All of a sudden, a crossroads. There I was, just going along trying to see if this new phase in my life would work out, no really difficult decisions to make. And now this. Another big decision to make. Do I stay? Or do I go back again?
I worked hard and grinded for nearly two decades. Like many people, when I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had been an athlete from the age of about five until twenty-three. I had never given much thought to life after sports. So I went to law school. It was either that or go to grad school and start working on a masters. Law school sounded like a way to continue competing; if not athletically, intellectually. And I figured being a trial lawyer would be just like a sports contest: somebody won and somebody lost.
But mid-way through law school, I thought I had made a big mistake; I sort of hated it. The prospect of becoming an attorney was a loathsome one during that period. Some of my classmates struck me as arrogant assholes who just wanted to make a lot of money. But I finished what I had started. The fact that I detested it that much will likely come as a surprise to my classmates.
I then tread water listlessly for three years after graduation in two dead-end jobs at places I will not name, because I now ironically find myself living in the same area I lived when I worked in them. This is now over twenty years ago, and when I by chance find myself driving by each place, the memories of my brief time at both are kind of faded and ephemeral; I really cannot remember what it was I did there. Because it wasn’t memorable. The college town I had come to love as a student was ruined by these first two professional experiences, and it would never be the same for me again.
And then one day out of the blue, though in hindsight it appears to me to have been nothing less than divine intervention, an escape hatch opened up. The Marine Corps gave me the opportunity to become a military officer and lawyer, and I leapt at the chance. For the better part of fifteen years I went all over the place; Quantico, San Diego, Washington, San Diego again, North Carolina, Iraq, some former Soviet republics, DC again, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Then I got out and worked for the Department of Justice. Circumstances altered the trajectory of that experiment, and I returned to the Marine Corps for two years, again in DC.
While there, the last year of which was spent in a “geo-bachelor” status, I started a writing career in my free-time. I’ve published over 100 pieces and two books since then. And after that mobilization ended, I’ve spent the past year on what my wife calls a “sabbatical,” during which I worked as a criminal defense attorney for the first time, continued writing, completed my second book, started and finished “top level” military professional school, performed the duties of a stay-at-home Dad, completed several home improvement projects, and generally attempted to see if I could cobble together a living whilst pursuing the American dream of doing what you love and seeing if it can pay all the bills. The jury, pardon the pun, is still out. It hasn’t been easy.
A respite like the one above is necessary and welcome after a long career of working and achieving, to reflect, and to determine what the next step will be. But the one problem with having been able to do and experience so much is that when it is absent, when you don’t have it every day, you can quickly fall into a period of ennui; everything else seems to pale in comparison. There’s an itch to get back into a daily mission to be part of something greater than yourself. But you learn to push that urge down. Until presented with the prospect of getting back into it.
And now, I am faced with that very prospect. Do I stay here, sort of plodding along and grinding, trying to get the various projects I’ve started off the ground and into the air, or do just face the truth? Sure, there’s no rule compelling any of us to keep doing what we are doing; we all have talents we overlook and neglect that are just waiting to be used. And we should pursue them. But the fact remains that I, like all other people who have worked in one industry for a significant period of time, am what I am professionally.
What am I now? My professional skill-set, so to speak, does not easily translate back to places like this. The missions I am used to being a part of don’t exist here. There is no market, no “niche” here for these skills. But they play very well in that place that John Kennedy called “a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”
Like a character in one of my stories says, “One day you were forty-five or something, and the realization flooded over you when you were in the first minutes of the new day, still in your bed staring up at the ceiling before you mustered the energy to get up, that this was what you were. You could sit around all day long if you wanted and ponder what could have or should have been; could have, would have, should have, as it were. But the searing truth was there was no turning back; at this point you were what you were.”
The real question is, does what we are professionally necessarily have to win out over the other things we also want to be? I think the answer is no. There’s a poignant scene in the movie, The Rookie, about former Major League pitcher Jim Morris, who after being out of the game of baseball since his college days, makes a comeback and reaches the big leagues at the age of 35.
When he first began his attempt to come back, Morris was in his mid-thirties, had a family, and was a high school baseball coach and teacher. During his time in the minors, while he was struggling just to stay on the roster, he has a conversation with his estranged father, a serious career military-man, who has never truly supported his son’s dreams of playing professional baseball. He reluctantly asks his father for his opinion about whether he should continue with his dream of playing major league baseball and instantly regrets it when his father tells him, “It’s okay to think about you want to do, until it’s time to start doing what you were meant to do.” Of course, in the movie, knowing what we all know to that point about Jim’s father, we are not surprised when he says this to Jim, nor are we surprised when Jim is upset by it. But we eventually see Morris make it to the majors and reach his dream, after which he returns home to his family and his former career.
How is the movie The Rookie relevant to any of this? Because I think the example in The Rookie sort of begs the question: Was Jim Morris “meant” to be a high school coach and teacher, or a Major League pitcher? Or was it both?
In the end, I think we all come to several crossroads in our lives. Sometimes the crossroads ask us to decide what we really are. It can also seem to require us to choose between something we “want” to do and the thing we were “meant” to do. But I think this thing called life is actually big enough for us to choose both.