What If?

Regret is a funny thing. You put things off for another day. You don’t try that new thing you’ve been scared to do yet in your heart you know you are going to regret not doing it.  Like reaching out to that old friend you haven’t seen in years, it seems so easy (and it is!) but you don’t do it. What is it that holds us back? Why can’t we just make that first step and fight the inertia?

Is it fear? It shouldn’t be. Most of the time there’s nothing to be afraid of. Or not much, at least. Usually we just don’t want to disrupt our current comfort. It’s comfortable to sit at home and not make plans. Despite knowing if you make the effort meet up with your friends to go to a show, or just hangout – it’s going to be worth it. When is it not? But you’re so comfortable with what you’re doing, you don’t want to ruin it. Why disrupt a perfectly good thing you got going on? Keep sitting there, watching YouTube videos and reading Wikipedia. There’s no fear there.

The biggest life decisions fall under that same pedigree. You may not receive direct pressure from your parents or peers, but there is societal pressure to stay within the comfortable path. Go to a good college, get a good, safe job in a nice office, save 10% of your money, find a nice partner, get married, buy a house, move to the suburbs, have a few kids or get a dog. And it goes on…

After witnessing 9/11 as a fourth-grader, I had the urge to serve my country. As long as I can remember, I’ve devoured books, movies, and documentaries about Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Berets… you name it. I loved that stuff. And not just the cool parts – jumping out of planes, shooting big guns, throwing grenades, explosions, etc. There was just a different feeling I got when I started thinking about the armed forces. There was a pride in serving the USA and fighting alongside fellow soliders and protecting my family and friends. I could feel myself doing it.

My junior year of high school, I was being recruited to play lacrosse in college. My skill level at the time was good not great. I was playing with some of the best lacrosse players in the country, so I was just good enough by association to receive letters from low-end DI and high-end DIII schools. I knew I had the innate talent and athletic ability to eventually play lacrosse at a top school, but my confidence and drive were sorely lacking in athletics as a sixteen year old. I had little confidence and was timid on the field.

The most gratifying recruiting letter I received from was West Point… Army. They were always considered one of the premier lacrosse schools and were coming off a season in which they were 1st in the Patriot League. Until then, I assumed I would play lacrosse at a small Catholic D1 school like Siena, Fairfield or Holy Cross – another plugged-in assumption adhered by the people around me. Just follow the steps, right?

When I opened the letter from Joe Alberici, the Head Coach of Army, asking if I was interested in visiting the school I was ecstatic to visit the heralded West Point. Built right alongside the Hudson River, I had read about it so many times in the books I read growing up. Eisenhower, Patton, Edgar Allen Poe, Mike Krzyzewski, and Buzz Aldrin all graduated from West Point. My favorite fictional character Jack Reacher even attended there.

My mom nixed it immediately. There was no way she was letting her son even think of joining the military. I thought I could at least visit, but my mom was adamant that would not be happening. I was disappointed but then convinced myself she was right. “What was I thinking? Me, in the Army? No shot! That’s five years of service at a minimum. I’ll just go to a four-year college where I can have fun, meet girls, play some lacrosse, get a degree in business  and move to Manhattan like I’m supposed to.” 

I never visited West Point Academy. My senior year we were scheduled to play a charity tournament game against a rival school at West Point. I thought, “This is perfect.” This is my ‘in’ to write back to the coach and get a tour, unbenownst to my mother. However, a month before the game was scheduled to be played, it was moved to a different location due to security precautions. I was crushed, but felt a sense of relief that it wasn’t on me. I passed the blame onto the circumstances. It was an easy out and I didn’t have to make the hard decision and go against the advice or assumptions of others. But isn’t that what all important life decisions involve in their own way? Their has to be some doubt, some fear involved in order to really feel a genuine happiness in your actions.

The pull to join the military has always been in me but I thought if I went through with it I would immediately regret it. I figured as soon as I was thrust into PT exercises with some commando screaming in my face, I’d think “Why didn’t I just go to a nice university and party my ass off?” Which is exactly what I did.

I’ll never say I “regret” anything because I wouldn’t be where I am in life right now. I appreciate all the choices I’ve made right or wrong because they’ve brought me to a great place in life. But if I were asked to play a game of “What if?” right at the top of the list would be:

  • What if I went on that visit to West Point?
  • What if I joined the military?

Why didn’t I join? Why don’t you do anything in life? Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what may happen to you, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of what other people may think. That’s what stops us so often. It’s time to crush that fear and face it head on. Stop saying “What if?”

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