It may seem disconcerting to some that a 43-year-old man still would be trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up.
I assure you, that realization — that I have yet to figure out exactly what I’m doing on this spinning rock — has been no more disturbing for anyone other than myself.
In fact, although now considered a blessing, the self-realization that I have yet to complete my emotional, mental and spiritual journey of growth has only come about after a long and sometimes painful process.
I say long and painful because the notion that maturation and growth are a never-ending process was a notion completely alien to me in my relative youth.
From my earliest recollection, I always had a plan. And by “plan” I mean a sacrosanct, unwavering schedule for the rest of my life.
When I was 5 years old, I matter-of-factly informed my parents I was going to go to the Naval Academy. My parents, as always, went to great lengths to support my ambitions, never trivializing them or resorting to the condescending “isn’t that cute” attitude that many adults assume when a young person latches onto a goal.
And, my dream became reality when I traveled to Annapolis in 1994 to join a long line of nervous teenagers waiting to have their heads shaved and their identities redefined.
But that was only the beginning of my “master plan.” I spent significant amounts of time drafting 10-, 20-, 30-, even 40-year plans. At any given time in my foreseeable future I knew where I was going to be, what job I was going to hold, what title would be printed on my desk.
From grade school to grave, I had it planned down to the month. I was a little less certain about the exact time of that grave part, but I was pretty sure I had narrowed it down to about 24 hours after retirement.
In spite of my best efforts, and the fact that my plan was simultaneously complex and exquisitely simple, the master plan skipped the track somewhere along the way.
The failure of the plan, or even its significant alteration, was an event I had built up as being unthinkable. Failure, in any form, was encoded in my psyche as the worst possible fate.
I was forced to face up to that fate in a number of “failures” that led me to where I am today.
I didn’t end up becoming a fighter pilot, which was my first true taste of humility (it turns out I have the hand-eye coordination of an inebriated walrus). I’ve also accepted I’m probably never going to be a professional athlete, astronaut or GQ model (unless that middle-aged, overweight, balding look really takes off).
What I’ve learned, through my own personal, painful trail of humility, is that our perceived failures are most often what lead us to the places we’re supposed to reach. I could resort to any number of cornball cliches, like “that which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger,” or “every door that closes opens up another,” but I’ll resist the urge.
Of course, most cornball cliches have a kernel of truth in them somewhere, and I do firmly believe that every perceived failure does offer a new opportunity. I’m not suggesting we should strive for anything less than success in our undertakings, or that we should aim to come in last just because it might offer some valuable life lessons, or at least humility. What I am suggesting is that we should never fear failure.
Every great human achievement, large or small, has been built upon the lessons of countless failures. And, I would argue, it is our perceived failures that guide and teach us the most.
Ultimately, it is not any inherent limitation or flaw that poses the greatest threat to our success and happiness, but rather our fear of failure.
It is our natural aversion to risk that builds the strongest roadblocks in our lives. It is only by facing our fear of failure that we can continue to grow, to learn, and to accept the fact that growth and consciousness never reach an end-state in this life.
I don’t know what my life would be like today if I were a GQ model-astronaut-fighter pilot, and quite frankly I don’t care to find out.
I’m very happy, thank you very much, with the failure of my master plan and the new paths God continues to reveal in my life.
So, (this is the part where I get to the point) when “the plan” seems to go horribly wrong, we may just need to accept the possibility that we were following the wrong plan in the first place, and press on with an unbridled willingness to risk failure all over again.