I have achieved middle age

Hanging out before my flight.
Pre-security hangout.

Today is my 35th birthday. I am writing this post in the Albuquerque International Airport (Sunport for locals) waiting to board a plane to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport with a final destination of Missoula International Airport (that’s in Montana for those who had to look it up on a map like I did). This is a work trip, not a self-funded birthday vacation.

Having been through 34 birthdays before (none of which garnered much attention or celebration), I’m not sad or displeased with traveling for work on the 35th iteration of this event. However, it is a sobering sensation to know I am halfway through my life. This is not a macabre realization, it’s just a simple fact given my current bad health habits and stressful lifestyle.

In my teens and twenties, I never thought I would make it to 23 let alone still be alive and kicking 12 years after that lifespan estimate. Most people attribute my low expectations of an extended life with the army, but I have always harbored a sense of not living to old age.

As a teenager I was fully aware of my reckless, adrenaline seeking lifestyle and knew the potential consequences of those actions. Between fighting, fast driving, and generally bad decisions about my physical wellbeing I was astonished to see my 18th birthday.

Once I joined the army at 18, it was natural to think I wouldn’t make it out alive. With two active wars in progress, my young-man-pride in joining the infantry, and my willingness to ignore obvious signs of danger all contributed to a fatalist view of life. I am sure some would say I actively pursued an ultimate end while deployed to Iraq on several occasions, but I always felt it was in line with the job description.

In my mid-20s I started in government security contracting which, low and behold, could be a very dangerous job. I sought it out to fill the void the army left after my premature expulsion from the organization under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). I needed something to make up for what appeared to be a dull day-to-day grind as a civilian. I never made it on to one of those truly high-risk contracts which may have been a better outcome for me in the long run.

The past 6-years have been filled with the stressful life of the startup world. Whether it’s traveling with little notice, or devising a means of accomplishing an initiative without money or personnel, or simply working the forever long days, stress builds up in short order. However, there is an adrenaline/endorphin kick to this kind of work and the risk of failure appeals to my still rebellious inner teenager.

My hair is speckled with grey; the lines under my eyes are getting deeper; I can’t run as fast; I can’t pull all-nighters without consequences anymore; I find myself more contemplative than ever before. It’s not all bad, having reached middle age I am astonished by the experiences I have had in my life. I see the future as a true prospect now and am living in the present while allowing myself to secure a better future for myself and my husband.

Getting older isn’t all bad – I laugh more, I know how to smile now, and I have learned a lot along the way. We are all marching towards the same grim end, but we should all take a moment to acknowledge that our lives are unique, each experience is our own. Go out and take a risk, it’s usually worth it!

Time to board the plane 🙂

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Expect the worst and hope…you planned enough!

Just about anyone who has met me, worked with me, or is a friend of mine would likely describe me as “negative” or “always pointing out the worst”. To be honest, I won’t deny such claims. I do focus quite a bit on those things that can go wrong and less on the things I hope go right. It’s also accurate to say that I am not quiet about voicing my concerns.

Am I just a pessimist who can’t be happy with any given situation? Do I have this need to shit on other people’s ideas or potential opportunities?

In short, the answer is a resounding “NO” to both those questions. So what’s up with the bad attitude?

I learned a long time ago, before the startup world, before contracting, before the Army, before I moved out of my parent’s house to expect the worst possible outcome and plan to counter any hurdles that can be identified at the start of an idea, change, or action.

The classic saying goes something like this: Hope for the best but expect the worst. Here’s the thing, if you are hoping for the best then you are likely not putting as much effort or thought into the worst. This sets you up for failure before you even start. In the end, you could probably look back and identify multiple issues that arose which could have been headed off from the beginning with better planning.

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Clearing a drainage tunnel with a 9 MM pistol and flashlight – do you think I had a sunny disposition going in?

In the Army, my thought process was reinforced with life and death situations. When you are a leader taking X number of soldiers on a patrol, ambush, or overwatch, you don’t approach the task with a sunny disposition. The default position is along the lines of: “We are going here to do these things and this, that, and everything else is likely to go wrong…this is how we mitigate risk and reduce the threat preemptively”. Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it is! Real world combat operations aren’t the party Hollywood makes them out to be.

With a few modifications, this mindset is easily translated to the business world. “If we don’t get Update X out by this date then a high probability of losing 50% of our customer base and having to lay off 75% of the workforce exists.” What do you do? Quit? Hang up your hat, have a fancy cold brew, and let it be? HELL NO! You work with the team to make sure the engineers have what they need to produce Update X; you get the team to volunteer additional time in an effort to extend the deadline; you prep your customer base by setting proper expectations; you get to work.

