This is part of my resolution to steady my mind, so I can move on to a life of pointless and meaningless blah.
Whatever you are, be a good one
So, what am I? Loser? Worthless? A part-time babysitter? Fisherman? Poor gardener? That doesn’t seem enough to identify oneself.
Kind and loving, yet unlovable? Probably, but it doesn’t seem to matter, but that is okay. This is not about that pointless nonsense. Does it matter in the context of who I am, if anything? Perhaps.
Nobody? Definitely, but there has to be more, right?
Taking a long time to get to the point
This is a philosophical inquiry for which I may not be equipped to explore. I have read some philosophy, I guess not enough.
Does finding oneself lead inexorably to purpose? Or, are those two concepts orthogonal?
As someone older than dirt, it is shameful to admit that I don’t know who I am and less importantly, what my purpose is in life. Perhaps the issue is that I have never really labeled myself. I never thought of myself as human, at least not to the extent that I am a part of any group.
The consummate outsider. It was not always the case that being an outsider meant that I had no friends. I was in a very close-knit small group of fellow soldiers. Even in that group, I felt like an outsider but was not. Does that make sense?
I never considered myself a soldier, or later on a coast guardsman. They were my jobs, even though they were quite often strange, stressful, and sometimes horrifying jobs. I enjoyed both, but I enjoyed the coast guard more because it was closer to an ordinary job. While it has the outward appearance of being the fifth armed service in the US, it never felt like it. It felt more like being in a fire department or something similar. We are a police force/immigration enforcement/fire department/environmental protection/drug interdiction and so much more. It is nowhere near as strict and demanding - in most ways - as the Army, but way more varied. In the Army your specialty is your specialty, it is a rare case that a soldier can do something else, even temporarily. I had that chance in Panama and took advantage of a rare opportunity. In the coast guard, you have a specialty but you also do so much more depending on where you are stationed.
After being in a combat arms job and unit, the coast guard was a nice change of pace. Directly helping civilians was enjoyable. Learning to blow stuff up and tear people into tiny little pieces in the army is fun, but it gets to you after a while. I used to say that at least I would leave a very fit corpse. That actually isn’t true, I spent my time in positions that could be said to be a bright and shiny target. Recon is always dangerous. I was the driver of my artillery section’s m548, carrying several tons of high explosives and that vehicle is not even a little bit armored. I would be a small, smoldering pile of ashes. Fun thought. Platoon operations lead the convoy, store, and make use of classified crypto gear and codebooks. Don’t tell my platoon leader and sergeant, but I ran platoon ops solo because they were always off doing who knows what. It was a 24/7 job in the field, no wonder I have sleep issues. At least platoon ops put me in the position to be one of the first soldiers to sign for a Humvee, traded my gama goat in for it. What a great upgrade! Although, the Humvee - original model at least - did have a few perplexing flaws, hopefully they got addressed because at least one is potentially deadly in the wrong circumstances.
Running around in the jungles of Panama felt more comfortable and relaxing than all of my time in an artillery battery. I think it was because, on my own two feet, I was more agile and not such a large and tempting target.
I always found that the earth-shaking boom of artillery to be quite relaxing and peaceful, even when I was part of the gun crew. When I was not in the field, sitting in front of the barracks and listening to all of the explosions in the distance, while reading a book or talking to someone, was a relaxing evening. I love thunderstorms for the same reason. I am sure being on the business end of the m109 or m110 howitzers is not ever a peaceful experience. I spent the vast majority of my time on the gun line on the m110.
