If one thing is certain, this past year has been filled with lessons; often very difficult lessons that I would probably have preferred not to learn. For example, when you have a good steady job with excellent benefits that you've worked hard to attain, it's usually not the smartest idea to leave it in pursuit of a pipe dream. A lot of these lessons have been self-inflicted, and that's probably the hardest part about it when I look back in reflection. Lessons learned from hardship that just happens are one thing, but when you've caused the hardship by your own choices, as well intentioned as those choices may have been...well, that's another story altogether. That's not to say I'm not grateful for the lessons I've learned. I think I've done more growing up in this past year than in the 27 years prior. I've certainly spent ample time looking at all the positive that has come in spite of the mistakes and struggles, but it's hard not to feel a certain amount of regret.
One lesson I'm particularly grateful for is one that I've learned primarily from being in the Army. One of the goals of training is to get each soldier to the point that they can deal with adversity and stress from the outside without getting rocked or stressed out to the point that they can't perform under pressure. In the training environment, sergeants find all sorts of ways to mess with your external circumstances; it seems the primary reason for this is to see how you will respond. As frustrating as this can be, it serves a purpose. If you hope to be successful, or maintain any semblance of sanity in this environment, you very quickly learn to expect the worst be perfectly okay with the worst, then you're pleasantly surprised when things go better than expected. It's not quite pessimism though, it's a little different, it's more learning to be indifferent to your external circumstances. You learn to be okay with whatever happens...you make the decision to remain motivated and stay positive in the midst of uncertain external circumstances. A common Army mantra is "the only constant is change". You learn to love that, and you learn to laugh at the divine comedy of it all after you find yourself in ridiculous situations. It's Friday night after a long week when all you want to do is relax with a good book and pretend like you're somewhere else for awhile. At final formation you find out that because someone else didn't do their job that morning, something totally out of your control, you will now be working until 10:00 tonight with the rest of your platoon sweeping the parking lot and picking up cigarette butts. Instead of getting frustrated, you learn to laugh and make the best of it and you end up having fun. You're in the same crappy situation with a bunch of other people so you learn to come together and enjoy the insanity of it all. You embrace the suck. This seems minor, but it's little things like this that prepare you to deal with more difficult things...like being in another country dealing with bigger stressors if you ever get deployed. It's the little things that make you more prepared for the real suck, if anything can prepare you.
I think this is the best lesson I've learned in a while, and it's a valuable one...learning to maintain some semblance of sanity in the midst of constantly changing and stressful circumstances. It's a lesson that I'm learning dually from my experiences in the military and my life outside. I think this is the real key to being a centered person. It doesn't matter what happens on the outside, it's out of your control. If you're centered on what's really important to you, the things you can control, then you learn that you will be okay no matter what life brings your way. I'm learning to be centered on the things that are most important to me, the things that are within my control. My relationship with God, my marriage, the way I choose to respond to life circumstances that are out of my hands. I'm learning.
But it's not easy. I still have days when I feel overwhelmed with the number of things that are out of my control and plagued with hounding questions that echo through the deep recesses of my soul. Will I have a job when I get home? Will I be able to provide for my family? When will I become a father? When will the aching in my heart and body be soothed by holding my child in my arms? Will I be able to handle whatever happens next? Will I be able to be a better husband for my wife?
The common element to all these questions is what is out of my control.
One thing is for certain. The lessons are not over and the only constant is change. Hopefully I will keep learning and become a little bit stronger with each passing day.