NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Every Airman has a story, what is your story? Some stories are so compelling and powerful they can change your life. Maybe your story and life experiences can change someone else’s life.
On Jan. 21, 2016, Nellis Air Force Base is sponsoring a Storytellers event where you can hear real Airmen telling real stories. Storytellers is designed to encourage Airmen to be more resilient in life. Storytellers events are held at various military bases to encourage Airmen that all things are possible through perseverance and positive thinking. One story can change your life.
I am often reminded of a situation that changed my life 45 years ago. I was at the crossroads of my life; I didn’t have the courage to turn right or left — I was stuck in life.
Aristotle once stated, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”
The last stanza in Robert Frost’s poem set the stage for my story: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. And be one traveler, long I stood and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
At the age of 6, my house burnt down; my brother died when I was 7; my mother died when I was 8; and when I was 9, my father abandoned me.
My grandmother assumed parental custody and raised me to the best of her ability. We lived in poverty and hardship in an old wooden house; the house had no bathroom, no running water, and no air conditioning or heat. I lived in these conditions for 17 years. I had no healthcare or dental plan.
I was carrying a lot of baggage.
Why is this important for you to know? My story is to let you know that it is not where you are but where you are going. I was a farmhand, but that was not my destiny.
You never know where your turning point in life lies. My turning point was at the crossroads, which was on the back of a rusty, beat-up truck.
At the age 17, I was riding on the back of the truck traveling to another tobacco farm. As I sat on the back of the truck, I saw a 56-year-old man sitting beside me, weary and gazing into space. It appeared as if his “gaze” was laced with helplessness and hopelessness. Maybe he was wondering where did his years go?
He never owned a farm; he was a 50-year farmhand veteran. He never received any medals or awards, just brittle hands and wrinkled skin to show for his years of service as a farmhand. He was not the only person on the truck that was traveling the farmhand road.
At that moment, I was at the crossroads of life, and I decided to travel the road less traveled. I decided to go to college because I was terrified of that empty and eerie gaze that the old man had. No one on the truck had gone to college; most of them had never graduated from high school.
At that moment I could have been pitiful or powerful in my situation; I chose the latter.
Very few family members encouraged me to go to college — farming and working odd jobs was the way of life. I was on the truck thinking what to do; I am poor and didn’t have parents to help me in my impotent situation.
I decided to travel a road that my family and friends were not traveling. I found the courage to move forward and travel the road less traveled, which I am grateful for because it has made all the difference.
There are three things I want you to remember from my story.
First, you must make a decision. Life is about making decisions, not about your present state but your end state. I grew up parentless and in poverty, but I refused to allow my situation dictate my future. Regardless of your situation, find the courage to be innovative and dare to be different. Don’t look for a road with a bunch of friends or even family members because that may not be your destiny. If you fail to make decisions, your life can become stagnated with complacency and boredom. Some people say life has dealt them a bad hand, but life allows for the opportunity to make the best out of any situation.
Second, making a decision is an action. Taking that first step makes all the difference. Indecisiveness has the tendency to hold one’s destiny hostage. You can’t rehearse life, you have to live it. Choose a road, face your challenges and disappointments, and don’t allow your circumstances to become your character. You will make some mistakes along the way, but mistakes can be transformed into triumph.
Third, don’t be afraid to travel. Fear will paralyze your dreams and aspirations. Don’t allow fear to control your life — you control your life. Not knowing what is down the road is daunting. Fear is the drum major for disappointment. An anonymous person once said, “Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage and confidence in doing.” Being resilient is about overcoming our fears and challenges.
In conclusion, people’s stories and experiences can help us make smart decisions that will help us through challenging times. Again, I shared my story to show you your life’s path depends on the choices you make. If you stumble on your journey, get up and continue to move forward. Falling is not a problem, staying down is a problem. If your home life is dysfunctional, you have a choice to take control and change it.
Be courageous, powerful and travel the road of innovation. Remember, it is not where you are, it is about where you are going. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
What is your story?