After a training stint at Fort Sherman, Panama at the U.S. Army Jungle Operations Warfare School, the commander of one of the battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment offered us a chance to go to airborne and ranger school, and he would sign a letter of recommendation guaranteeing acceptance, for each of us, after what he thought was an impressive seven weeks in the jungle. More excitingly, if it went really well, Special Forces School would be within reach. The Rangers weren’t all that interesting to me, but special forces were. The Green Berets trained me in Panama, and they were impressive and thoughtful - fantastic teachers. It was very different than rank and file soldiers, and that was attractive to me. When I made an error, I didn’t spend the next hour getting yelled at and forced to do pushups. They would explain my error, and we would go at it again and again until I had it down pat. A teacher-soldier is a good description of them, I would describe drill sergeants as soldier-teacher. You can learn a lot from a drill sergeant, and they will go to the ends of the earth to get you to learn if that is what it takes - but you will pay for it. It was extremely difficult and challenging, yet very comfortable and rewarding working with them. My skillset went far beyond what I learned in the rest of my time in the Army. It really fits my personality and almost felt like I belonged there. Who knows if I would make it or not. It is never a sure thing. Competition to get into Special Forces School is fierce, and the training is very challenging. I had never been turned down for anything that I applied for. Had never failed out of anything in the Army - or Coast Guard - so it seemed like a reasonable goal.
I had no doubt that I would finish Ranger School - especially after fighting them - not that it would have been easy either.
Sometimes, I wish I had taken him up on his offer. I wonder what would have changed for me, good and bad. I would not have met my now ex-wife and would not have my kids and grandkids, but I still wonder if that is what I was meant to be. It surprises people because they say I am quiet and passive, and of course, I am. Day to day civilian life doesn’t require the same things as day to day life in a combat arms unit and civilian life doesn’t offer the same kind of competitive and aggressive coworkers either. The same aggressiveness that earned medals in the military could very easily lead to getting fired in the civilian world.
Very likely, I would be single to this day, unlikely to have had even a girlfriend or two during that time. I also wonder had I stayed in the Army would I have had that seizure that changed the course of my life. I guess it depends on what caused it and I do not know. It is possible that the anti-malaria drugs caused the seizure disorder, and it is also possible nasty chemicals I was exposed to in the Coast Guard did. It is also very plausible that it is something genetic and would have happened no matter what.
The coast guard actually had a day to day purpose that didn’t require a never-ending war to fulfill. Training and maintenance covered 90% of my time in the Army. Despite having far more direct contact with the public, even in the Coast Guard, it felt like we really weren’t part of the community that we served. I guess we were not. The armed services are not above, but certainly apart from, the civilian world. It seemed strange in the coast guard because there really aren’t any big bases that are heavily guarded and the public mostly kept out of. We welcomed people into the rescue station and even group headquarters and did things like give tours of the base, boats, ships, and lighthouse. There was a sign at the unguarded entrance that the public is welcome to visit during certain times. The Coast Guard is a very friendly organization, generally speaking. Far different than the Army.
I did pretty well in both the Army and Coast Guard, but in the end, I don’t think that is what I was. Not once had I ever introduced myself as a soldier, “coastie”, or a veteran. If they ask what jobs I have had, I will include it, since they are jobs. I enjoyed it and loved being of use to my fellow citizens. Lots of people in the military are just that: military - their entire identity is wrapped up in it, that didn’t seem healthy to me. The funny thing is that if I had gone into the Rangers and maybe beyond, it would likely still just be a job to me that probably didn’t say anything about who I am.
Well, the opportunity is long past, but I still wonder ‘what if’.
Not once have I considered myself a programmer, or network security dork as who I am, even though I trained in those areas for many years as an undergrad and graduate student. Okay, I am a dork but those are things that I do. They are a skill and a job. I am pretty good at it and have a lot of passion for it, but that is not who I am.
In grad school, I learned that I love to teach and was pretty good at it, despite having butterflies in my stomach every day. At least my students always gave me glowing and near-perfect reviews, even the ones that I flunked. Perhaps that is what I am. After all, that is what made me think that maybe special forces would be good for me based on their teaching ability. Drill Sergeant might have been another good teaching opportunity, but I am not sure my personality is a good match for that position.
