I’m currently enrolled in this blog writing course that, quite frankly, is quite good. And quite “not for me”. In the course, they are teaching me that everything is written for somebody else, etc.
Now that’s all fine and dandy and I’m learning a lot from it, but to tell you the truth, this blog is my favorite because I get to write however I want to. I’ve decided to not follow the rules here, as good as they may be. I can make spelling and grammar errors (although I cringe when I find them and yes, I do proofread and edit my posts. Maybe I’ll talk about that in my next post?) and pretty much do whatever I decide to do. It’s kind of like an online journal that’s counterbalanced by writing about stuff that I think will be of interest to others. It’s fun for me and I hope it helps you.
Today I’d like to talk about how I got to where I am now. I think I’m a lot better off than many people. Some would say that I’m lucky but I’d say that I created my own luck. Some would say I got a few breaks along the way but I’d say I was simply ready to take advantage of opportunities that came along while acknowledging that many have indeed helped me along the way. I also think that my journey is far from over but where I’ve been will help determine where I’m going, but my past does not have the authority to condemn me to a particular outcome.
So depending on how long I want to write, this may be Part 1 of my “How I Got Here” series. Or it could be the only part (NOTE: As I get ready to publish this, it looks like it’ll be the only part. For now, anyway). So let’s get started.
I grew up in a fairly typical midwest city (Canton, Ohio) in what I guess you’d call a typical middle class neighborhood. Mom stayed home for the most part (she did have a fairly steady job later on), dad worked driving a bread truck (and later got a job at the Ford factory), so we did OK.
I graduated from high school, hung out at home for a few months after that, didn’t see things going anywhere, so I joined the Army. I scored pretty high on the entrance exams and they talked me into becoming an intelligence analyst.
Outside of maybe attending a Bible college, the subject of going to college and getting a degree seemed to be something that was beyond my means and capabilities in spite of having done well in high school. I did get good scores on my Army entrance exams, which opened up opportunities. Which we’ll get to in a minute.
POINT #1: Take advantage of the opportunities you have. They will lead to future opportunities because small opportunities tend to lead to bigger and better opportunities. Simply doing the best you possibly can will set you apart from the pack and put you into position to see more of these opportunities (if you look for them).
POINT #1.5: Opportunities don’t come to you; you have to find them. And they aren’t obvious, either; they often come disguised as either hard work or difficulty.
During my Army tech training, they told us that we should volunteer for language school since it would improve our chances of going overseas, which was something I wanted to do. So I studied Arabic and they sent me to a foreign country called “Kentucky”. After a year there, I cut a deal where I went back to language school to study Polish, after which they agreed to send me to a country called “Germany”.
POINT #2: Don’t give up. If things don’t work out as planned the first time, you can almost always try again.
Once I got to Germany, my leaders kept encouraging me to take night classes and start working on a degree. I took my first class in 1981 and finally got my degree in 2003.
POINT #3: You sometimes have to take a non-traditional route but you’ll eventually get to where you want to be — as long as you are persistent and have a plan. But you might have to look hard to find a way to get it done.
Along the way, I had the opportunity to attend the West Point prep school and was later encouraged to become a warrant officer. I did neither because (at the time) they didn’t make sense to me. Do I wish I had done so now? To be honest, “no”. Sure, the money and etc. would have been nice, but I’m pretty happy with the way things have turned out so far and don’t want to play the “What if?” game.
POINT #4: Life is really nothing more than a series of choices that have led you to where you are now. Even if you made some less than optimal choices in the past, be thankful for the good you have in your life today and decide to make the best possible choices as you move forward.
I don’t consider myself to be overly religious or anything, but I do believe in God. It’s my job to obey God to the best of my ability (as opposed to “ensuring” that others obey per my interpretation of the rules), and in 1997, that obedience included going to Poland as often as I could (I was living in Germany at the time).
I was going to go to Poland over Columbus Day weekend in 1997 but the people I was going to with had to cancel at the last minute. I almost stayed home, too, until I remember that bit about obedience and went. Good thing I did because that was the weekend when a former acquaintance became a very good friend. A couple years later she became my wife. She has totally changed my world.
POINT #5: If you’re 100% certain that you should be doing something, do it. Fight through the obstacles. Be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there, doing the things you’re supposed to be doing. Good things happens when you simply obey.
So we’ve been married for a few years and we decide that it’s time for some change. We move to Pittsburgh (great city, great people!) but it didn’t work out at all like we thought it would on the job front. So I drove all night to attend a job fair in the DC area and got a call on it a couple of weeks later. I was working at a new, exciting job in the St. Louis area about a month after that.
POINT #6: If nothing seems to be happening in your life, make something happen. Sometimes it’s OK to wait, but in most cases, you need to get off your butt, step outside your proverbial comfort zone, and make something happen.
