Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Best Mistakes I Ever Made

My attempt to answer Holly's question. It's pretty long, but I still left out an awful lot of backstory. An interesting exercise in understanding myself.

1.) Going to High School at a military school.

I begged and pleaded my parents to let me do this. Why? I don't remember. What I do remember is that I spent 5 years (grades 8-12) in Hell. Once I was there, my parents would not even consider letting me transfer out. If the thought of Basic Training frightens you, just imagine if the Drill Instructors were Seniors and you were a sub-freshman. There is little worse a teenager with that kind of power over younger and weaker boys. I have stories that would turn your hair white. Hazing? Oh, yeah. I survived. I even made Cadet First Sergeant my Senior year. For a while. The biggest lessons I learned were:

Responsibility and authority are two different things. After a rather bitter falling-out with the Commandant of Cadets, I turned in my stripes and busted myself down to E-1. That was the day I decided that I would never, ever take on responsibility without also having the authority to back it up.

Pride in doing a job well. Whether at band practice or on the parade field, working together as a team to perform our job at peak effectiveness instilled us with a great pride in ourselves and our units.

Discipline. Letting abuse slide off without touching me, learning the Manual of Arms and General Orders, standing watch on a weekend as an orderly for the Officer of the Day, walking penalty tours on the Bull Ring, all these things taught me to pay attention to the rules and not deviate from them without a damned good reason.

A bad haircut is not the end of the world. It'll grow back.

2.) Running away from home.

I was 15. My parents and I had been engaged in a war for months. One day in November, it all came to a head. Much was said in loud voices, much was said that hurt, tears were shed on all sides. I could not take any more, so I grabbed my jacket and left. I walked. All afternoon and into the evening. I must have walked 10 miles. I thought a lot, too. I finally wound up at my brother's house just a dusk. My parents had called him several times looking for me. He finally persuaded me to go back home, which I had decided I would not do. My parents and I have observed a sometimes uneasy truce since that day. I have since been very careful about what I say or do in their presence. They have been careful to respect my boundaries and opinions.

I learned a great deal from this episode. Probably the best lesson was to stick to my guns and insist on being my own person with my own beliefs and demand respect for that. I learned that being an individual is often hard, but always worth it. Finally, I learned that my parents do, in fact, love me and care about my well-being.

3.) Flunking out of college the first time around.

I graduated high school 2nd in my class. I was the S.T.A.R. Student, with the highest SAT score, but Sylvia beat me by 1 tenth of a point on GPA. If I hadn't flunked that first semester of 8th grade Latin. I had big dreams. I was young and smart. National Honor Society. I was going to conquer the world. I enrolled in Georgia Tech the following fall majoring in Nuclear Engineering. Oh yeah? I was in no way ready for college. I had breezed through high school, so I had no study skills at all. I also discovered that my high school education had been, shall we say, somewhat lacking. I signed up for a basic core schedule--English, Chemistry, and Calculus. What a laugh! At the end of Fall Quarter, I had a 0.02 GPA. I shit you not. 0.02. Why I went back for Winter Quarter is beyond me. Why they let me back in is even more of a mystery. I Withdrew Failing toward the end of the quarter. No hope. What did I learn from this?

I ain't near as smart as I think I am. Without putting in the work, I'm just another flunk-out.

When all else fails, party 'till you drop. I did come home with memories of some medal-winning hangovers.

Success does not come by meeting everybody else's expectations. Success comes through following your passion and your dream. Maybe it's not as much money, but it's a lot more satisfying.

4.) Quitting a good job to start my own business.

I had been working at the public library off and on for nearly 25 years. I had a good position as Circulation Director, a decent salary, vacation time, insurance, everything. Then I walked out. I had dreams of making it big as a computer consultant. I loved computers; I understood them inside and out. Problem: I had little savings and few customers. You can imagine how that went. Two years later, I was so deep in debt that I may never get out again. I finally threw in with a friend of mine who was in the same business but had had the sense to do it right. That job lasted several years, and I helped that company grow into a multi-million-dollar-a-year business. What's so good about that?

I learned two very important lessons: I have absolutely no head for business, and don't quit your day job.

5.) Going to work for the Boss From Hell.

I worked for this man for 13 months and 15 days. It was the longest year of my life. I despised everything about this job. Insane hours, not very much pay, no time off, on call 24-7 and expected to be glad to do it. And he is the biggest asshole in the Universe. The final result was what we call a "nervous breakdown". I was physically and mentally exhausted. I fell into a bottomless pit of depression coupled with intense panic attacks. I still have problems with telephones. Every time one rings, I get a momentary thrill of panic. "He's found me! Oh God, here we go again!" It has taken me a long time to crawl back out of that pit and start to rebuild my life. Lessons learned (and re-learned):

Money is not everything. It's not even the most important thing. The important things are family and living a good life. I'll never be rich, I'll probably never even make a decent living, but I'm satisfied with my life. I'm living my way. I'm making time for me and my happiness. Priceless.

I deserve respect for who I am. Just because you sign my paycheck does not mean you own me.

I can live through hard times and endure extreme conditions as long as my wife and family are by my side. In the end, love is the most important lesson of all.


At 1:55 PM, Blogger Michelle Miles said...

I did mine too, over at my blog. It's a very thought-provoking and self-realizing exercise.

I enjoy Holly's site and her blog. I've linked her up to me.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Stationery Queen said...

That's a lot of learning! Some really good lessons, though. Thanks for sharing.


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