On the plywood wall of my 7x7 'room' hangs my knee brace. I don't like my knee brace because it is a symbol of weakness. Or at least I used to tell myself that it was. That knee brace, along with my newly bum knee, was bringing me down. As long as I had a bum knee and an outward symbol of brokeness (knee brace), I was useless. But today I no longer feel that way.
Let's back track a few years to 2010. I was at the pinnacle of my professional and physical life, serving as the sniper section leader in a reconnaissance platoon during our year-long field trip to Afghanistan. At 33 years old, I was physically in the best shape of my life. Our platoon was highly successful in a military sense, just plain winning our little piece of the Global War On Terror. I had an identity, energy, and a sense of accomplishment. Little did I know that was about to change.
At the end of the deployment, I made the hard decision to leave the military after 14 years. It just didn't feel right any longer. After leaving the Army, I decided to work as a contractor in Baghdad. Training was going well until I decided to blow my knee out during the sniper course. I had no idea how bad it was, but I decided to drive on and limp my way to graduation. A few weeks later I was in Baghdad and my knee wasn't getting any better. After 8 1/2 months in Baghdad, I decided to take leave and get my knee checked out.
The doctor scoped my knee, cleaned up the loose cartilage under my kneecap and noticed that my ACL was loose. This explained why my knee was extremely unstable and felt like it was going to dislocate with every step. It was explained to me that since the ACL was not torn, it was best to leave it be and wear a brace. Oh, and by the way, you need to find a new line of work because the knee will never be 100% again, Thai.
I began to feel despair and hopelessness set in. And it took hold of me fast. What was I going to do? I don't have a piece of paper reflecting the fact that I had enough discipline to show up to class for four years! All I know how to do is lead Soldiers in combat and shoot a rifle long range! I began to dull these negative feelings by drinking too much, I felt worthless, and was basically a miserable person inside and out. The hole I dug for myself seemed way too high to climb out of.
Fast forward a few months and something awesome happened - I got a job interview! Through a chain of events and some networking, a good friend of mine tipped me off to a technology company I might be interested in. I sent in my resume and received an email the next day scheduling me for an interview. I didn't have much hope to pass the interview, being that the job was technical in nature and completely different from what I used to do. USED to do. That is key.
I got the job. In about a month I was going to Afghanistan, and I was happy that I was able to provide for my family again. I still feared failure because I was leaving my comfort zone job-wise. However, I was earning a paycheck and realizing that learning something new was completely awesome! Mastery of the Infantry and Sniper arts had been accomplished and I was stagnant in the Army, but now I am exposed to a completely new field of work! And furthermore, I'm pretty darn good at it.
The lesson I learned during this transitionary period in my life is that simply because my knee was damaged, the real me is not broken. I thought I was, but I'm not. The Army and everything I did was not the real me, it was simply what I did. It was hard to let go of my Army identity and stop feeling sorry for myself. I needed to move on and grow, and so far it's been an awesome experience. I keep learning, growing, and being a better person at peace with the path that lies ahead. Though I can never see more than 200 meters ahead into the future, I find myself excited by the unknown. Instead of worrying about money and the future, I just let it manifest. Slowly but surely, I am letting go of the control I craved in my life and just letting The Plan play out as it is supposed to. This shift in perspective makes all the difference in the world. I am finding out who the real me is.
Today I am happier with my life than I have been in a VERY long time. I see things differently. Hardships and adversities are no longer complete road blocks stopping me from reaching my goals, but rather a lesson to be learned and perhaps a detour to where I am supposed to eventually end up in life. And those hardships and adversities are much easier to negotiate these days.