Have you ever wanted something so bad……but know that everyone might think you have absolutely lost your mind? That’s where I am right now. Sadly (or not….HA!) that is NOT a foreign experience for me. I have never really considered myself to be gutsy or bold. I still don’t necessarily see myself that way. I am a true Taurus (if you believe in that sort of thing). Stubborn and bull-headed to a fault. But bold? No….emotional, dramatic, perhaps a bit shy. But not bold. However, as I look back on the last 20 years of my life, I see nothing but a string of bold decisions. Does boldness lead to regret? Of course! At least occasionally……however you never really know what can come of anything without taking a leap now and then!
Take my choice in college. I was from Delaware. Growing up, my family had moved around a bit, but we had been settled since I started sixth grade. Somehow, I found myself gravitating towards a small Christian college in Michigan. In high school, I was a good student. Honors and AP classes and decent grades were the standard, as well as a well-rounded athletic and extra-curricular activity background. While I would have considered myself a person of faith, my background was Catholic and it was not exactly to be expected for me to be drawn towards this small, private Christian college. Although I had never set foot in the state of Michigan, and never had an opportunity to even visit the school, I applied. Not only did I apply, as it turns out, I put all my eggs in one basket. I didn’t even bother applying to another school. It never dawned on me this was a risky move. People thought I was crazy. But I didn’t care. I knew it was the right move for me at the time. And I’ve never regretted it.
Fast forward a few years. I left college early in order to go home and to help take care of my equally bold grandmother. Since I was with her by day, I worked by night at a number of popular local restaurants and bars. I was just your average twenty-something, enjoying life. Then came the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As were so many, I was moved to service after that day. While military service had never for a moment been a consideration for me, I quickly knew I was going to enlist. I went through the entire process and didn’t even tell my family until after I had signed on the dotted line. At 25 years old, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. People thought I was crazy. But I didn’t care. I knew it was the right move for me at the time. And I’ve never regretted it.
A few short months later, on my 26th birthday as a matter of fact, at a dive bar just off base, I met a guy. Actually, my busty roommate met him. I couldn’t stand her. She was petite and had big breasts and a fake southern accent. And she wasn’t particularly nice. She had been in my sister division and lived in my berthing throughout bootcamp, so I had known her fairly intimately for a few months. A group of us had planned on going out for my birthday, but after spending a cold rainy day at the nearby theme park, everyone decided to cancel our party plans. Except for the one person I didn’t particularly care to go out with. She had this annoying way of getting guys to do anything and everything for her. It irked me severely. But here we were, on my first birthday away from home, and she was the only one. Ugh. So out we went. At the bar, she picked up this guy. I didn’t pay too much attention…..anyone drawn to her shallowness wasn’t worth much attention. I was cordial, but nothing more. Then at the end of the night, an amazing thing happened. This guy walked us “home” (aka the barracks). Once we got there, he quickly said goodnight and abruptly walked away. Instantly, my interest was peaked. I had never seen anyone just walk away from her. She was accustomed to having guys fawn over her…..buying her dinners, presents, etc. That moment made my night. And suddenly, this guy who I hadn’t paid much attention to seemed a great deal more interesting. But he was gone. I didn’t see him again for another month. Once I did, I asked him what happened that night. He told me he realized how shallow she was. We started dating and soon realized we could not compete with the draw we had towards each other. A mere two months later, he asked me to marry him. Without thinking, I said yes. Then we spent the next month arguing about how stupid that would be. For any of you who were ever in the military, you are familiar with this phenomena……boot camp love. It is where people who are in (or recently completed) boot camp inexplicably decide they have met the loves of their lives and must get married. In most cases, these folks are young and have never been away from home. B and I didn’t meet those standards. We were both 26. He was not a recent boot camp graduate……in fact, he had served four years. So after arguing about how irrational the decision to marry was for about a month, we realized we couldn’t fight it any longer. We both knew it was the right decision for us. I called and told my sister first (knowing my mother would be in shock). The day before we went to the Justice of the Peace, I called first my sister then my mom and told them I was getting married to the boyfriend they didn’t even know I had. The day after we were married, B transferred overseas to Italy after a brief visit to see his family. We spent the first year of our marriage on different continents, although I did get to visit him for two weeks at Christmas. Before we got married, we had discussed children and both knew we were ready. We placed it in God’s hands and figured with such a small window of opportunity during my Christmas visit, if I got pregnant, it was meant to be. Sure enough, I did . By pure fate/karma/kismet, I was lucky enough to be stationed with him in Italy. I arrived (quite pregnant) in July 2003. Our first child arrived three months later. And while the marriage ultimately ended in divorce, we had a solid 12 years and three beautiful daughters that neither of us would trade for the world. People thought we were crazy. But we didn’t care. We knew it was the right move for us at the time. And we never regretted it.
Fast forward nearly a decade and my Navy career had progressed impressively. I achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer (E-7) in only nine years, which is a rare feat. I loved my job and my career. But due to certain national and world circumstances at the time, I felt it might be prudent to leave the military behind. It was a difficult decision, but after planting the seed in B’s head, we started to get excited about what other options our lives might have in store. We considered a number of extreme options…….from joining the Navy in New Zealand to having a wild adventure in Alaska. Both of us had always felt drawn to Alaska, and the timing seemed exactly right. After a great deal of research, we decided it was Alaska or bust! I was going to leave the Navy just prior to my twelve year mark, despite a promising future. We knew the decision was right for us. My family – the same ones who were shocked/upset/angry when I surprised them and told them I had enlisted after the terrorist attacks – now couldn’t believe I was walking away. It didn’t make sense to them. They thought I was crazy. But I didn’t care. I knew it was the right move for me at the time. And I’ve never regretted it.
Clearly, a pattern has emerged. While I know that my decisions have not necessarily always been conventional, I’ve never found them to be outlandish. I don’t even necessarily consider them to be bold. Yet those around me tend to think I’m nuts. Why? I guess because I am willing to take risks. I will be honest. There have been plenty of times I have questioned my decisions in my life. But these big, life-changing decisions? I have never once questioned them. I trusted my gut. I feel like there is not enough of that in our society anymore. As Thomas Jefferson has said, “With great risk comes great reward.” Certainly I have experienced failures. But you must experience those to reap the ultimate benefits. I have made my decisions in recent years in an effort to provide not just a certain quality of life for my children, but also to help them learn a value set that is sadly lacking in American society these days. At the end of the day, while others may not understand it, I stand by my seemingly “crazy” decisions. I think outside of the box. I’m not ashamed of that. It saddens me that more people don’t have the guts to make big decisions like I have throughout my life . I don’t feel that I’m a maverick or a trend-setter. Honestly, I’m just living my life and enjoying every brilliant day with boldness. I don’t care. I know it is the right move for me at this time. And I’ll never regret it.