I recently read the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. I highly recommend it. The overarching message, at least the one I garnered from it, was that every person grapples with one principle struggle in their life: death. Everyone knows, at least on some level, that they inch every day closer to it. And with that knowledge, comes this great quandary: what do I do with my time left on the planet…what’s the point? What gave me pause for cogitation was the realization Manson makes which is that the vast majority of people on this Earth toil in trivialities in an effort to silence this ever-present psychological wrestling match. We chase the almighty dollar, post braggadocious updates on social media, go to exotic locations, and buy the latest iPhone. We do this not only to get another fix of a temporary ‘high’, but because it essentially provides a distraction from that ever-looming destiny: death. And what we really struggle with is not this concept of our final end, but something more present, more nagging: what is the meaning of this phase between the here-and-now and death, a.k.a: our life.
Manson argues, and I agree, that the measure of a life is the legacy one leaves behind. To each his own in terms of what that means, but many of our endeavors, when juxtaposed against this great question, become seemingly far less significant: “gotta work hard so I can buy that boat!”, “if I go to this school, I’ll get hired by that law firm”, “I need to marry her because that’s what my family expects of me.” The list of examples is infinite, but I offer just a few of those I’ve seen and heard that, at one point in my life, seemed so important and now I look upon with different eyes. I don’t want to downplay anyone’s life’s ambitions here, but instead offer a different frame of mind with which to approach goals.
I argue, and I think Manson would agree, that the pursuit of life goals should provide a means to an end, and those ends ultimately being something that help achieve some sort of meaningful and positive legacy. All too often, it seems that goals are too myopic in that their aim is for someone to attain wealth, power, status, etc., only for the sake of attaining it. What the past few years has opened my eyes to, and what “Give a F*ck” expounds upon, is taking it one step further; using that “success”, however you wish to define it, for the betterment of the world around you. That is a legacy, that is what we leave behind, and that is what we should really be giving a fuck about.
Just before filing my first Congressional Inspector General complaint in August 2020, I sat down with my daughter and discussed, in general, what I was about to endeavor upon. I knew there would be risks and potential retribution for what I was about to do, which was to veritably confront our Department of Defense; to call out the self-servitude and ineptitude that maligns our service; much of which I had witnessed during my assignment in the Defense Intelligence Agency. I explained to her that there were two main reasons driving me to do what I was doing:
1. There are some fights worth fighting. Not everything is worth falling on your sword over, of course, but you also can’t concede defeat in all things either (“those who stand for nothing, fall for everything.”). This is the one of the great challenges in life – to determine what is worth fighting for, what is not, and at what cost. For me, the injustices I watched and was vicitim to, were not only egregious, they were counter to the American value system I spent my adult life defending. I confronted enemies that threatened our way of life abroad; I was determined to continue that mission at home. After all, my oath of office reads “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
2. By turning a blind eye, I become part of the problem – if I do not engage on this, I am no better than those I wish to hold accountable. Can I live with myself if I do that? Will I be able to sleep at night if I disengage and walk away? The answer was: no.
Looking back retroactively, what I was trying to impart to her was: “yes, this is something I give a fuck about.”
Last week, I was filling out some paperwork in preparation for an annual physical. I came to this section:
Sometimes we need a gentle reminder that life is as brief as it is fragile. On this particular day, this was my “nudge” and later in the book, we’ll talk more why.
We’re going to cover a lot in the coming x-hundred pages; themes stemming from life to our government, and at times dabbling in some human psychology, but if there is one overarching message, one you can walk away with if you are about to gently set this book back in its place and move on is: make that thing we call life, that oh-so-ephemeral blip on the radar of time, mean something. That is what I and a select few endeavored to do on this journey. This is our story.