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In a way it feels like the military has ruined me...

In a way it feels like the military has ruined me...

August 25, 2018 10 Comments

I’ve had a gnawing, grating feeling since I graduated college. This feeling I couldn’t shake. This feeling I kept pushing deep, deep down. This feeling that, to this day, creeps up on me and stops me in my tracks. This feeling is that I’ve lost my purpose.

Before you can understand why I, and so many others, live with this dilemma, we need to jump back to the beginning.

Most of us were mere babies when we enlisted – 17 and 18 years old – and we had no idea what the world was like, our place in it, or how much power we have over it. We went in young patriots looking for discipline, excitement and to right the wrongs of September 11. But what was not expected was purpose.

Those early seedlings of purpose came with responsibility to the guys on our teams, in our companies. As we trained and became more disciplined in our craft, those seedlings were cultivated, and purpose continued to grow within us. And when we deployed purpose was all we knew. It became all we were, all we did and all we knew.

Purpose takes on different meanings to different people: function, aspiration, meaning, reason, etc. To me, purpose is more than a function (e.g. the purpose of a hammer is to pound, therefore the hammer’s purpose is that of function), it is a reason for being and doing, an aspirational view of our infinite abilities as living, breathing people.

That purpose continued to grow and carried us through. If we were training host-nation Soldiers and Marines, our purpose was to make them better, stronger, to do what needed to be done. If we were providing medical assistance to local civilians, our purpose was to improve their lives, enabling them to work their land and provide for their families in peace. If we were playing soccer with children, our purpose was to offer a glimmer of fun to transport them out of the world in which they lived. Our purpose was our job.

Blissfully unaware of our purpose in the world, and unable to even define it, some of us decided to leave the military. To leave behind all we had known outside of childhood.

In an instant it was gone.

Many of us excitedly left the military, went to school and started professional careers. We started families, made new friends and went on with life.

And here we are today, with that gnawing, grating feeling that we’ve lost our true purpose. That feeling that we somehow don’t fit the norm because we learned lifelong lessons by not just understanding our purpose, but by experiencing it in full color. We learned at young, young ages what it means to live. We lived our lives working for something bigger than ourselves.

But when all we knew of our previous lives was purpose, life in a professional career can be disheartening. Helping militaries become better and helping displaced civilians thrive has been replaced by increasing productivity and improving the bottom line. From helping people live better, more free lives to helping people make more money. From discussions on strategic objectives to discussions on workplace politics. If you’ve lived your purpose once in such a profound way, it can be hard to deeply feel meaning in the business-driven world. 

This solitary obstacle has made me a better person who values what purpose means and how purpose feels. I was brought up in a world of purpose and learned what matters, what I value and what makes a difference. The difficulty comes with the daily dissonance I feel between what I do for purpose and what I value as purpose.

But the beautiful thing is that purpose changes. Much like our youthful ignorance in the military, many of us are blissfully unaware of a shift in purpose. In my experience it’s been obvious, but undefined, and therefore unrecognizable.

Mindsets have to change. Maturation must occur. Hardships must be faced. And with this, purpose becomes defined not by what we do, but by why we do it.

Moving from my younger self where the world was still small and somewhat simple, to my older, more experienced self where we see things in complex detail, I've learned the what for me is merely a tool to act upon the why.

It’s been with this realization that I’ve found comfort in what I do for a living, because my purpose isn’t to increase productivity or increase the bottom line, it’s to provide the best life possible for my family and to be the man my friends and family have to come to know and love. And by succeeding at one, I succeed at the other.

So, yes, I remain painfully aware of my own existence and impact on the world. In a way it feels like the military has ruined me... but in the most positive, profound way possible. It’s ruined me by forcing me to challenge the status quo. It's ruined me by not allowing me to take solace in trivial environments or disputes. It’s ruined me by making me better. 

 



10 Responses

Mildred Johnson
Mildred Johnson

July 12, 2019

I am a 12 years Vet,and I still remember the first time I wanted to join the Army to do something good for myself and others.I feel that I did do some good by joining,and helped a little piece of the world,and a big piece of myself,to help others,I will always be proud of my country and myself

Patrick
Patrick

July 11, 2019

This is so profoundly true. Even for those who didn’t have the honor of deployment for whatever reason or reasons. I’ve been off AD for 8 years, and out completely on medical retirement for 2. Since I left AD for family reasons I’ve been lost, and when I was retired I was lost completely. Starting a new career 9 months ago has helped tremendously, and my family have always been a saving light, but it’s still there… Thank you for your words and honesty.

