On my first day in boot camp, as the group that I was with was being lead around a seemingly unending maze of administrative halls and checkpoints, two words kept running around inside my sleep deprived brain…”DON’T PANIC”. Those are the words imprinted on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a warning to intergalactic travelers meant to keep them from freaking out when something truly awful or daunting is barrelling down upon them. While I repeated those words over and over again, trying to keep myself calm as my anxiety level steadily began to rise, a soon to be graduating recruit quietly and cautiously snuck up to our nervous little group. The petty officer who was in charge of us was organizing the next hoop for us to jump through, so the recruit seemed to feel like it was his chance to impart some wisdom upon our unsuspecting heads. After a quick glance around he signaled for us to come in closer and then he whispered, “Run, while you still have the chance, I’m not joking, get the hell out now! Until you sign the final paperwork you’re not really in the military, you can still get away.” We all laughed nervously and figured he was messing with us, he frowned when he saw that we didn’t take him seriously and walked quickly away before anyone noticed him. The fact that none of us took his warning to heart turned out to be a sort of Cassandra Syndrome situation. Cassandra, for those of you who do not know, was destroyed by the gods when they gave her the gift of foresight, but cursed her to be believed by no one who heard her. She was given the ability to see into the future without being allowed the opportunity to change it.
I joined the Navy at the age of 17 and served as a Navy Corpsman with the Marines for five years. I did well while I was in, I learned quickly, traveled the world, had some amazing times, and advanced in rank and responsibility swiftly and efficiently. For some people the military is just not a good fit, but I was not one of those people, in fact I was often held up as an example of what a good Corpsman should be like. By all accounts I should have been on track to a long and fruitful career, but I was also completely miserable. I frequently said things like, “Have you ever had a bad day, every day for five years?” Or, “Being in the military is like going to work one day and then just staying there…forever.”. I value the interesting times and unique experiences that I gained thanks to the military, but I would never want to go back to that life.
I often think about that first day in boot camp whenever I begin a new endeavor. I think about how nervous I always get when I jump into something new and unknown and then I think about that recruit who tried to warn us about our future. I wonder how the world would be different if more people listened to the Cassandras out there. Not the doubters and nay-sayers, but rather the people who have been through what we are about to go through and who are constantly trying to warn us away from all of the possible tragic futures that they see for us.
We are built by our mistakes and bad times as much as by our victories and successes. It is impossible for us to be the people that we are without going through the difficulties of life. We learn from our mistakes and if we are always second guessing ourselves and avoiding anything that we may not enjoy or fail at then we can never really learn and grow. My time in the military may not have been a pleasant one, but it was an important one, it lead to everything that came after it. Cassandra may be able to point out the tragic future, but she can not show us what good may come from that tragedy, and even if she could we would never listen to her.
This blog is a new experience for me, it is a new thing in my life that I have decided to jump into in spite of not knowing exactly how it may turn out. I have things to say and a hope that some folks out there may be able to relate to and understand my message. I have a lot of nervousness about failure and about doing something completely wrong, but when I look to my possible future I am not thinking about Cassandra, I am thinking about the words on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “DON’T PANIC”. I try to remember the wisdom of a fictional guidebook and ignore the warnings of Cassandra. I grab my towel, take a deep breath, and take my leap of faith by jumping into the unknown feet first.
I hope that some of you folks out there will come along on this jump into the unknown with me and ignore Cassandra’s warnings. Just remember those two important words when you are trying to do something new and frightening…DON’T PANIC.