My wife and I have two very different stories after high school. Whereas I immediately started college, I did it on a whim with no real planning. I was caught off guard by the cost, offered alternative ways to pay, messed up the paperwork and processes, and eventually “flunked out”. This is how I ended up in the National Guard. More on that later.
My wife was way more prepared. By the time she graduated, she pretty much knew where she was going – and I think she’d already been accepted – and toured the campus. I didn’t ask anyone for help, therefore I got none. On the other hand, whether she asked for it or not, she got help from her parents.
When she was 22, she was graduating from Berry with a Marketing degree. When I was 22, I had been to basic training, advanced individual training, attended two semesters of college, mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for 3 months, married and divorced in about 6 months – essentially played house while I was on active duty. As if that wasn’t foolish enough, while I was back in school leading up to my 22nd birthday, that year my girlfriend would become pregnant with my oldest son – another failed marriage in the making.
For anyone who underestimates the importance of your decision making between the ages of 18-25…read that last paragraph again.
To say my wife’s life has been all peaches and cream would not be accurate. She’s had her own unique challenges. Throughout her growth though, she’s been able to embark on a journey of which I’m so jealous: self-employment. She freelanced in the photography world, worked as a sidekick to a photographer, and began learning the business. Her college education filled in the blanks. Over the course of a few years, she grew her own photography business. I marvel at her work daily. Not to brag, but her business is as big and busy as its ever been, and she’s doing this while being a mom too. I haven’t seen anyone hitting it that hard since I was growing up and watching my mom work all day and spend all night taking care of my dad and my two brothers and me. We’re talking two full-time jobs here.
Anyway, here’s what I envy about my wife’s work. First, she punches a clock for nobody. What freedom! Secondly, she’s her own boss. That has it’s obvious benefits. Thirdly, she actually likes what she does. I’d be willing to bet less than 10% of workers truly like what they do. We all work as a means to an end, but rarely get pleasure doing it. When I lecture my kids about the importance of making good decisions early and often, I use my wife and her business as an example of what could lie on the other side of adulthood – and by making poor choices, they’d be committing to my path. My path sucks.
Buried in all the terrible decisions I’ve ever made at the onset of my adulthood is the one thing that saved me from myself. I joined the National Guard. Albeit, I joined to pay for school. What the military gave me though was way more than I could have ever hoped.
- The best health insurance in the world
- I didn’t just pay for school, I got paid to go to school
- Drill pay + the opportunity to save in the TSP
- The intangibles (the focus of this blog)
When I graduated high school and hastily applied for college, I picked my major foolishly. I went through my senior schedule and dismissed anything that didn’t immediately interest me, and when I got to my newspaper class (I was the co-editor of our high school newspaper) it was the first one I’d come to that I didn’t hate. I loved to write, and I was interested in so many different subjects that I thought writing was a good way to ring all those bells so to speak. Ergo, I would become a journalism major!
My journalism endeavors lasted until I realized how much being a journalist sucks. First of all, you spend years writing crap stories. Once you’re not the editor anymore, you start back at the bottom and spend a career trying to achieve that status. Moreover, not being an editor means nobody cares what you think. So it’s all news writing, no editorials or opinion pieces offering your analysis of all the world’s problems. Journalism sucked.
I remember the day I realized this, and sat in the Student Union at Cameron University feeling sorry for myself. I had a good part-time job with a promising future at UPS. I had a military career that I knew was important, but at that point in my life I didn’t fully understand why. I was going to have a family soon, and the pressure to get this right seemed very heavy on my shoulders. Some of my buddies tried to help. They all told me their majors in hopes of recruiting me into their worlds. I wasn’t impressed – until my buddy Joe told me he was a Sociology major. I vaguely knew what that meant, but as he explained it in greater detail, I gained interest. I asked him what he planned to do with that degree, and he said, get another one, then get another one, then I want to be a college professor and teach and research Sociology.
Then it hit me. When he said “teach” I realized that’s really what I’d like to do.
After spending that afternoon doing some research at the school and talking to a few other folks, I ended up changing my major to Political Science. My plan was to major in Political Science, minor in Sociology, and get certified to teach. I wasn’t sure about a masters degree or a PhD…but this would at least get me in a classroom and I could figure the rest out later (I didn’t know at the time it would be about 14 years later).
I set the plan in motion, and proceeded to make enough poor life choices that this plan didn’t come to fruition completely. I did finally graduate college, but it was 17 years after I started. I had already established a career in logistics and transportation, so I was more or less stuck in my civilian job. I had a family to support, so it would have been too reckless to quit working and pursue a teaching career.
But…enter stage left…my trusty old military career.
Through thick and thin, my National Guard experience has been a huge piece to navigating through life. Although I never got to be a teacher in the traditional sense, I certainly became the king of education in the military! Check it out.
- As an NCO, my main job is to train soldiers
- Because of all the new programs and packages that keep coming out, I could easily get the Army to pay for my teacher certification now that I’ve graduated
- I get to blog and teach soldiers about money, investing, benefits, etc.
I’ve made almost every poor choice you can make as an adult. My advice to everyone regarding this statement is similar to how I feel about boats. You don’t buy boats, you get friends that have boats. Similarly, don’t screw up your lives for this experience, just listen to your parents, and take it from me.
At drill, I would describe my relationship to my unit in this way…or rather I think my job title would be something like this:
Army National Guard Finance, Investment, Marriage, Divorce, Family Affairs, Education and Career Counselor. As a matter of fact, I should get my own ribbon for that! I bet I have at least 5 times per drill where someone approaches me and says, “Sergeant Duffy, can I talk to you about something?” I live for these moments.
Okay, let me recap what just happened here because I went all over the place in this blog. I have an appreciation now for doing things the right way. My wife did things right early and often, and that’s largely how she became her own boss and does what she loves for work. I’m jealous of that, and although I did nothing but screw up in life, the National Guard has offered me countless ways to fulfil my personal ambitions even though I never did them in the traditional sense.
If you asked the 18-year-old me where I’d be in twenty years, the answer I would have given would no reflect the reality of where I am now, but that’s okay. Thanks to the magic of the internet, and especially thanks to my career in the Guard, I have a way to do the things I love to do for work, similar to how my wife does. To be honest though, if my writing and advice were as good as her photography, I’d be getting paid handsomely to do this.
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