You have to remember where you’ve come from. All too often in the midst of life, we forget how far we have actually come. We forget what we have had to endure, what we have worried about, and from where we started. The only thing that remains with us is the weight of the choices and sacrifices that we have made and since we do not readily remember the conditions in which we lived when we chose to sacrifice, the weight of our sacrifices weigh on us even more.
The curse and gift of all those who strive to succeed is that they, we, are always fighting an inner battle with ourselves. We chase phantoms and wisps of air, grabbing at them with our hands, desperately trying to fill our sack with its rope around our necks so that we feel accomplished. Many around us, will use us as exemplars of success. We will point to others within our group of high-achievers and point to them as pillars for success. Yet our inner voice plagues us when we lay our heads down on the pillow and whispers, “You aren’t doing enough.”
When I was young, my mother once asked me “Josh what do you want to do when you grow up”. My reply to her was as naïve and foretelling of any answer that a teenager could have given, “I want to make money”. My Mom replied, “The problem with that goal is that you will never have enough.” No truer words have ever been spoken.
Two years after explaining my life’s ambition, America was turned upside down. I lived several miles away from the Pentagon. I still remember the panic and pain that spread throughout my school as kids worried if their parents were alright. We watched as the world that we knew shattered before our eyes while we waited for the school’s morning news announcements to appear on the TV. I was 17 and in October 2001, I enlisted in the Army against my Mom’s wishes. In 2003, I found myself in Iraq for the first time.
There are times when I forget that it was less than 12 years ago, that I was a Private, being yelled at by Drill Sergeants. Now I am a GS-14, the equivalent of a Lieutenant Colonel. It was less than 12 years ago that I fitted everything that I owned into two duffle bags. Now I own two homes. It was less than 12 years ago that I graduated from high school with a sub-par GPA. Now I have a masters from Johns Hopkins University. It was less than 12 years ago that I felt that I had something to prove to myself. I still feel the same way.
I have a feeling that I’m not the only veteran who feels this way. I have a feeling that there are a lot of other veterans out there who continually feel the need to push themselves, who will never be satisfied with where they are and what they have accomplished. Our greatest weakness is our greatest strength.
The only question is, how do we approach this attribute of ours? Unfortunately too many veterans can only see the hill that they have to climb in front of them, without being able to see the cliffs that they have already surmounted. These veterans aren’t at risk of falling, they’re at risk of letting go. Maybe it’s because of combat. Maybe it’s just who they are. But regardless, they raised their right hands and defended our country. Our community needs to be there for them, because we’re the only ones who can be their safety lines.