Once in a lifetime
We often call opportunities that are huge and potentially life changing, once in a lifetime. While I agree with the spirit I’m hopeful that events like that occur at least a handful of times in a lifetime. That’s mostly because in hindsight we can always have done “better” whatever that looks like. I know I always have the nagging feeling that I could’ve done better no matter how well I do or how perfect things turn out, there’s always a flaw when you look close enough. Maybe I should just be kinder to myself, hell I think that advice applies to most/all of us. But at the end of the day, do we ever really go into these things giving it less than our all? Tomorrow is my once in a lifetime, but it may not be the last one.
What do you do when you accomplish a long held dream? Do you move the goalposts back some and keep going? Maybe you would like to hang it up and end on a high note? What if that dream was something that gave you purpose, would you still be purposeful afterward? (see what I did there?) We’re all guilty of doing it, but we’re not what we do. You’re not your job. I feel like I’m about to start a club where the first and second rules are that we can’t talk about it, but seriously you are far more than what you do. Existing is good enough, hell existing is hard enough without trying to cram yourself into a single tiny box and say I am XXX because that’s what I do for a living.
I’m a Marine. I wear that title pretty proudly even though the uniform doesn’t fit anymore, as we all know when you hang up clothing it shrinks! But that’s not WHO I am. At least I don’t feel that way anymore. I mean I’m proud(ish) to have served, but it’s more like an award than a thing that makes me who I am. I’m not even sure where I’m going with this… Okay, let’s say I hadn’t been hurt and did my 20ish years in the service. Would I be MORE of a Marine? Maybe, I guess. When we’re around a culture for that long it’s hard not to integrate it into our being. But then you retire, so what, does that mean you just gave up a giant part of you? I would like to think not.
It feels disjoint and I know that as I’m writing this, but I’m trying to connect two very real issues here. For nearly 15 years (or maybe over? I’m not even sure anymore I lost count) I had the singular idea to work with DARPA. When school-PI asked me a few years ago what I wanted to do once I graduated (so he could help me accomplish that), I told him the dream was always DARPA. He let me down somewhat gently explaining that the dream was probably too big and there were alternative routes to that goal, but it probably wouldn’t be something that happened outright after graduating.
Fifteen years, think about that for a second. My dream is nearly old enough to drive and that’s odd because I felt pretty driven already (sorry, I couldn’t help it. I can feel the collective eye roll from here, stop it). That’s a long time to have something be such a part of you. So you go along with that dream, and then what?
In what feels like a minute and a lifetime all at once (Okay like ~10 hours) I’ll be in a room with the people who drive DARPA, the program managers and all sorts of people who I have no business being next to, but I’m going to pack my imposter syndrome up for the day and shove it in my suitcase because I need this and I need to feel like I earned it, because I did. I’m trying very hard not to qualify that………… moving on.
It’s not exactly the poorly defined goal of “working with DARPA” or even working at DARPA, but it feels like that once in a lifetime event that could lead to some amazing things for me if it all went well. Then again, maybe I’m putting way too much significance on the event and for the project managers there it will just be another day at the office. In any case, here I am among the lucky few selected and vying for a chance to be one of the five giving a presentation on stage.
It’s close enough to my dream that I’m now wondering what to I do after? It’s weird being here after talking about it for so long. It’s like if someone told you they were going to quit their job and sail around the world, but just talked about it for a decade or two then one day out of the blue did it. So now I feel a bit lost and the day hasn’t even happened yet.
Which is probably why this feels so disjoint. On one hand I have this big event that I dreamt about for a decade and a half, but on the other it hasn’t actually occurred yet so I’m left wondering how I’ll do. It could be a total flop, or it may not be, and I’m not going to let myself think about what would happen if it went really well, I can’t do that to myself. The problem is that on either side of that coin things are going to be different. So what happens next?
Not so fun fact about me, I’ve always felt “too big” for myself. I’m a larger dude, not even fat exactly although after all the surgeries I’m not exactly at my lowest weight or even my happiest weight. I’m physically big though, my shoulders are wider than airplane seats (not a hard feat to accomplish I guess, especially these days), but I just feel like I take up a lot of space for some reason. It’s something I struggle with a lot, but I’m aware of it and I’ve learned to be nicer to myself about it. I still try to make myself smaller for people, both physically taking up less space and I try to box my personality up a bit, because it too feels TOO big. I’ve always tried to cram myself, pretty unsuccessfully into a tiny box to make those around me feel comfortable even if they never asked or wanted me to do that. My dreams and goals for myself have a similar problem, but not quite.
I’ve always dreamt big because the future was always better than the present. The present was painful and shitty. It hurt and for a very long time the only way to survive going through something like that was to stop focusing on the present and look at the wonderful things that could happen in the future. The future was always a magical place where you got the dream job, the dream home, the dream life. All your trauma was old news in the future, forgotten in some dusty closet. The future was always the place to be.
So I kept dreaming bigger and bigger to make it to the next day. Until one day I woke up and I was here, suddenly standing in front of the dream.
I guess the logical thing to do is dream bigger. Keep going and see what could happen. It’s worked thus far, why mess with the formula I guess? A lot of that depends on what happens tomorrow too though. Fifteen years feels like a long time, but it still doesn’t feel like enough time to prepare for this event and all the rather large (maybe TOO large) emotions I have about it. I want to make a good impression, but also a memorable one. What I want is for people to walk away from meeting me remembering me and hopefully having a favorable opinion about my talent and skills. It’s a lot of pressure for what amounts to just a few hours of a day. Fifteen years and I get a few hours, feels a little unfair doesn’t it?
Well everyone, this is it. The once in a lifetime that I hope won’t be the last in my lifetime. I can’t predict the future, but I’ve done all I could to plan for it. I hope that comes across tomorrow when I’m in that room with everyone else.
It’s been an interesting few years since I’ve started this little project and I think you all for taking the journey with me. I feel like I’ve had the chance to interact with so many wonderful people I wouldn’t have known existed otherwise. Tomorrow is for me, I scaled that mountain to get here. But it wouldn’t have happened without the surprisingly huge outpouring of support I have gotten over the years. So a small thank you, because even if I somehow did the work, it wouldn’t have happened without all of you. While tomorrow is for me, I hope you all know I’m doing it because of all of you. And it wouldn’t feel right going into this without acknowledging that. From the bottom of my heart and whatever is below that (the spleen I think), thank you.
No tree survives alone in the forest.