Green Chile, Navy SEALs, and my ever changing life philosophy

I spent this past weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico attending a friend’s wedding. Blair, the bride, was a friend I met while teaching in Egypt. She was planning on returning to Egypt to resume her studies there, but of course, the revolution changed her plans and she returned to New Mexico. Not to long after she was engaged and set a wedding date.

In case you are unfamiliar with New Mexico, the local cuisine is appropriately called New Mexican food. It’s a twist on regular Mexican food, the primary ingredient being green chili peppers. They are awesome. I am going to find some in Portland.

During my New Mexican meals and talks with old and new friends, I found myself reflecting on t he past few years of my life. There have been dramatic changes to my life plan since college. Each deviation that occurred has provided the opportunity for learning and growth, though the lessons themselves were not easy to identify at the time.

A while back I read this humorous but prescient College Humor piece that basically said that progress in life is made by recognizing how much of an idiot you were. Every two years or so you reflect on the previous two years of life and recall how naïve and silly you were to hold the particular life views you held. You realize that the world does not work as you once believed and that your current world view is really how the world works. This lasts for another two years and then the cycle repeats.

I would like to use this post to describe some of the “lessons learned” from the past few years of my life. I do not intend this to be advice for others. I’ve reflected upon the same episodes of my life and have concluded different things at different times. I’m sure when I do this post again in two years I will have different things to say, but that’s ok, I warned you.

What I consider to be major episodes of my life

 

College (2005-2008)

I went into college with a Navy ROTC scholarship. It was my intent to become a commissioned Naval Officer and more specifically, be accepted into SEAL training. The first two years of colleges was spent preparing my mind and body to become a SEAL. Since I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life, I did not spend much time exploring other activities and interests in school. Frankly, I just thought most everything else was boring. Parties were fun, classes were mostly lame, and an inordinate amount of time was spent trying to attract girls [Note: The best thing you can do is get a life and stop worrying about girls]. My grades weren’t super great, but I made a conscious decision to put in the minimal amount of effort needed to get what I thought were acceptable grades.

Much of my mental energy was dedicated to thinking about becoming a Navy SEAL My close friends were fellow midshipmen who were also trying to become SEALs. I had a fantastic time bonding with these guys over workouts and beer. We even had an enlisted SEAL who was going through the NROTC program to become an officer; he became our mentor. He taught us a lot and joined us in our semi-frequent Margarita Friday’s where we drunkenly discussed…everything. It was fantastic.

Lesson: Being dedicated to a goal can be a wonderful experience. You become close friends with those who share your goal and your life feels purposeful. However, extreme focus may lead you to judge and exclude other people and activities unfairly. My whole worldview was framed in the context of trying to become a Navy SEAL. Had I gone to BUD/s in those years, I believe I would have made it through.

Study Abroad (Spring 2008)

 

I had been taking French since I was in 7th grade. I decided to minor in it in college not because I had a special love for it, but rather I placed out of the intro classes and it seemed like a shame to waste all those years spent learning the language.

I went to study abroad in Marseille, France in the spring of 2008. I stayed with a French host family, met my girlfriend Erica (a fellow GW student), and developed a love for travel. This was the first time since I entered college where my primary group of friends  were non-NROTC types. It was strange to hear about career goals that didn’t involve warfare of some sort.

I started enjoying the world of sidewalk cafes, and thoughts of alternative career paths swam around my head. At this point, I could not admit to myself that maybe there were other things to do than become a Navy SEAL. I would briefly think about jobs that would allow me to travel and not worry about passing fitness tests, but then criticize myself for being weak minded. How could I not want to be a Navy SEAL?

During my semester abroad, I traveled to Morocco, Italy, Turkey, and Greece. I loved it. I loved trying new foods, meeting new people, and achieving a truly relaxed mindset. I told myself that when I was finished with the Navy, I would find a way to travel long-term.

Lesson: Its ok to have doubts about your goals. The goals that you’ve been working for the longest will be the hardest to critique. I wish I had the courage at the time to discuss it with others.

My last year in college (2008-2009)

 

I should have paid more attention to the symptoms. My workouts were slipping and I was not in great shape. I was still thinking about everything I needed to do to get accepted into BUD/s, but I was no longer excited about it. It became a chore. When I heard that in November 2008 that I was accepted into BUD/s, I was excited, but this excitement did not last long.

For the second half of my senior year, my attitude towards BUD/s alternated between excitement and dread. I talked with several friends who went to BUD/s (and completed it) in previous years and they said this was normal. I convinced myself I was normal for feeling that way, but it became harder and harder to get excited about it.

I graduated college and was commissioned into the Navy as an Ensign in May 2009.

Lesson: It’s easy to rationalize your own worries, especially if your friends help you rationalize it. You owe it to yourself to truly explore the signals your mind is sending you, not just label them as normal aberrations. It may turn out to be nothing and you can continue along your original path (as my friends did), but it may turn out your need to make a serious change.

BUD/s (2009-2010)

 

I checked in to BUD/s that July. They were limiting the number of officers that could be in each class to about 10-12. What this means was that I and about 30 other officers would be stuck in what is called PTRR until we were assigned to a class.