Scott Bornman
Scott Bornman

July 11, 2019

GREAT POST!! The crazy/cool/sad thing is that while we may recognize that our purpose is altered, we struggle to identify the change in purpose. That wisdom eludes many of us. The hammer to which you referred in your post would be less than useful in performing surgery, although it still functions well as a hammer. We, as veterans, owe it to our younger cohorts to extol to them the virtues that being pliable while facing change makes the change easier to endure. Never waver on your principles, but be malleable wherever possible.

Adam G.
Adam G.

September 07, 2018

This is a great blog post. I have achieved so much since I have been out of the military, yet I still feel like something is missing. I have a beautiful wife, a beautiful home with land, an excellent job that makes most of my life possible, and currently pursuing my education. I am at a crossroads with what I want to do next. I have an entrepreneurial drive, but I can’t focus on what I would want to do. I also have a giving side, I keep telling myself I should volunteer or join a club/group, but can’t make that first jump. All of these thoughts sit and stew mostly on my commute to and from work (which is about an hour each way). The only direction is forward.

Kat Rickey
Kat Rickey

August 31, 2018

Much like you and your military compatriots, those of us who had careers in Public Safety (I was a Paramedic for 35 years) suffer from the same malady. It is a struggle to retain that purpose at the same intensity as we get older, in order to feel we are still relevant and contributing positively to society. All I can tell you, as a military brat and ARMY Mom, is how much I appreciate what you have done and what you are DOING. Don’t stop….

Amy
Amy

August 25, 2018

I agree that many in our country (not just veterans!) feel their worth is dependent upon what they can earn and produce instead of becoming who they were created to be. Our unbridled capitalism has brought us past the purpose of capitalism: freedom to use our gifts and skills to make our society better.

What do we need, then? We need to go back to the One who created us and ask Him, “Whom did you create me to be? How can I become fully alive?”

In getting beyond the business of widgets, we can find true meaning in our lives. Maybe we build widgets so that we can support our family, as you mentioned. Maybe we’re in a position to be a good leader and keep things on the right path. And maybe we’ll never know why God put us where we are; but, we can be assured that wherever we are placed, we must be faithful to God and help to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth… until we get to go to the real kingdom of Heaven.

Amy
Amy

August 25, 2018

I agree that many in our country (not just veterans!) feel their worth is dependent upon what they can earn and produce instead of becoming who they were created to be. Our unbridled capitalism has brought us past the purpose of capitalism: freedom to use our gifts and skills to make our society better.

What do we need, then? We need to go back to the One who created us and ask Him, “Whom did you create me to be? How can I become fully alive?”

In getting beyond the business of widgets, we can find true meaning in our lives. Maybe we build widgets so that we can support our family, as you mentioned. Maybe we’re in a position to be a good leader and keep things on the right path. And maybe we’ll never know why God put us where we are; but, we can be assured that wherever we are placed, we must be faithful to God and help to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth… until we get to go to the real kingdom of Heaven.

Chris Christian
Chris Christian

August 25, 2018

As a nearly 70 year old former Army MP vet, I soon realized after discharge at the age of 22, that I had performed my most significant duties in my life by that age. There always seemed to be a void of purpose, but I found purpose by serving the people I worked with and for, and clients, as if I was serving myself. I now teach, and that fulfills a great sense of purpose for me. Life is truly better when serving a purpose.

Marie J Norman
Marie J Norman

August 25, 2018

Absolutely beautiful. From someone who wanted so hard to be in military when i was younger (but wasn’t for physical reasons), this truly helps me see what i missed. Im not lost…just not as motivated as you. I cherish what you do so much. Bless you and your family. You heart, as well as other military personnel, is amazing. Thank you.
Marie(53 year old broad) 😄😇

Phyllis Kline
Phyllis Kline

August 25, 2018

Thank you for all you’ve done and for sharing your Insight

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