A lot of people accept the concept of quitting. Life was unfair, I quit. My boss was a dick, I quit. The client wasn’t nice, I quit. It’s too hard, I quit. Here’s the problem, you can’t quit life! Life doesn’t care that you are at rock bottom; life isn’t going to stop while you wipe your tears off your face; life isn’t going to apologize for hurting your delicate sensibilities. Life is going to continue kicking your ass until you realize it’s up to you to change it!

Expecting the worst will help set you up for success. Think about it this way: I’m ready for everything up to and including the worst situation possible, anything short of that is easy.

One last thing, try to tackle the worst possibilities with a smile – it always seems to help the people you’ll end up working with throughout your life.

 

How do you handle planning? Do you start with the best possible situation and work your way to the worst? How do you achieve the end goal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and share on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for reading!

Reflections on the past and a better tomorrow…

A classic time traveling sci-fi premise has been the ability to go back in time and change something that you did or happened to you in the past. Think the Butterfly Effect without Ashton Kucher.

Here’s the rub: you don’t get to change it back and you don’t get to try again.

Now, a lot of people will say, “I love my life, I wouldn’t change a thing.” That may be true, at least, until I point to the death of someone you were close to, that decision to go down this path instead of that one, or any of the flaws in your perfect life. I think the same people who say they would change nothing actually want to change everything (or close to everything).

Listen, I am happy with the person I have become, the people in my life, and the life I have lived thus far. I have done more in my first 34 years of life than most people will do in their entire lives. I have seen pure joy and innocence while internalizing the experiences of the worst parts of human nature. I have loved, laughed, hated, fought, and worked to become who I am today and I am immensely proud to have survived this long. 

However, it can be a good thought exercise to contemplate what could have been. It may motivate you to be a better person than you are today or to pursue that thing you passed on a decade ago or to make changes for the better (though, statistically, I guess it has an equal possibility of turning out to be a bad thing).

How many of you reading this would change something, big or small doesn’t matter, one decision, one action, one event changed?

Aeros - Post Hodges Blast (3)
A lonely road littered with bombs (think life metaphor)

I won’t lie to any of you, I would make a change or two. The changes wouldn’t be for fame or fortune, a “better” life, or any obvious material gain. I’m not a Buddhist or some wannabe saint with no materialistic motivations, but I have already learned that money, property, and physical possessions come and go, who we are stays with us until we die. My modifications would involve slight improvements to me as a person. One less mean comment here, an extra hug for my father, or a more open mind at a younger age to things I hadn’t yet experienced. Small tweaks that could have a positive ripple effect across multiple lives.

Obviously, none of us can change the past and dwelling on the good or bad of yesterday will usually keep us from being better in the now and future. One of the reasons I have studied history throughout my life is because it was said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). I know I make a conscious effort not to repeat my mistakes (I don’t always succeed), but I also want to do more than I did yesterday. It sounds cliche, but I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.

Since I can’t change yesterday (or a night 16 years ago that I impulsively moved out of my parent’s house without a plan), I choose to remember the past for what it was and move on into the grey unknown of the future.

 

Do you find yourself thinking about the past more than you would like? Do you think you can make up for mistakes of the past with actions in the present? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and share AverageLuke on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for reading my ramblings!

3 Reasons People Become Addicted to War

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Me during my third tour in Iraq (Iskandariyah ’07-’08) waiting on a company mission to kickoff.

Let’s be honest, any rational person reading the title of this blog post thinks it’s crazy for anyone to be addicted to such a horrible course of events classified as a war. However, these same rational people, when thrust into the dangerous profession of being a front line soldier are at risk of becoming addicted. It can happen gradually over an extended period of time or all at once. What cannot be disputed is that everyone is at risk.

So, why does this happen? What reasons would a person use to justify an addiction to war? How can a person be willing to do anything to get their next fix of something all civilized societies in the history of the world have classified as the worst part of human nature? Why are these addicts encouraged to pursue their addiction? What can be done to save these people before the inevitable results of constant exposure to high-stress, life-threatening events exacts the ultimate cost?

For answers to the questions above, you’ll have to keep checking in to this blog. This post will only attempt to shed light on the one of them: What reasons would a person use to justify an addiction to war?