If the signals weren’t loud and clear before, they were now. PTRR is easy compared to anything you do in a BUD/s class. You go through two evolutions in the morning and you’re done for the day unless you have collateral duties. Evolutions would be some sort of workout. This could include swims, PT sessions, obstacle course, or beach runs. I dreaded it every morning.

Every morning I would wake up depressed about going to PTRR. Many of the other officers were depressed but for a different reason: they wanted to start training. They thought they were losing their edge and just wanted to start and finish BUD/s so they can move on to the business of being a SEAL.

I was out of shape relative to the other members of the class. I sometimes enjoyed the workouts, but that was rare. I thought that if maybe I just got to the point where I would class up, all my fear and dread would go away. Maybe something magical would happen and I would start enjoying everything.

I was scheduled to class up in January after winter leave. Ok, I thought over Christmas I would get my mind straight and I would come back mentally strong and ready to kick butt.

The first day back I still hated it. The second day back I worked up the courage (if you can call it that) to quit.

Lesson: You can only fool yourself for so long before your situation becomes intolerable. In hindsight, I consider myself lucky that BUD/s is a place where you either have to commit or leave relatively quickly. Had I actually classed up right away, I would’ve been gone within a few weeks. Because PTRR was easier, I dragged out the process longer than I should have. This lesson would serve me well when I’m teaching English in Egypt

Egypt (August 2010-2011)

 

The Navy discharged me that summer. I had applied to a different program in the Navy, but since they were making budget cuts, many officers that dropped out of their initial training program were given the boot.

This was a mixed blessing at the time. It was tough as I was still strongly attached to my identity as a Naval Officer (if not a SEAL).  Though I had become a little jaded with government work, it was difficult getting over something you’ve worked so hard to achieve for four years.

Nonetheless, my desire to travel sent me to Egypt where a friend helped Erica and I obtain teaching jobs at her school in Cairo

It turned out that I wasn’t a big fan of teaching either.

The private school I taught at didn’t particularly care about what the students were learning. They loved acting like bureaucrats and detested being educators. Most of the students did not care. They felt entitled to good grades regardless of their performance.

Needless to say when the revolution kicked off, I decided not to return to the school. I tolerated working there for a while, but I was not passionate about the job. It paid well and it allowed me to travel a bit, including a trip to Beirut, but the money did not make up for the suckiness of it.

The worst part about this job was that it made me more hateful. I began hating the students, the administrators, and the Egyptian education system as a whole. The anger began to spill over into other areas of my life in Egypt. I would become more frustrated with certain aspects of life in Egypt than if I had not been teaching.

Following a two week trip to Thailand, I returned to the US to get TrekDek off the ground and find more meaningful work.

Lesson: If you hate your job and you’re able to, leave as soon as possible. If you must put up with the job, figure out what your goals are and do your best to achieve them ASAP. Staying at a job you hate is bad for your soul.

Lesson Summary:

 

  1. Being dedicated to a goal can be a wonderful experience. However, be aware that you might be missing out on other activities that can help you grow as a person.
  2. It is ok to have doubts about your goals. The goals that you’ve been working for the longest will be the hardest to critique. Make sure you are honest with yourself.
  3. It’s easy to rationalize your own worries, especially if your friends help you rationalize it. You owe it to yourself to truly explore the signals your mind is sending you, not just label them as normal aberrations
  4. You can only fool yourself for so long before your uncomfortable situation becomes intolerable.
  5. If you hate your situation/job, change it as soon as possible. Don’t drag it out any longer than you need to.

My next post I will describe the things I’m learning from my current situation as an entrepreneur/unemployed guy in Portland.

Cheers,

Dale

PS: There’s a funny MSNBC video on SEAL training that I am in briefly in. You can see my sad self between minutes 1:01 and 1:04 going through the low crawl on the O-Course

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Basing your identiy on your job, nation, religion, or any other group is dangerous. The more elite the group is, the more precarious your own sense of individuality becomes. Divorcing yourself from a group, on the other hand, is a great achievement. But it doesn’t mean disowning your old self.
    You still have guilt about dropping out. Don’t. And don’t be proud of it either. Both those positions, guilt and pride, are manifestations of the same need for identity that led you to be a joiner in the first place. You’re the sum of all your experiences; no one judges, other than that you’re wiser for it. Take what you’ve learned and move on without shame and without any sense of superiority…and you’ll have become the best person you can be. Most importantly, never look back at your former self as something other than a necessary iteration toward who you are now.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Blair on June 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    It meant so much to me to have you and Erica here for the wedding. I’m blessed with the best friends in the world!
    Just wanted to tell you that you can find New Mexican food in Portland. There’s a place called Adobe Rose that’s run by former Santa Feans. It’s great! Not spicy enough, but still hits the spot. Get the natillas. Trust me.

    Reply

  3. Posted by sister on June 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Dale… I knew this was your path all along.. well minus TrekDek and Egypt.. but in the end… you’ll become a video game creator… remember when you would randomly pretend shoot me and teach me how to clear a room…

    Reply

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