Giving Up On My Dream of Being a Soldier

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So, basically, I’ve decided that I need to reassess how important my childhood dream of becoming a jet fighter pilot is to my future happiness. I normally do not advocate giving up on your dreams. However, what happens when you realize that living out your dreams in the current world will require you do things you don’t want to get involved in? Does it mean your dream was misinformed originally, or that your understanding of what it means has changed?

What Does the Military Mean to Me?

To me, the military was the ultimate test of a person’s abilities. You are put in dangerous, life-or-death situations, where other people rely on you to make split-second decisions under extreme stress and frequently while operating advanced technology. It is not for the light of heart, weak of mind, or frail of body. You have to be a shining specimen of humanity to thrive in those situations. Or so went my beliefs.

Because I’ve always sought to test myself in an attempt to continue growing, I felt that I would have to one day meet the challenge posed by the military.

Soldiers are also undeniably capable individuals. They know how to do a lot of things, and have a wide range of experiences. That concept - of being able to handle any situation - was very appealing to me, and still is. The army line of “An Army of One,” resonated with me. I have always wanted to be self-sufficient.

It’s not that I was romanticizing the military, though I probably was at some point. I know a number of soldiers personally who have shared their experiences with me, so I feel my view is fairly accurate. I know it’s not all glory and adventure. Learning to deal with the harshest, least glorious aspects of that life would make me a better person too.

Turning Away from the Dream

Implicit in my view of the military is the question, “Can you cut it? Are you good enough? Or are you too weak and afraid to step up to the challenge?”

When I phrased things that way, it seemed to me that joining the military simply to answer those questions was childish, and more about my pride than a real desire to serve my country or defend something I believed in. I shouldn’t feel the need to test myself constantly out of insecurity. Just because a potential challenge exists doesn’t mean I ought to go out and see if I stack up, especially if I don’t agree with the premise. If there were a hot dog eating contest, do I need to see if I can win that too, knowing how unhealthy hot dogs are? Do I need to see if I can be a vegan just because some people are, even if I don’t believe it is the best diet for me? If I don't like riding bicycles or swimming, do I really need to win a triathlon? Should I go out and try to be good at every competition or test out there, simply because it exists? Hopefully, the answer is obvious: no.

However, refusing to play a game always leaves others wondering if you were just afraid you’d lose. Frequently, that doubt can infect your own mind and make you question your own reasons, which is what has been happening to me lately.

Looking for Other Inspiration

Living up to tests and challenges has been the driving force in many things I’ve gotten good at. Did I have what it took to be an Eagle Scout, a pilot, a competitive CrossFitter, a gymnast, a writer, a guitarist? Proving myself has often been the inspiration that drove me to learn new skills, but it has never gotten me past ‘good enough’ to ‘truly great’. If I’m not going to subscribe to constantly putting myself the test, what will motivate me? Will I be content to just sit on my laurels and never try for greatness anymore?

The only way I managed to get past 'good enough' to 'truly great' (if I can even claim to be great at anything) is through genuine interest and passion, a playful enthusiasm that doesn't care about living up to tests and challenges.

In terms of the military experience, you don’t have to be a soldier to be an effective leader in life-or-death situations. Our mythic heritage is full of non-soldier leaders. Most action heroes are not soldiers. Batman was not a soldier (you knew that was coming). Oddly, the stereotypical American patriots and frontier warriors were not soldiers either; they were distinctly disobedient, lone wolves who fought their own fights on their own terms. The martial artists I admire were not soldiers. It was not the military that made these people great.

Presumably, if you’re going to achieve your potential, you’ll do it in or out of the military. If you’re not going to achieve your potential, joining the military won’t suddenly change that either.

It seems silly, but I need to believe that a man can become a complete individual without the military experience. I need to see examples of supremely capable men, both mentally acute and physically dangerous, who are not and never were soldiers. This is because, in my “plan-for-my-life”, I had put military service as one of the key shapers of my character: I would go to college, then join the military after a few years, and that would lay all the groundwork for my eventual rise to complete and comprehensive growth. It was a child’s plan, but it has been there in my subconscious for so long that I have come to see it as unavoidable.

By turning away from the military, am I giving up on being complete and potent? Am I turning my back on a desire to be the absolute best I can be?

Of course, the answer is no. You can be the best person possible without being a soldier. But would I be able to motivate myself without the pressures and direction of a military life?

I still don’t have the answers to many of these questions. All I know is that I won’t be signing up for the service any time soon, and that I will be setting my own path to self-improvement, along lines that I deem most important. I also know that I cannot keep testing myself just for the sake of proving myself capable. Tests can be assessments, but they cannot be crutches to my ego. The need to rise to every challenge, whether I have to or not, just for the sake of calling someone’s dare, does not seem like a healthy way to live.

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