History Lesson

This has certainly been an interesting time in my life. The last four months – heck, the last sixteen months – have been a complete blur. That is business school after all. That’s what everyone told me would happen. The last sixteen months have been a whirlwind of classes, exams, social events, and conferences. It has been full of sickness (thankfully not norovirus), weakness, laughter, stress, exhilaration and frustration. I even became a New Yorker for a summer.

Through it all, I have managed to stay afloat, although each semester it seems to get tougher. I remember back in September it was especially harrowing, so much so that I wondered how I would ever make it to winter break. Well, here I am – battered, bloodied, but otherwise unscathed.

When I was home for Thanksgiving I was almost through the madness, but faced another two weeks of final exams, papers and presentations. Thankfully, I still took some time to read for fun. I am a huge history buff, especially the Civil War. My mom brought down a few books I had on the subject that were collecting dust on a bookshelf. They provided a welcome escape.

One book was on the battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. It was 350 pages, but I flew through the book in no time. It was fascinating to think that the Union army under Ulysses S. Grant could be caught so off-guard by the Rebels. The situation got so bad on the first day of battle that they were nearly driven into the Tennessee River and forced to surrender.

What Grant did next helped motivate me to think of my challenges in a new light. His army was routed on the first day, but it was not defeated. There is no question he shares a lot of the blame for being unprepared in the first place, but his reaction to his circumstances helped change the face of the battle, and ultimately the war. Instead of retreating across the Tennessee as his subordinates pleaded, he decided to fight back and surprise the enemy the next morning (it’s always an easier decision when you receive overnight reinforcements).

The Federals surprised the Confederates and drove them out of all the land they conquered the day before. By the end of Day 2, they had recovered all their lost camps. The cost? Over 23,000 casualties. The Battle of Shiloh was vicious, but it showed the power of keeping cool when everything is going wrong, and of taking bold risks when the situation dictates prudence.

Now, I would not equate what I am going through to war, not in the least. But it is a struggle. Reading about the battle, I almost felt like I was being pushed relentlessly back by adversity to the brink of failure. I had no choice but to respond. I needed to complete my classes. I needed to network and find a job. Failure is not an option for me. I had to push back, and thankfully I was able to. Now I am on break and can rest for a month, although the struggle is far from over.

That’s not to say the last four months have been all sour grapes. In fact, this period of turmoil has been instrumental in forcing me to think about what I really want to do in life. Not what types of jobs I should be getting with an MBA, but what I really want to do. A lot of the jobs posted I haven’t been able to get my heart into, even though they are great positions. Through my circumstances, I have come to learn and to appreciate that I am on the road less traveled, as Robert Frost would say. I have been given quite a unique hand in life. Thankfully it could be much worse, but my disease is an unrelenting nuisance.

Because this condition is so rare, oftentimes I feel like I am alone. I do my best to explain my situation to others, but I still feel like there is a disconnect that can only be bridged by having someone walk in my shoes, and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. The only compass I can rely on is the one inside of me. There is no blueprint for how I should live my life with this disease. Only anecdotes.

Although different, I have come to realize that although my circumstances have their disadvantages, they also have their advantages. My disease has lit a fire in me to make a difference in the world. I could easily see myself, without this disease, living a safe, comfortable life. I probably wouldn’t have even gone to grad school. There is nothing wrong with a safe, comfortable life – that is a blessing to have in this day and age. But there is something hard-wired into me that seeks a different life. It’s like I have this burning desire to do something no one else has done. I guess that makes me an entrepreneur, but I don’t feel like I am one in the traditional sense. At the end of the day I want to spend my time doing something that has a true, tangible impact on people’s lives, using my creativity to tell stories and better the lives of those who are in need of inspiration.

How this will manifest itself in my life I have no idea. Should I be a speaker? A writer? All/none of the above? I don’t know yet. I am letting the process play out while being proactive. I have my first speaking engagement in February. If it works out, it may lead to many more, and I may have my answer. Whatever the answer ultimately is, I will be comfortable with it. Long ago I stopped questioning my purpose in life, as the dots seem to be connecting every time I look back. I just have to be patient, and as I’ve said before, trust the journey will take me someplace worthwhile.

And hey, if the road gets bumpy, it never hurts to be reminded that when you are up against a river, you still have what it takes to fight your way back.

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