Perhaps I should have pursued a doctorate or even studied education and became a K-12 teacher. I applied to every university and community college in a 100-mile radius for a teaching position. I thought I had a great chance at a private university but lost out to someone with a doctorate. I am on lists at several colleges, but it’s unlikely that I will float to the top. There is a glut of Ph.D.’s taking positions normally reserved for those with Master’s degrees. It made it difficult. Regular faculty hate teaching summer classes, so there might be an opportunity. My advisor pushed me pretty hard to enroll in a Ph.D. program about 80 miles away, my health was in decline, so I did not apply. A Ph.D. is a 5+ year commitment. I couldn’t even guess how I would be in a year, health-wise. Besides, my girls were teenagers, which would have made it even more challenging. My thesis advisor is now the department chair at my old university, so maybe I should make inquiries again. Even teaching a summer course or two to get my foot in the door might get me back into teaching.
I am not sure that is what I am. I enjoy it, and teaching would improve my mental state, I am sure of it.
I do consider myself to be a dad, not a very good one. I worked at it and love my kids more than anything.
It is no wonder that I am alone and can not maintain even a friendship. Who would like someone who doesn’t even know who or what they are? The fact that I am not working, despite a decent income, is another strike against me. Even if I were to get a part-time teaching job, I am not sure I could deal with the stress, and trust me on this, dealing with entitled, whiny and lazy students is stressful. Since being retired from the military, personal relationships are the only things I have failed to maintain.
I am not even talking about romantic relationships as that is impossible. There is no need to waste my time on the impossible. I offered my heart, soul, and everything I have to the most perfect girl, that is clearly not enough. Shhh Don’t tell her, but she still - and always will - own my heart and soul, such as they are.
I wonder if that is what I was meant to be if only I could have been a better person. Husband, soulmate, friend, protector, and confidant to the best girl in the world. Could there be a better thing to be? I doubt it.
It can’t be what I was meant to be, since I failed. Actually, that is a perfect description of my life, but that can’t be it?
I often joke about being a nobody and the universe’s chew toy, but perhaps that is exactly what I was meant to be. Could that really be it? It fits perfectly and explains everything. Occam’s Razor, used loosely as it often is, might suggest that it is true. But, is it really? If true, then I am a complete success!
Well, Abe, if I am a loser, I am a good one.
There is no evidence that he ever said the quote above. He might be the most misattributed person on the Internet.
People often misattribute quotes, especially on the Internet.
Get on with it, already!
Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.
That should be a trivial task.
What does it mean to discover oneself? Is it a realization that one is meant for something specific? Jobs are pretty meaningless in the scheme of things. They pay for life, but they are not life. Or maybe it is just being comfortable in one’s skin? I certainly am not. Seriously, what does it mean to know one’s place in the world? I have no idea what my place is if I even have one.
It is sad that a geezer doesn’t know who or what he is. So we can explore what it means here and maybe a light will go on in my empty and sad?
Always start with a definition
There really isn’t an agreed-upon definition of “finding yourself” but it seems to boil down to “Who are you?” or “What are you meant for?”.
There are several ways to look at it: history, career, personality, hobbies, and even external things such as your circle of friends.
This is one reason why I hate psychology. It is filled with uncertainty and subjectivity.
How would you define it?
But let’s go with the above as our starting point, as vague as it might be.
Ghosts of the past
At any point in one’s life, that life is the summation of the past, so it seems that reconciling the past is important. It is difficult to know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been, I read that a lot. I have doubts that it is true.
One important lesson learned in the jungles of Panama was to always remember where you came from. We didn’t always know where we were heading, but if we could backtrack, at least we were not lost.
Applying that to one’s life is to recognize that the way we approach situations and people is rooted in how we have been treated in the past, and how we have treated others. If a person got bit by a dog, they may not like and be wary of dogs they meet in the future. Is it fair to the other dogs? Certainly not, but that is human nature. To get past that requires separating the individual dogs from the set of all dogs. Easier said than done.
What about backtracking? Is that always possible? Well, no. If the “enemy” is behind you, you can’t backtrack. The saying “you can’t go home again” seems appropriate here.