After I had been in that job for a couple of weeks (doing computer network defense), one of the analysts filling an intermediate position unfortunately passed away. Since it was contract work, practicalities dictated that the company promote one of the junior analysts so they could invoice the higher-priced position.
I was selected to fill the vacant position primarily because I was the only junior level analyst with a college degree, which was a “highly desired” qualification for the position.
POINT #7: What looks like “luck” or “favoritism” is often nothing more than stuff life requires. Be ready when opportunity arises because it’s too late to prepare once the opportunity presents itself. In this case, a junior analyst couldn’t go out and get a college degree overnight. Thankfully I had finished mine the year before.
We moved to Germany and spent five years working at the contract site there. We sensed that it was time to move on and decided that it might be nice to live in Colorado for a while. So we started construction on a house in Colorado.
While I was in Colorado Springs to pick paint colors and stuff like that for the house, I visited the team lead of the contract site there. It was a nice visit, but since he only had four positions on his team, he couldn’t hire me (i.e. yes, I bought a house in an area I knew nothing about with no means of generating income there!). But two months later, one of his team members quit and he asked me to fill the position, primarily because I had taken the time to talk to him and explain my “vision” for the team.
POINT #8: Do good things. You never know what will happen when you simply do the right / good thing without thought of reward.
POINT #8.5: Don’t be afraid to have a vision. Be able to communicate it to anybody who will listen. “I Have A Dream” wasn’t just a song by Abba back in the 1970s…
So I’ve been in Colorado for five years now. When a new company took over my contract a couple of years ago, they asked me to become the team lead. It pulled me out of analysis and it isn’t my first choice of work, but it’s clean, consistent, and important work that enables me to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
One afternoon, one of the higher level managers asked me if I could be in Washington DC the next morning. The next morning. I made it, and because I did, our contract was able to exceed the timelines for providing surge support. The team went on to receive a special award from my company and my manager got me a very nice pay bump for helping out like I did.
POINT #9: Sometimes just showing up is enough. And “just showing up” isn’t always the easiest thing to do. I arrived in the DC area around 3:30 AM the next morning and had my first meeting at 8:30 AM. That wasn’t easy. Stuff worth doing usually isn’t easy.
POINT #9.5: If you help others and they don’t show their appreciation, find somebody to help that does show their appreciation.
As I said above, my job is clean, consistent, and important. But we still have a lot that we want to do in life so we continue to press forward. Just yesterday, I nominated myself for a position in New England that would enable me to get back into full time cyber analysis work. It would also mean a promotion and possibly a pay increase while staying with a great company that isn’t afraid to show their appreciation for my help in tangible ways. I was very pleasantly surprised to uncover this opportunity.
POINT #10: Always be looking, always be aware. You never know what’s going to come your way. But remember Point #7 and be ready for what you want.
Outside of driving through the state once almost 30 years ago, Connecticut is a big mystery to me and the thought of moving there makes me very uncomfortable. But that’s part of why I want to go there, i.e. it is a mystery that I want to demystify, so to speak.
POINT #11: Don’t be afraid to take risks. The last thing I want is to lie on my death bed, wondering about what might have happened had I moved to Connecticut.
I guess I could also move to, say, North Dakota to help satisfy my sense of adventure but I’m not going to do that. Why not? Because at this point in my life, I’m not going to lie on my death bed, wondering what life would have been like had I moved to North Dakota. The possibility of living and working in New England interests me more than the possibility of living in the northern plains (which, to be honest, would also be interesting, albeit in a different way).
And I think that’s a pretty good litmus test. When you have a big (or little) decision to make, ask yourself if you’d regret having not done (or having done) something while lying on your death bed. It doesn’t even have to be that strong; it could even be as simple (as weak?) as “I have the chance to move to Connecticut; will I regret it if I don’t take it?”
And I guess that kind of brings this post full circle, in a way. I don’t regret not having gone to West Point. Sure, I might have been a general and all that, but I’m with people I love in a place that I love and have had many great experiences.
And I think that people are a big part of the whole equation. I’m married to the best person in the world (yes, that is a subjective statement and I hope you disagree with me because you have the best person in the world in your life!). That’s huge.
My journey took me on a course that not only caused our paths to cross, but put the two of us on a path that now runs together. Our interests are together, we grow together. We both want to live in New England (she more than I, but it gives me great joy when stuff she wants comes to life).
And once you have the people part in place, you might slow down some. You don’t need to be “out there” quite as much because you’re seeking shared experiences instead of somebody to share those experiences with. But that’s totally up to you.
For us, we thought that the huge house filled with stuff was the answer but it isn’t. Silly old me is getting precariously close to 60 and wants to pull up stakes and move to the other side of the country. Some might say I’m crazy. They’re probably right! But the opportunity to live in a part of the world that has interested us for some may be presenting itself, so why not? It’s there!
Hmmm… I wonder what it would be like to live in Australia? 😉
Written 20150606; edited and published 20150607.