There are worse things.

Last week was one of the most transformational weeks of my entire life.

My first son is, undoubtedly, the catalyst for the person I have become over the last twenty years. It was his existence that drove me to get real with myself, become self-disciplined and make real progress in my professional life. In October, 2000 at 23 years old, in a week to week economy hotel room, I taught myself JavaScript with my 1 year old on my lap after double shifts at Rio Bravo Cantina for months, which led to my first job as a programmer in April, 2001. That was a socio-economic, quantum leap.

Since then it feels like I’ve been on a mission without any extended break. I’ve been running away from terminal failure as fast as I can, always feeling like it’s on my heels. Yes, I’ve also raised two wonderful children and developed invaluable relationships. But, I think I have worked through the weekend (at least) 70% of the time for the last 19 years. I always know that even if I don’t have the credentials (I almost never do as a college dropout) or the network or relevant experience, I can work harder than most anyone else and at least be competitive on hustle.

But every once and a while, it’s really important to stop working entirely to remember why the hell I’m actually working. Last week was one of those weeks.

Last week, my oldest son graduated from Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina and earned the title of United States Marine. Our family shut everything down and made the road trip to see him after not really being able to contact him for 13 weeks. It was 1000 times more impactful than I could have imagined.

After finally getting to spend time with him, to my surprise, I found that my 19 year old son became a man. Not a fully grown man, he’s got plenty more growing up to do, but he definitely grew up beyond anything I would have imagined in a short 3 months.

He grew up because he did something really, really difficult. Marine Boot Camp is more difficult than anything most people will do in their entire lives. Doing hard things changes you. And when I met my son again after 13 weeks last week, I met a changed person. And seeing him so changed, changed me.

He told us about the trials that his drill instructors put him and his platoon brothers through. Unreal. Severe weather, very little sleep, incredible tests of endurance. Just unreal. And what did he get out of it? Perspective. Now he knows, as he told me several times on the island… “there are worse things.”

Seeing him graduate made me reflect on almost 20 years of fatherhood. So many wonderful times, and so many incredibly difficult times. The hardest thing I have ever done is raise my boys.

But now one of my boys is a man. One helluva man. A man I am proud of and profoundly grateful for.

As I stand in awe of this brave man, and remember when he was a very small child in my lap, I remember my WHY. And it is deepened a thousand times over.

We have to take these breaks from the work to have the moments of clarity that deepen our WHY. Why are we doing this work? Really… deep down, what is the essential driving force? Sometimes a single meaningful break is everything you need to give you the fuel for the next twenty years. I’m pretty sure that’s what I just got.

I left Parris Island feeling as if a part of my life had ended and a new one had begun. One in which I could truly start to learn from my son. From this point forward, his experiences can truly enrich me. For starters, I’ve never graduated from Boot Camp.

I fancy myself someone who stays positive. But it’s been really gray and rainy in Nashville for the last 45 days or so. My son and I were hanging around the house on Sunday and I complained “man, it’s just been so gray this year.” His response? “There are worse things.”

You’re right, son. Thank you for the perspective.

So begins my life learning from my son.

Semper Fi.

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