Last week, my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Our wedding day was a lifetime ago, yet in many respects it seems like yesterday. A few months from now, I will celebrate 24 years in the Navy. Again, a lifetime ago. Looking back on the decisions to ask for my wife’s hand and to take the oath of office, I have no shame in acknowledging that both were fairly uninformed. Truth is that in the big scheme of life, I hardly knew the beautiful young lady who I looked in the eye and said “I do” on that rainy November day in Annapolis, MD. I really didn’t know what I wanted in life, but I knew that I wanted to experience whatever it would bring with her by my side. Likewise, when I raised my hand and took that oath to serve, I knew what I was doing, but I had no idea what the journey would look like. In fact, I will freely admit that my teenage logic for serving our nation was as self-serving as it was altruistic (it was just as much about the personal growth and the doors I believed it would open, as it was the opportunity to serve others). Both decisions were ill-informed, but neither was ill-advised.
Upon reflection and with the benefit that comes with 20 plus years of growth, experience, and hindsight, these two decisions, though ill-informed, were clearly the two best decisions I have made in my life. When I made each choice, I had a very different vision for how each would shape my life than the reality that is now my life. There is no need to share what those visions were, but suffice it to say that I would not trade my reality for the realization of those visions. Life continues to be far better than any master plan my much younger mind was capable of conceiving.
Many people feel as though they need to pick a destination long before they embark on a journey. Many people romanticize the journey long before they take the first step. And many people demonstrate a lack of commitment to both when they begin to stumble, trip, and sometimes fall at various points after being bold enough to take that step. There are many destinations in life that aren’t worth the journey and there are journeys in life that lead us to undesirable destinations. I have found that it is important to have a destination in mind, but not to become overly fixated on it. More important than the destination is to be mindful enough throughout the journey to both make it the focus and decide when the original destination no longer makes for a sensible pursuit. And most important is to find partners who share a commitment to each other.
As ill-informed as my partnerships may have been decades ago, my commitment to my wife and Shipmates has not changed. There have been, and continues to be, many changes in course along the journey. And though many goals have been achieved and many more yet to be realized, the destination has nothing to do with a rank, a specific job, a particular accomplishment, or a precise contribution. The destination continues to be the ability to look back when it’s all said and done and say, “I mattered, we mattered.” I love my life, but I love my life not because of what I do or because of the successes I may have enjoyed. I love it because of who is in it. 20 years ago my wife and I stood in front of our family and friends and said, “Let’s do this!” And we’ve figuratively said the same each and every day since. The “this” changes, but the “us” hasn’t. When it comes to my Shipmates, the “this” continues to evolve and the “us” continues to accumulate. The WHAT and the HOW in life matters, but they pale in comparison to the WHO.
- How fixated are you on a specific destination?
- How focused are you on the journey?
- How committed are you to the people in your life?