still had a chip on my shoulder from not being able to pursue my dream from before and I wanted badly to make it happen now. With the only difference being that now I have 2 kids and twins on the way, we just bought a house and sold our house, I picked up more responsibility at work and my wife was visiting the hospital routinely with normal twin concerns. Meanwhile, I decided to pursue OCS anyways. After some pre-OCS jitters and concerns, I made it through 3 months of Phase Zero and finally through the Phase One gauntlet. I should be stoked right?? Well I was, but I couldn’t shrug off everything else that demanded my attention. I even made it through my first Phase Two. I hadn’t failed anything physically or educationally and everything was going rather well — but I still couldn’t shake that feeling that OCS wasn’t the right fit. I didn’t want to accept that maybe OCS was no longer my dream and that maybe other things had taken it’s place. So instead I continued to fight the urge to walk away from the program and keep fighting through my contrary feelings.

Finally after nights of restlessness and despair, I started calling mentors and people I trust. I needed some perspective from people who knew me best. I needed to feel like I wasn’t going to be a failure if I quit. That I was Ok in thinking maybe OCS was a dream of the past. So finally after weeks of feeling cornered and going back and forth in my head, I decided that I HAD to make a decision. I was miserable and it affected my mood and my family. What I realized is that maybe there is no right decision. In this case there was a good decision and a better decision. I could fight through OCS and get my commission and become an officer and that would have been OK. But the decision I found that best suited my family (not just myself), was to be available for them and remove unneeded stress from my life so I could welcome my twins into the world with positivity and a clear mind.

I decided to write my OCS leadership a thorough email explaining my situation. The key to making this decision was being confident I had made the right one. I’m sure there will be feelings of some regret a year from now when the rest of my class walks across the stage receiving their commission. But I’ll remember what I’ve learned — the difference between walking away and trying harder is asking yourself, will what you want to do line up with your priorities and goals? And if it does — try harder! Otherwise, I think you know what you should do.

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