Let’s get into it…

One: Belief in a cause…

This is the most obvious and the most prominent. When a person has such strong convictions in the reason for the war occurring in the first place it is easy for them to want to do everything possible to support it. This includes returning to the most dangerous places on Earth time and again to fight for that cause. Many service members want to be in combat because they feel like they are fulfilling their duty to protect their country from <insert enemy title> (think terrorists, communists, fascists, and other bad “ists”). A cause is a powerful thing and governments throughout history have created causes to lure their citizenry into voluntarily putting themselves in danger for the fulfillment of the cause.

Two: Adrenaline…

There is no feeling in the world like the pure adrenaline pumped into your body when another human being is actively attempting to end your life AND you have the capacity to stop them from accomplishing their mission. It’s the ultimate win. Athletes get a taste of this when they win a high-stakes competition; business leaders sample this feeling after closing a big financial deal; everyone savors it right after narrowly escaping a car wreck. No one but the front line combat troops (and law enforcement officers) truly understand this type of adrenaline pump. Addiction to adrenaline is in and of itself an addiction, but adrenaline from an engagement with the enemy is unique in my opinion.

Three: The simple life…

This one is likely to confuse some people, but I will attempt to clarify. For a young, single, no children at home combat troop, combat is the simplest existence on the planet. No utility bills to pay, housing (shelter is a more apt description) is provided, food is available…all the basic necessities of life are provided. Money isn’t worth much because there isn’t anything to spend it on (except cigarettes, dip, candy, gear, and hygiene products). The almighty dollar won’t save you in a firefight. Life is simpler with three objectives:

  1. Accomplish the mission
  2. Bring everyone else home
  3. Bring yourself home

Married combat troops – not sure how much this one applies to you, but I’m sure some of you would agree with this description.

This is just my take on the “problem” of addiction to war – feel free to shout me down in the comments!

Arrival at Bataan 2018…

Bataan Bibs - 2018 - EditedAt 3:00 o’clock this morning, the husband and I packed up the car with the large North Face duffel bag, my large Blackhawk Assault pack, and some miscellaneous hydration sized bags. By 3:30 we were off…well, I was off while the husband snoozed/listened to an audio book through his earbuds. After four hours of driving through a pitch black, no moon, overcast night we arrived at White Sands Missile Range for the Bataan Memorial Death March in-processing shenanigans. However, I was a little disappointed when we stood in line for ten minutes before the doors opened only to be out of the building (packets in hand and smiles on our faces) 5 minutes after we were let in. So sad.

There was positive energy among the eclectic gathering of people in line. A woman in her 50’s will be running the marathon; a pair of veterans with their wives laughed about old times in the Army; a veteran behind us met up with an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. For the most part, the husband and I stood quietly, taking it all in and enjoying the atmosphere.

Young ROTC cadets from NMSU standing by the door in slacks and button downs looked cautiously over the people, probably wondering if they would ever measure up to some of the veterans looking back at them. If I could share a morsel of wisdom with them it would be simple: don’t try to be those who came before you, push the limits and set new standards. I look forward to seeing some of these cadets on the route come Sunday.

The base is very clean (as almost all military installations are) with clean rock landscaping in lieu of grass in most places. Civilian contractors roamed in packs of 4 with wee-eaters and hoes making slight improvements to an already exceptional post. The personnel we encountered were polite and courteous, filled with a positive energy that helps up the motivation levels for Sunday.

Now, for the bad news (or at the very least, cautionary news). I registered for the heavy division (35 pound pack minus water or other consumables) with the expectation of a 4 month train-up to this event. However, I fell pray to stress at work, general laziness, and an overall lack of motivation. These are not new things and I believed I had appropriately taken them into account when planning this whole endeavor – unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

Since the beginning, I have had no intentions of competing in my age group for 1st or 2nd place (the only two positions who receive a medal per age group); I merely wanted to complete the event without crippling myself. When I factor in the lack of training/preparation, I am merely cautiously optimistic that I will 1. finish and 2. not be injured in some way. My plan is to keep a reasonable, steady pace despite 1,100 feet of elevation gain from mile 8 to 15 and deep sand sections. Fortunately, I have the husband beside me in the Light (no pack) Division to help keep pace and feed me protein bars.

Alright, I am going to wrap up this post but intend on writing more about course conditions and weather tomorrow – come back and see! I will leave you with this beautiful picture of White Sands National Park (we stopped in on our way to the hotel after in-processing).

Bataan - Not the Course - White Sands NP
White Sands National Park – Not a part of the Bataan Course

Have you completed the Bataan Memorial Death March? What training tips do you have for the uninitiated? Were you Heavy or Light Division, Military or Civilian? Share your experience in the comments!