For me, growing up meant dealing with lots of persistent stress. As a small kid I dealt with physical/sexual abuse from a close family friend. As I got 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. At that point, I had been trying to lose weight for 7 years and hadn’t been able to make any real progress. But that year (2000) I was finally able to make some changes in my diet and I lost 80 lbs in 8 months:
2000 – 2014
The things that I learned about persistence and problem solving through the process of weight loss, would come in handy many times over later in life.
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, but It was just as difficult to navigate the social landscape of college. I never had close friends growing up and understanding friendship/romance would be a huge learning curve for me. Without being fully aware of it, I took the mental skills I learned through struggling with obesity and applied them to this new academic and social challenge. Eventually, 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). However, I hated the work I was doing and after experiencing significant depression and a period of suicidal ideation, 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 still had so much to learn about the dynamics of healthy human relationships
- 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 stories and assumptions I had made about the world were being completely upended. What was I going to do next? I tried being a personal trainer for a short period of time but I needed more time to generate a client base and a sustainable income. The calls I was receiving from debt collectors made me very aware that 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 physically and mentally challenging. 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 debts 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
When I left the military in 2012 I began working as a personal trainer with the hopes that I might help others experience the transformation in their bodies that I had experienced as a young man. In the time that I spent working with people on their health I began to realize that something much deeper was key to my success… character. Patience, Resourcefulness, Grit, Courage, Persistence, Resilience, Honesty (Primarily with Self), Accepting Ownership (Perhaps the Apex Character Trait)… these and other intangibles were keys to my success in losing weight and they have continued to play a role through out all of the difficult challenges I have experienced in life. The question is: Can character be taught?
In trying to answer that question since 2015 I have realized that the character one needs to develop has to be matched with the life one desires to have. Short answer – the character you choose to grow is heavily dependent on the life you choose to build. That being said, the life you choose will inherently present you with challenges or problems to solve. My ability to navigate challenges in my own life has been heavily dependent on my ability to look at problems, break them down, and begin iterating through possible solutions. I tend to think of ‘failures’ as iterations through a problem solving process. With each iteration I collect more information about the problem I’m trying to solve.
Character is important but it’s a very difficult thing to quantify and it’s highly subjective. People argued that I needed to be more patient with being an Engineer. I chose not to be. I was done with it. I argue with people about being more patient with weight loss all the time. People choose not to be. Who’s right? Who’s character is better? That was once my primary focus but I don’t think the question is about who has more patience it’s more about feeling confident to solve the problems related to the life that you truly want. I wanted to leave Engineering so I solved the problems related to making that decision. I wanted to loose weight… so I solved the problems related to that goal.
When I realized that engineering was no longer my goal my new problem became the challenge of establishing a new direction for my life. This meant overcoming the criticism that came with quitting something that other people felt was a high level of success. This meant facing the reality of the financial mistakes I made. There were internal mental/emotional challenges and external practical challenges from taking on the goal of finding and pursuing a new direction in life. During this time I didn’t say to myself, “Travis, your character is strong and you’ll get through this.” However, I do remember saying to myself, “Travis, you’ve faced much bigger challenges than this with way fewer resources. You can figure this out.” In that moment, I was relying on the same problem solving skills that I had developed through weight loss and dealing with all the associated difficulties.
I once thought of myself as a Character Development Coach. I thought I needed a title but I am not a ‘coach’. I’m a writer and a speaker and I’m fascinated with how we solve problems in every day life. The goal of my content is to flesh out the problem solving process in various parts of life in order to help people find the confidence to believe they can solve any problem they encounter on the path of life they choose… the outcome of this process being more resilience and personal growth.
Adapt and Overcome.