As a small child I endured physical and sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend. As I grew older, I struggled with obesity and endured years of teasing/bullying because of it. At my heaviest, I was 17 years old and I weighed 305 lbs. That year (2000) I was finally able to make some changes in my diet and I lost 80 lbs in 8 months:
2000 – 2014
In August of 2000 I went off to college at The University of Houston. I majored in Electrical Engineering. Of course, academically, it was tough. It was just as difficult to navigate the social landscape of college, when I never had any friends growing up. Unbeknownst to me, I took the mental skills I learned through struggling with obesity and applied them to this new challenge. I graduated in 2005 with honors in Electrical Engineering.
I began working as an Engineer 3 months after graduation. Life was supposed to be better. I bought a new car (with a loan) and I had a girlfriend for the first time in my life (23 years old). I hated the work I was doing and after experiencing significant depression, I quit.
My life fell apart… At least, that’s what it felt like:
- I surrendered the car for repossession. This, on top of student loans and eventual credit card default – I was $60,000 in debt and receiving regular calls from debt collectors
- The relationship with my girlfriend exploded – Admittedly, I was too emotionally unstable and immature
- I was at odds with virtually everyone in my life and eventually found myself alone in a dark apartment in Houston – The electricity had been cut off and I was being evicted for failure to pay rent
It was a massively disorienting time in my life. Many of the assumptions I had made about the world were being completely upended. What was I going to do next? I had tried being a personal trainer for a bit but I needed time to generate a client base and a sustainable income. The calls I was receiving from debt collectors made me very aware I didn’t have time. Briefly, I tried working as an engineer at another major company in Houston. It was terrible. I quit after 3 weeks. The office/computer work was something I couldn’t tolerate any longer. I wanted to do something I found meaningful and I needed money as well.
After research and a lot of contemplation, I joined the US Army in August of 2007 with the hopes of becoming a Special Forces Soldier (AKA – Green Beret). I payed off my debt in the same 3 years it took me to get through one of the Military’s most notoriously difficult training pipelines. Eventually, I served as a Special Forces Medic in Afghanistan…
Afghanistan Feb 2011 – Feb 2012
In reflecting on these experiences, I’ve noticed 4 ideas consistently at play:
- Story – We all have underlying assumption(s) about how life is supposed to work (What I call a Story). A willingness to test and update my assumptions has been crucial to overcoming obstacles in life. In the framework of our story, we set our goals. Our goals represent our own ideas/versions of freedom (The thing I think we all want to, at least, feel more of).
- Fundamentals – With any goal that I set, I ask myself, “What’s always true?” I’m always assessing what are the fundamental tasks of life in general and what are the fundamental tasks associated with my specific goals. Then I focus on doing those fundamental tasks, well.
- Ownership – Facing the truth and, no matter how painful, taking ownership of the truth. Looking at the fundamentals of a situation will inevitably show us where we are deficient. My experience with debt is a great example of this. By looking at the truth I am fully aware of my current resources and the things (fundamentals) that I can actually control (ownership).
- Failure – To me, failure is more like an experiment. In the midst of pursuing personal growth and our goals, we are testing our ‘story’ about life. If you’re courageous enough to step into the fry, life will humble you. This failure is an opportunity to learn, make adjustments to goals/plans, and I attack life all out again. It’s a chance to update our stories with the understanding that the time to fail/update will come again.
I believe that life is about solving two major problems:
- External Problems – These are the goals that we set in life and the obstacles that arise as we move towards those goals.
- Internal Problems – These are the mental and emotional challenges we are faced with when taking on both those challenges that we voluntarily select and those that select us.
Whether you actively set goals or not (Of course, I believe goal setting is critical in life), with time will come problems. Life will always have problems and I think it’s better that we be more active in choosing the problems we want to engage with as opposed to being a bystander falling prey to circumstances. As I have seen it, practicing the awareness and application of these ideas fosters a shift in paradigms about how life works. As our internal world begins to shift, our behaviors begin to change and then shape our reality (external world) into that which we desire. We learn to meet challenges head-on. We learn to Adapt and Overcome.