A lot, and I mean a lot of people never took education seriously in college. It was shocking how many students paid a ridiculous amount to not put any effort into my classes. Both in classes that I taught and those I was a student in. Most of them are at least 30 years old now. I would be unsurprised to find out that few graduated, and that many of them regret it now. Is it too late to go back to school? It never is, but it is expensive and time-consuming. The ridiculous expense is one of the prime reasons that the US can no longer compete. I am sure many of those unserious students are unhappy in menial jobs today. That is sad, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are a few truths that many people don’t seem to know about going to college. Going to a university is not a requirement to get a meaningful, well-paying job. It is a matter of finding what one enjoys. Another truth is that a university is not a job training institution. Education is the goal, and that has benefits that transcend a mere career.
I hope that they found their path to a fulfilling career and life.
Unfortunately, the past goes further back than teen years and early adulthood. I know someone who is terribly scarred from horrible things that happened to her when she was very young. None of it is her fault, but it still causes so much hurt today. I wish I knew how to help her, more than just trying to get her to laugh at stupid things. Laughter is important but doesn’t feel like enough.
I think that being laughed at and rejected by most girls in my teen years might have something to do with my self-esteem, although I still submit my self-esteem is accurate. Going back further, the one way to paralyze me is to watch me doing something from behind me. Being in front of me doesn’t cause that. I also fear doing anything artistic and showing it to people for the same reason.
In second grade, I had gotten a shot, maybe tetanus, perhaps smallpox - yes I am that old - in my left arm. I write left-handed, and that arm was very sore. We were doing some sort of artwork, and I had to use my right arm since the left hurt so much. I am bad at writing or drawing right-handed. I remember the teacher standing behind me, watching me. Then she grabbed my paper and showed it to the class and told everyone how awful it was, and of course, I got laughed at by everyone.
From 5th to 12th grade, I played the trumpet and actually was pretty good at it. One thing I could not do in concerts was play solos, which upset my teachers. I was okay playing with at least one other but alone, I froze up. It is one of the reasons that I hate “pair programming” and refuse to do it. I always program by myself. Even when working on a project with other people. I struggle to make my code public, even when I know it is of good quality.
All of that craziness started when I was 7, and it seems ridiculous that something like that would affect me today.
The thing is that even before that, I never felt like I belonged here.
I grew up in a large family and felt separate most of the time. That might be a product of growing up around a ton of sisters, because as we all know, boys rule - girls drool.
In my personal life, I am mostly treated poorly. I apologize to them for not being good enough and for being treated poorly and abused. I have been told that is wrong to do, but how can it be? If I wasn’t awful, I wouldn’t always be treated so poorly, right?
I never get any answers for why I get rejected. Why? Other people know why someone in their past broke up with them, or whatever. I never get to know that. If I was deserving of being treated well, I would know that, right? How can something happen over and over again to a person and that person is not responsible for it?
It is funny how such small things like getting made fun of and laughed at can affect me so much, all these decades later. I never learned how to get past that so it holds me back. That is not a good thing, but I don’t know how to not let it affect me. Like one of my sisters said: I never got any help at the points where I needed it so everything just festered and grew and am now pretty much broken. Or, something to that effect.
Now, the hard part. Allegedly, to move past things like that one needs to differentiate themselves from what happened.
Differentiate yourself from what has happened to you
This is where I am stuck, but I will try to stumble through.
To find myself and hopefully peace and well, not happiness, that isn’t allowed, so just peace - there needs to be a way to find acceptance? At least that.
I am seriously stuck here, and this pile of blathering is getting pretty long, but I will cover other things and what they might infer. I covered a fair bit of my past here and even in older posts. That serves as a starting point. There are some things in my past I will not discuss publically. Perhaps that is to my detriment, but they are best left forgotten. There are certainly other aspects of my past, personality, and even goals to work out as part of this inquiry.
This will keep me occupied for a while and hopefully force me to write down my thoughts, so I might make some sense out of this. I might even need to write an essay describing my very few good traits to help me along.
The big question may be: if I figure out who I am will it improve my life? If it doesn’t, is this a worthwhile exercise? I suppose that if I knew the answer before working on it, I wouldn’t need to work on it. Duh!
It is a confusing mess.