Saturday, March 31, 2007

Opportunities Not Taken

Sometimes, it's amazing how things work out in life. Have you ever considered how the choices you've made throughout your life have impacted who and what you are today?

Driving to work today, somehow, my mind started wondering to just such a thing. I was thinking about the Ohio State Buckeyes playing tonight for a spot in the NCAA Championship game. I thought of how I once had thoughts of attending Ohio State.

I grew up in Cincinnati, and the college that I had always been interested in attending was Ohio State University. After graduating from high school, I took a year of working before making any major life decisions. I graduated at the age of 17, so it didn't seem to be a waste of time to spend a year deciding what I really wanted to do with my life. Did I want to go to college? Where? Or did I want to do something else?

The answer turned out to be both. I wanted to go to college, but I didn't plan my high school career out as well as I could (and should) have, so I was not offered any scholarships. And I never thought it would be right for me to ask or expect my parents to foot the bill for me. So I had to come up with some cash to go to college.

Back then, in the Reagan era, there was one simple way to earn college money: The Army College Fund and Montgomery GI Bill. So I enlisted for three years in the Active Duty Army, for $35,000 in college money.

Eight years later, I finally came home. Eight years, and a lot of life. I had made many choices during those eight years, some stupid, and some maybe not so stupid. I reenlisted once -- for another three years -- and extended my enlistment twice for an additional year each time. The Army took me to Germany for three years, and it was a good experience.

But when I came back home, five years later than I had originally anticipated, everything was different. After such a long absence from school, I couldn't even picture myself starting college at the age of 26. Plus, I had to have full-time employment -- I really couldn't ask my parents to support me at that age!

So I never made it to Ohio State. Or any other college. And I was thinking about that this morning, and you know how that goes some times -- you find yourself wondering What If?

While I was in Basic Training in the Army, my instructors were so impressed with my entrance exam scores that they asked me to take another exam. It was the strangest test I have taken in all of my life. I basically found myself trying to interpret a made up language with very little knowledge of what the made up language was supposed to be. That's right, it was a linguistics test.

The shocking part was that I scored so well on the linguistics test that they wanted to send me to USMAPS -- the United States Military Academy Prep School. The plan was that I would then go on to West Point -- the United States Military Academy -- probably the most distinguished military academy in the country. At West Point, I would spend five years learning to become an Army Officer. I would then go to a different specialty school than I had enlisted for -- I would spend up to three years training in linguistics, learning Russian, or whatever other language(s) the Army needed me to learn.

After roughly ten years of training, I would have a five-year service commitment to pay my country back for my college education at West Point. Fifteen years: that's some commitment to hit an 18-year-old kid with during his first month in the military.

This morning I was thinking about my career now, and how different life would be if I had been an Officer in the Army with training as a linguistics expert. It seems I might be making considerably more money, and be better able to provide for my family.

Then it hit me: what family? It was my retail career that relocated me from Cincinnati to Indiana, where I met my wife and started the family that means the world to me today. What would have brought me to Indiana if I was a linguistics expert? Certainly not relocating to grand open a new retail store.

If I had taken that unbelievably great opportunity some twenty years ago, I don't know where I would be today, but I know where I would probably not be. I would probably not be in Indiana. I would most likely have never met my wife, with whom I am raising the two most wonderful kids the world has ever seen.

So you see, sometimes a good thing might not be as good as it sounds. Some times you have to pass up some great opportunities in life if you want to stumble onto the opportunity of a lifetime. There is no job in the world that could be more important than being a good Daddy to my kids and helping my beautiful wife nurture them into fine adults some day.

So don't be too quick to jump for the money when opportunity comes knocking, because sometimes the real opportunity is just around the corner, and if you answer the door too soon, you might not even be home when your life shows up to meet you.


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