He never guessed that following his father’s wishes would set him up for the life he loved best – being an entrepreneur.
My high school graduation experience culminated in me losing my long hair and getting paid to get screamed at all summer.
To be honest, I didn’t choose the military on my own.
My father told me that he wasn’t paying for my university and I would have to get a job. Since he was an officer in the military he suggested I apply for the Regular Officer Training Program where you get your education paid for in exchange for four years of service. Despite being an honor student it never occurred to me that he might have been bluffing. That is a wisdom trait I learned later.
It also never occurred to me to flunk out on the tests to get in. So I humored him and applied and did all the entry tests.
Then I got accepted.
So it was off to Basic Officer Training.
I was a shy, introverted, academic guy with a small close group of friends. Basic training was a culture shock. There are plenty of movies that show what it is like. You don’t get to eat popcorn when you are in it.
But for me it was an awakening. Not of a latent desire to play the military role, but rather an awakening of my true potential.
It wasn’t a miracle change. I was still shy (it took quite a few more years to get past that) and introverted (I still am.)
But it taught me some things about myself that changed me forever.
I would like to say I was a natural. But I wasn’t. I hated pretty much everything about it.
Maybe it was stubbornness. But no matter what they threw at me I kept going.
About half-way through the summer, I had injured my knee, I lost all the skin between two of my toes due to athlete’s foot, and had a few regular blisters to boot. We had been up for about 40 hours with maybe an hour of sleep snuck in.
We were on our second nighttime forced march. Packs, rifles and helmet. I also learned that you can actually fall asleep when you are walking without falling over.
One guy quit; just basically refused to keep walking. They picked him up in the medical truck and he was done.
I decided I would not be like that. They could kick me out or flunk me, or I could do a face plant; but I was not going to quit. So I kept walking, tripping over tree roots in the dark with pain shooting up my toes, foot and knee.
I learned that people can keep going even when things are crappy if they so choose. More than you think is possible sometimes.
This comes in handy as an entrepreneur.
Dealing with Stress
Let’s face it. Basic Officer Training is there to see if you will quit and how you will perform under stress.
Since they don’t actually shoot at you to simulate real combat, they do other things to play with your mind. They deprive you of sleep and create artificial stress and yes, they harass you constantly.
I remember being under my bed tightening the sheets for inspection the next day and the next moment I was waking up look at the bottom of my bed while everyone was running around getting ready for the morning physical training.
Sleeping under the bed was a total accident. I was not ready for the inspection and barely made it out of the door in time for the run.
After I got back with no time for breakfast, I was rushing around and getting my kit ready, but didn’t get the laces back into one pair of shoes.
Then it was time to get on the line.
The sergeant inspecting my kit actually found very few problems. He got to the shoe display and had moved on. I breathed sigh of mental relief.
Then he went back to the shoes and stared for what seemed like an eternity. I went from great inspection to him throwing my shoes across the room and about 15 faults and trashing my kit before he stormed off to the next victim.
That evening I got called into the platoon officer’s office and to put it mildly, told I was the worst excuse for a recruit in the entire platoon and if I didn’t pull out a miracle, I would be doomed in some spectacular fashion. Time heals all pain.
Just like with my father, I was too tired and caught up in the show to realize that it is just all part of the game. So the stress was very real.
Not cracking under stress is mighty handy as an entrepreneur.
The Surprise Skill – A Death Defying Sense a Humor
Recruit training would not be complete without a few runs through the obstacle course.
There were lots of obstacles designed to see if you had a fear of heights or close spaces, etc.
It was a rather mundane obstacle where I learned something else; a few things actually.
It was a 4 foot high wooden rail you had to spring over into a mud puddle.
The platoon warrant officer was standing there, off slightly to the side in his immaculate uniform and yelling at everyone to make a big jump off the fence and a big splash. Getting muddy was part of the experience.
I still have no idea why I did it.
I angled my splash so that it flew all over the warrant officer in his perfectly pressed and totally clean uniform. The wall of mud was still flying through the air as I realized what I had impulsively done and booted it to the next obstacle.
I was standing there waiting for my turn when I heard him whisper in my ear “Wagner, I know you did that on purpose. I am going to get you. You won’t know when or where but I am going to get you big time.”
I can still see the splatters of mud on his face and all down his uniform.
I learned that I have a death and risk defying sense of humor that bubbles out and tries to kill me when I least expect it.
Entrepreneurs need to be able to take risks, fail and look in the mirror and still laugh.
And the warrant officer never did get even. I lived in quiet fear for a few days before it receded into the back of my mind. Maybe that was getting even!
I think he was totally impressed that the shy introverted kid out of high school had the guts to try something nuts like that.
Who we are now is who we were back then, plus the cumulative experiences we’ve had. I hope I have picked up some wisdom since.
I made it through Basic Officer Training, followed by a stint as an officer in the military and some corporate jobs. But at my core I’m an entrepreneur. After 14 years in business, I am still a success as an entrepreneur because of what I learned about myself way back then.
Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army Europe Images