The Sacrifices I Made and the Interpretation of Success

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In my middle school English Language Arts class, my teacher made us write daily start-up journals and share our writings to celebrate and motivate the writers we one day hoped to become. Imagine a shy eighth grader standing almost five feet tall who rarely volunteered in class but was an above-average student being called on to share his writing aloud with the class. That shy guy was me. It was transparently clear that I was reluctant as the blood rushed to my face and tears welled in my eyes. I paused, paralyzed by this dilemma, and I did not utter a single word. It was not until my teacher, Ms. Rowls reassured me that our classroom was a safe space where I could trust her as well as my classmates. I took a deep breath, read my journal entry, and delivered my speech with all the force I could muster. Upon finishing, I looked up shyly and broke into a smile as my classmates erupted in cheers. That was a moment of success. It was a moment I still cherish today because I was able to triumph in a nurturing and supportive learning environment where meaningful relationships were ultimately established. It was this moment and so many other moments that mirrored these that helped me truly understand what success really was and is, in my humble opinion. Further, I have learned that success is a challenge because it requires sacrifice, involves failure, and is often a journey.

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You will have to make sacrifices to get what you want. Make no mistake, your success will cost you something.  Whether it is your time, activities, or something else, you will have to think about what you are willing to invest.  I invested six years in the United States Marine Corps because I wanted to serve my country. I sacrificed my time with family and those near and dear to me as I packed for 13 weeks of basic training and an additional seven months of Military Occupational Specialty in Pensacola, Florida while all my friends packed and departed for college.  For me, the sacrifice I made was well worth it because it allowed me to mature a lot faster and move up in rank. I have recently transitioned out of the United States Marine Corp but am currently serving in the United States National Guard. I feel that the investment is paying for itself because I am now able to afford my seat in a college classroom and further my education.

When looking at an individual’s perceived success, many don’t consider the failures that individual experienced.  I will never forget the day I tested out for my black belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). I had trained for months prior to the test. In fact, I had put my body and mind through so much physical and mental stress that at the end of each session, I would collapse onto the ground unable to move. One of the test techniques required me to perform an over the shoulder throw followed by an arm bar. The throw was fairly easy because I had learned it the previous belt.  However, the follow through to get to the arm bar defied natural body mechanics. MCMAP had one simple rule. If you don’t land the technique, the instructor would demonstrate it on you. Over and over again, my body was thrown to the ground, and my arms were bent in unnatural positions because I failed to complete the technique. I quickly grew tired of the pain and was ready to throw in the towel, but Marines don’t quit—plain and simple. So, I dug in deep, gathered all the strength I had left, and I finally performed a complete follow through of the technique. On test day, when it was my turn to demonstrate the move, it flowed like a powerful current spinning very quickly. To this day, my black belt hangs on my wall as a reminder that failed opportunities can lead to success if you learn from them, and a black belt is simply a white belt that never gave up.

Success does not come easy. It can be a journey that is filled with hardships and obstacles. My mind drifts back to an old, country dirt road and a silhouette of an aged southern gentleman from the “other side of the tracks” who had experienced this road in his rusted 1970 midnight blue Ford Pinto. If you ask him about traveling this dirt road, he would probably go into great details flawlessly recalling the event and describing the journey with a painful yet relieved look in his eyes. That look made me wish never to travel down that road my grandfather, affectionately known as PaPa, did but rather ponder what the experience may have entailed. It would be crazy to think that driving down that road was easy for PaPa.  Power steering wasn’t invented until the 1990’s, so there would have been constant jerking of the steering wheel to avoid potholes and jagged rocks. He would have made occasional stops to remove branches from the ground that a storm had blown down the night prior or to change a popped tire from a stray nail that had fallen off the bed of someone’s pickup. Success, in a way, is that old, dirt road, and PaPa is that rusted Ford Pinto—tired, over worked, limited. Most would be ready to give up and turn around. Yet, my Papa kept pushing forward despite the numerous roadblocks. He abandoned the urge to ask himself how many more stops or how many more times will these branches be removed until the destination is reached. I can only imagine the rest of Papa’s story as he neared the end of that old, country, dirt road. I am sure his gait shifted as he quickly exited his Pinto to remove one last branch. The look in his eyes most likely would have transitioned from pain and sorrow to relief and joy as he sped off the dirt road and onto the road paved with success.

The idea of success definitely motivates us, but the desire to achieve it can certainly be a challenge. We thrive not when we have attained it all, but when we still have more to do. There is no one size fits all answer to what success really is. However, success requires a great deal of sacrifice.  With success, failure is inevitable, but it should not discourage us. The journey can be endured if you remain steadfast.

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