Monday, April 23, 2012

Eating Elephants

Elephant consumption is not a practice I would recommend.  On principle, it just sounds chewy and dry.  I can only imagine the amount of junk in the trunk.  There are other issues, though – killing the beast, carving it up, explaining to its wife and kids that you ate their daddy.  All very, very morbid stuff.

As a turn of phrase, it provides an interesting reference, though.  See, elephants are, well, elephantine in proportion – so big, that they defined P.T. Barnum’s realization of a circus.  Similarly, life can sometimes feel like it has swollen to these gigantic proportions- complete with three ring circus.

So how do you attack this magnitude of merciless misery meted among the men as mange?  Eat the Elephant one bite at a time.  There you go folks: the great mystery of life.  You put your pants on one leg at a time, tie your shoes one foot at a time, and you can do all this while keeping your socks right-side out: I think you can handle this concept.

If you are familiar with the phrase, then realize this concept goes beyond conquering lofty goals.  I like lofty goals; they provide a good overhead ideal.  But if you can’t conceptually wrap your head around that lofty goal and what’s required to achieve it, you only end up frustrated, burning the candle in an bonfire – ruining candle, the wick, and the heat you used to light it. 

Three years ago, I went to basic training.  It was a glorious time; a rugged time; a manly time. This was also the time I overshot the moon and twisted my feet so badly I ended up useless by the end of training.  I had devised this brilliant concept, and felt this was the means to an end, but never thought the plan through to the end.

I watched this really awesome animé by the name of “Dennou Coil.”  The concept is simple: an entire generation of children reared with augmented reality; kids that had the same mindset about this technology, as we did about the internet.  It was an animated take on “Hackers,” but without the desire to use marketed buzzwords and to impress upon the viewer that it’s “cool”.  I soon realized and devised a system that could implement this technology onto existing tech – allowing for massive market saturation due to low-cost implementation.  I felt the Army would have helped paid for the education I needed to learn how to build it.  So, I enrolled at Temple University, joined the Red Diamond Brigade, and went ROTC. 

That was as far as I had planned.  I didn’t see the elephant; I didn’t even think about the magnitude of what I was undertaking.  I had used pure optimism to push myself towards a goal, but I’d never thoroughly thought out the goal. 

This is where the mantra came to play in my life.  I was away from my wife for a very long stretch of time.  Being the oldest person at training didn’t help my odds of making friends.  Having a strong sense of self didn’t help either.  These kids needed this to define their lives; I’m really happy for them – they’ve found the culture they’re looking for.  I was not a part of it, I was aware of that, and I didn’t have the ability to assimilate.  When you can look in the mirror and question the training – if it’s country first, but I made a vow to keep my wife first, so which is right? – Then you question what you’re doing there. 

Aside from age difference, and political preference, there was a maturity gap.  When the SFC leading your squad through MOUT is younger than you are, even they start to wonder what the hell you’re doing there.  At one point, they even asked as much.  The indoctrinated answer is, “Defending my country;” my answer was, “Acquiring the funding necessary to create a tight-band augmented reality system.”  I was then smoked for being rather verbose.

You should break the elephant down into smaller pieces.  This didn’t affect just me - anyone I came in contact with during this time was affected by it.  I didn’t walk away thinking about things the same way after all was said and done.  When I realized what I thought was a mole hill, turned out to be a mountain, I simply stopped.  I lost my ambition, optimism, my drive.  I put on a sun-shiny smile, but inside, I was defeated.

Conquering the elephant requires a thorough assessment of the situation before undertaking it.  Always leverage your options.  Be aware of your resources, and know how to use them.  Don’t be afraid to have an ounce of blind optimism, and take the risks where you can.  And above all else: cutlery.  Because why bother starting, if you can’t even dig into the beast?

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