You’ve come a long way baby

You ever sit down and reflect on how far you’ve come in your life?  Probably not. Most of us tend to focus on where we haven’t gotten instead of where we have.

Well tonight I was reflecting on both. At this point in my life, I thought I’d own a sailboat and be sailing out on the open sea, going from port to port, doing odd jobs and teaching scuba diving. It’s been a plan of mine for almost 20 years and in the last 5 or so was brought to the forefront once more.

Well, I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s been almost 20 years since that dream was born and I haven’t gotten there yet.  But, that got me to thinking about where I was 20 years ago.

A little over 20 years ago I had quit college due to my dreams of a career in the Air Force being destroyed by my thyroid disorder. I had no backup plan and I decided that I was just wasting money in college trying to figure it out. So I quit. But shortly after that I found myself strung out on drugs and alcohol, living in a run down, piece of crap house under an overpass with homeless people sleeping on my porch. I was gaunt from malnourishment, lice infested, and absolutely broke beyond broke.  The only thing I owned, my car, didn’t even run. And my roommate robbed me.

A couple years after that I found myself training to be a river guide. I lived in my car. I worked 1-2 jobs late at night while I trained all day. All of my clothes and stuff were in the back and I slept in the front with the seat laid back. Other trainees would come and knock on my window to wake me up when it was time to get on the river. After I became a guide, I eventually moved up to living in a tent. Of course, that’s when I wasn’t found passed out on someone’s lawn or in some random other guide’s tent come morning.  I remember times walking through town after waking up next to… what was his name again?, wearing the same clothes I had on the night before, reeking of stale alcohol and cigarette and pot smoke, trying to find my car because I couldn’t remember where I parked it the night before.

Fun times. 🙂 And I don’t regret a moment of it.  Of course, other river guides will read that and say, “Yeah, me too.  And?”  Because the whole living in the car and living in a tent thing isn’t unusual among guides. Guides don’t make much money, that’s not why guides guide.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve wrestled with whether or not I made the right decision to quit guiding. Shortly after I did, I found myself declaring bankruptcy and in order to pay the bills I was working second jobs that are best not discussed in polite company. But I kept trying, determined to make this new career thing work. All the while thinking, “Did I do the right thing?”. I’ve missed guiding, but mostly I’ve missed my friends that I made while guiding. I’ve missed that closeness and camaraderie. Some of them have moved on, others still guide. And the net has allowed me to keep in closer contact with some of them. But, for 10 years I have missed them all. A lot. And I’ve constantly struggled with whether or not I should have quit guiding.

Tonight, I think I was finally able to answer that question. I miss my friends, yes. I miss the freedom, yes. I miss the tight-knit community, I miss the parties, I miss the candor, I miss midnight-moonlight river runs. And I miss the body I had. 😉  But, I don’t miss being broke all the time. I don’t miss the uncertainty of work. I don’t miss not knowing if I’m going to be able to pay my car payment this month. I don’t miss wondering if I’ll find work in the winter. I don’t miss scrounging change out of my car just so I can buy a .99 cent meal at Long John Silvers… with water to drink because I couldn’t afford a soda.  I don’t miss wondering what the hell I was going to do when I was too old to guide.

Tonight, as I sat in MY new, beautiful house – that cost more than what I would make guiding in 20 years – relaxing in MY bathtub with the jets massaging my body, drinking a glass Chenin Blanc, and listening to Vivaldi, I was forced to recognize just how far I’d come. And think, “Yes. I did make the right decision.”  I have a job I love with a company that’s growing and continually hiring despite the economy. I make good money, and I work with bunch of people I love working with. I bought a house I love, have a convertible in the garage, and in three years I’ll be debt free (except for the house). I also have all the scuba diving instructor work I could want, part time. Essentially, the part time instructor work pays for my scuba diving hobby. (as well as my riverboarding one, and hiking, etc).  I live right next to Skyline Drive which has some fantastic hiking.  In three years I’ll be buying that sailboat.

I’ve certainly come a long way baby. It’s been a long, fun, adventurous, great, and sometimes frightening journey. I wouldn’t trade a day of my past, no matter how difficult it may have been at times. Everything I’ve done has led me here. And while here may not be …. there yet, I’m very happy with here and now.  And I can see the path I’m building before me. I can see that dream I had 20 years ago coming to fruition.

So next time you’re thinking about how you’re not where you thought you’d be by now and feeling down about that, look instead to the past and how far you’ve come since starting.  Maybe you’ll see that you raised some great kids. Maybe you’ll see that  you worked hard and have a good pension or retirement. You might be surprised. Instead of feeling down, you should feel good about what you have accomplished… even if you’re not done yet.  😉  Focus on what you have done, instead of what you haven’t.  Then once you’ve lifted your spirits a bit and gained some perspective, plan for the things you haven’t done yet.  And do them. 🙂