I was thinking the other day about life when I was in the Marine Corps, and despite all the restrictions that were imposed and the fuck fuck games, I have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever been as free as I was at that point in my life.
This is the United States Marine Corps we’re talking about here. I almost want to douse my head in cold water to see if I’m delirious after writing that, but it is true. I was freer as a Marine than I ever was as a civilian. How can I believe that?
Well, let’s think about it:
- All of my decisions about where to live were made for me.
- I didn’t need to worry about paying the rent or the mortgage.
- I had very little debt and a steady flow of income.
- All of my medical expenses were covered.
- I never had to worry about what to wear.
- I got to travel to places that most people in the western world would never have the chance to go.
- My goal in my job was simple: follow the commander’s intent.
- I was never lonely, and I truly valued the people I was around.
- I never had to worry about what to make for dinner.
- Above all, I had a purpose that brought meaning to my life.
It’s funny because, at the time, I thought of myself being in a prison. But I think about my life today in comparison, and I think about things that have occupied my time since being in the civilian world, and I cannot say that I’m any more free than I was while I was in uniform.
While I was in the Marine Corps, my free time was spent enjoying the things I did. Heading out to the beach with friends during weekend liberty at Camp Lejeune, exploring the island or learning how to scuba dive in Okinawa, and sampling fine cuisine at the Ritz Hotel in Manama Bahrain. During the week, when we weren’t in the field, my evenings were spent in the gym or chilling with a good book. And I did it all on an enlisted man’s salary while living a simple barracks life.
Life in the civilian world was different when I first returned to it. Rather than doing things I was interested in, I found myself doing things that other people wanted me to do. My job became a status symbol rather than a vocation. I did my job so I could earn money, and I earned money so that I could buy things, and I bought things so that I could show other people that I could buy things. In the Marine Corps, we sat together during our downtime and told jokes and stories. In the civilian world, everyone at my job took breaks separately. In the Marine Corps, weekend liberty was a gift that we truly appreciated and we tried to pack as much as we could into a weekend trip. In the civilian world, weekends were something I took for granted, often doing nothing but lying on my couch and watching television.
What was it about life in the Marine Corps that made me feel freer then than I did as a civilian? In sum, life was more simple. As the old poster says, there was no promise of a rose garden. The only thing you needed to impress anyone with was in the way you did your job. The only status symbol was rank, and that was determined by the amount of time you’d spent in service and on whether or not you were meeting expectations. My greatest pleasures came from the simple things: a good meal, a good conversation with my friends, or a good shower after coming back from the field.
In the civilian world, we impress people with what we own. Pleasure is expected to be given regularly on a daily basis. We fill our homes with things we don’t need to take us out of the mundane monotony of everyday life, and good conversations seem to be rare even with those we care about the most.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a capitalist through and through. I believe that people should be rewarded for their efforts, and I believe in business and entrepreneurship. But we have to ask ourselves, why are we working so hard to get money? Is it so we can be happier, or is it so we can buy more things? Does buying more things bring us happiness?
I know the answer to that last question is a resounding no, and I believe that the quest for money is actually a quest for freedom. But how much money will set us free?
Three and a half years ago, I was living out of my car during a really bad financial struggle. I had no income, no savings, and no material objects. It was during this period that I started my first successful business, and when I’d earned enough money to move out of my car and into a rented room with nothing more than a bed and a closet, that rented room was a palace to me. I wasn’t a millionaire or even middle class, but that was the only other time in my life when I felt as free as I did in the Marine Corps.
My point is not to encourage you to go homeless or to give up anything you currently own. Nor am I saying that you can never be as happy as you were in the military. But I do think that we could all be happier if we simplified our lives in the following ways:
- Don’t seek things, seek experiences. One of the big reasons we want things in the first place is so that we can have more experiences, but we forget that some of the best experiences are often earned without money or things. You do not need millions of dollars to get out and experience life right now, you just need the will to create those experiences and the wherewithal to appreciate them as they are happening. Experiences are what help you to create your story, of which, you are the author. Don’t let a focus on money or material objects cause you to have writers’ block.
- Continue your path to growth, but remember to appreciate the things you do have. If you are reading this on a smartphone, a laptop, or even a 1974 Commodore Desktop, you are lucky. You are blessed to live in a time where you have access to information. You probably have running water, and you’ll probably have a bed to sleep in tonight. There are many people around this world who are not lucky enough to have any of this. Each day, remember to think about what you are grateful for in your life and it will help you to appreciate life itself by focusing on what is important.
- Understand what’s important and stay focused on it. It’s so easy to get caught up in things that appear urgent but that do not add up to the larger mission. What’s important are your goals, your happiness, your health, and your family. Focus on these first and foremost, especially the first three, for without your personal growth in achieving goals, your happiness, and your health your family life will suffer. Make each of these priorities in your life.
- Find a way to serve others. Making money is important, but money comes to those who bring value to the world. Don’t get caught up in the quest for money. Rather focus on how you can create value, and from that value, money will come back to you. Additionally, serving others will give you a sense of purpose that goes beyond money. This is what will get you up out of bed in the morning.
- These are just a few things you can do. Honestly, one could write an entire book on this subject and many have, but this is a good start.
To those of you who are still in the military, appreciate what you have now. You have one of the greatest gifts of all: youth. You may not feel like it, but you could be freer now than you know.
To those of you whose time has passed, understand that it is never too late to find meaning in this life. Sometimes all that is required is to get rid of the meaningless and to focus on what’s important.
So here’s my question to you: what is in your life now that is bringing you down? What could you eliminate in order to focus on what’s important?