Like most introspective people, I’m not really sure if I’m capable of ever being truly content. I’m at my very best, mentally and emotionally, when I’m entirely invested in accomplishing a goal, reaching an objective or completing a project. It’s because of that need for accomplishment that I’ve accumulated what some might call an impressive list of accolades over the years, both athletically and academically. In many ways, I’ve spent the past three decades and change working to build a sort of personal resume, in hopes someone might look upon it and nod their head, deeming me worthy (of something?) in such a way that might finally give me some sense of peace.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a rough household. Maybe it’s because I was a middle child. Hell, maybe it’s just how I’m wired – but no matter what the self-help section of your local bookstore may tell you, I credit my inherent dislike of self for much of the limited success I’ve enjoyed over the years. The problem with that mindset, however, is that it means my happiness comes from the hunt, not from the feast that follows. After each accomplishment, I’m not filled with joy; I’m met with this looming sense of dread – as my inner demons chuckle and whisper, “now what?”
That drive suited me well in the Marine Corps. The hunt for the next paygrade gave me a continuous reason to work my ass off, but in keeping with my modus operandi, I never really felt like celebrating after I had a new chevron pinned to my collar. I’d smile, high-five my friends and hug my wife, but I’d go home that night and begin looking up the promotion requirements for the next stripe, because I’d be nothing without the chase.
After I left the Marine Corps and enrolled in college, I approached my education in the same manner. My GPA, rather than my paygrade, became a reflection of my worth, and a pursuit worthy of my passion. I enrolled in six courses at a time, took classes through summer and winter breaks, and in many ways, the immense amount of pressure I put on myself gave me solace. In two and a half years, I graduated from Framingham State University summa cum laude, and while my friends and family applauded my efforts, I once again found myself lost… in search of a new objective.
I landed myself a great job that paid well and tried to settle into this new form of office life – where, for all intents and purposes, I was supposed to do the same job for the next decade or two, slowly climbing my way up the managerial ladder so, from my vantage point in the corner office of a beautiful facility in Marlborough, Massachusetts, I could build the white-picket fence life I figured we’re all eventually destined for. There were no more clear objectives, no tasks to check off, just the constant, unending monotony of new hire checklists, interpersonal disputes, meeting after meeting after meeting. If I did a great job, it didn’t matter, the same problems would arise tomorrow. If I did a bad job, it didn’t matter, the same problems would arise tomorrow.
I’ve traveled the world, raced exotic cars cross-country, crashed other people’s yachts and wrestled alligators. I’m a member of a handful of honors societies, been awarded for my writing, and have three college diplomas hanging on my office wall.
I’ve played rugby in stadiums, won football championships in the Marine Corps, fought in cages and climbed mountains. I’ve married the love of my life, landed my dream job, and now, have a beautiful baby daughter after years of uncertainty that we’d ever be able to conceive. In the eyes of some, I’ve accomplished enough for two life times, but as I sit here in the middle of the night, looking at my sleeping daughter – I can’t help but feel like I’ve accomplished nothing at all.
And I’m glad.
This little girl deserves a driven father – one that’ll keep fighting to improve her standard of living, her foothold in this world full of uncertainty and chaos. She deserves to have a man in her life who isn’t afraid to jump in that alligator pit, that respects the importance of service, sacrifice, and honoring your nation. She deserves a dad that will always choose to bleed so others don’t have to. This little girl deserves to have a father she can be proud of.
I may feel empty after my victories, but it’s that emptiness that drives me. I may not like myself sometimes, but I love her. I may never be enough, but I’ll always strive to be.
For the first time in my life, I’m grateful for that looming sense of dread that washes over me each time I achieve my goals. I don’t want to be content. I want to be a dad.
Images courtesy of the author