Somewhere on an old cassette tape in a drawer, I have a recording of myself from when I was about 10 years old telling my future self that I better be buff and a fireman. That in retrospect seems slightly childish but a rather innocent dream. Im not sure exactly where my wanting to be a firefighter came from. Im sure that this dream was not all that different from most other kids of that age. Especially if a job that like runs in your family.
Nope, my dad was not a firefighter. He did have various jobs: corporate employee, steel worker, gardener, pool man. He started many businesses from a nursery, swap meets where he sold socks and under garments, clothing stores and general merchandise stores. I'm not sure where that drive came from. I'm guessing the drive came from nothing more than the will to make things happen no matter what. This is HOW you make it. You must have THAT drive to get there at all costs.
Now back to my youth. Being buff and just wanting to be a firefighter is not enough to get there. Like I mentioned, it is a rather innocent goal. But neither is just wanting to being respected strong enough. Nor is the desire to escape a cubicle. Nor just wanting a cool job where the chicks dig you. No. It must come from a place of desire. What exactly fuels that desire is subjective to each person, but it must be enough to fuel you. Thats what must fuel all of your actions and endeavors.
Over the course of the last few years, I had found a lot of discontent with my current path. Having spent the majority of my post college life with the same company, unfulfilled and unmotivated, I decided that I would give this childhood dream a good go at it. I enrolled at the UCLA EMT program in the Fall of 2013. I did really well, except the fact that I found it extremely hard to balance work with study, the long late night commutes in traffic, while training and keeping in shape, while not neglecting my responsibilities such as paying bills and keeping the house maintained. I subsequently dropped out of the course towards the end of the program because I couldnt devote enough time to studying. I put this dream on hold.
The next few years were pretty dark. I felt trapped. Trapped in the system. Being afraid to leave a steady paycheck that helped maintain the cost of living that I had accumulated throughout the years. The cost of food, gas, bills, car payments and then subsequently a house payment. Trapped, unfulfilled, and feeling like my career was going nowhere...slowly. Sure, I could quit my job and go roam the planet, but then I thought about all the things I would be neglecting and be without.
So I poured my heart out into my fitness. Obstacle course racing. Hiking. Fitness. Traveling. Photography. Writing. I adopted a kitten on a whim. All the things you could not make money from or barely any. But these were the things that gave me a sense of refreshing bewilderment. A wild sense of living that was completely opposite from the norm. Nothing really mattered because I could just appreciate life for what it was. And that was enough. I felt alive. I felt good.
Oddly, near the summer of 2016, after pouring my heart into this for a few years. I still felt empty. Although it made me happy, it did not progress my financial situation forward. I was stuck in the same trapped position as I was before. It was not providing me any income at all. In fact, I was spending more money to participate in these endeavors more than it was paying for a bill...let alone anything at all. It was at that point I decided that it was time to give it another go at my "dream".
I started attending a few LAFD recruitment events, workouts, and enrolled in the EMT program at College of the Canyons. I felt more determined than ever. Being the fittest I had ever been in my life and mentally prepared, I felt ready to take on the challenge.
Then "the process" hit me in the face.
I long believed that the American system of career choices heavily favored those who knew what they wanted to be when they were younger, chose the path and stuck with it, and did everything while they were young to get them there. I was very far from being that person. Just as an example, I did not have proper records of my vaccinations nor did I have a steady pediatrician or regular doctor for most of my life. My parents didn't know. They could barely speak English when we got here. I essentially had to start from the beginning. Multiple trips to the student health center for one shot after the other made me feel lackluster and often sick. A series of 3 Hep B shots, chickenpox shots, MMR shots, 2 TB shots, plus titers after each shot to demonstrate that after the shots you are "immune". If the results came back as negative, more shots. Countless trips in traffic from the San Fernando Valley up to Valencia after work. Taking time off work. On top of this, needing to buy uniforms, books, attending orientations, driving to class after work and sometimes sitting in traffic after an 8 hour day. I was the old guy in the class, being surrounded by kids half my age. I also had to start registering for an qualifying exam in order to apply for the fire department, driving to test sites to complete and pass exams. Scheduling the CPAT physical agility test while training for physical test as well. I would pack my lunch in the morning as well as a dinner for before class. I stuffed my workout clothes into a bag, books, materials. I started buying more "things" to help myself accomodate this lifestyle. More bags, clothing, gear, school supplies, apps to keep me organized, more water bottles, food containers, fast drying gym towels, portable laundry bags, clothing containers that would fit in my trunk, etc. My mind began to constantly be in a "what else do I need to keep up?" state. I would also go to the gym after class was to get a really poor workout in. Getting home near midnight and needing to study. During all of this, my cat had also gotten sick. I think it was some sort of separation anxiety and made him unable to urinate. Or the vet had suspected some sort of infection. I had to take him to the vet, feed him antibiotics orally which was a fiasco in itself. An 8 hour work day which started at me waking up at 5am and working until 3:30pm and driving straight to school. Earlier in the year I had also signed up for my first 70.3 half Ironman in Tempe for October as well as my first Ultra Trail Marathon in November in Malibu. I stressed about getting laps in the pool at the gym as well as some runs in the hills. Both of these events didn't happen. I just could not make it happen. One evening, after work, I decided to go home to spend 30 minutes giving my cat medicine and eat before I headed to school. I figured it would add about 30 minutes to my commute to school but it was worth it. I left at 4:45 and got to school at 7:45pm. It had taken me 3 hours to travel about 17 miles. Needless to say I was late to class. After this long day, I decided to drop the class.
The last part of 2016 left me with having to bail out on some big things that I had planned for myself. I felt pulled in a lot of directions. Fulfilling a lifelong dream vs fulfilling some new found dreams. The pulling of my energy into multiple directions was too much but I didn't want to give up. I by chance had found another EMT school that allowed me to study by myself from a book and go into a skills week for hands on training at the end of December. I decided to go that route and enroll and thus began to study again for countless hours day and night.
I had one more event in 2016. It was the Spartan Sprint in Malibu. Having not trained as I would have liked, I decided that I didn't want to bail out on this one. On one of the last few obstacles, I dropped down from the rope pretty hard and broke my toe. More than just a minor physical limitation that prevented me from lifting patients or equipment, I was unable to attend the skills session. By that point, I was mentally spent. I decided to take the 2 weeks of time I had scheduled off from work for this class to just recover from a long year.
Whether I will give another go at this seems unlikely to say the least. Yvon Chouinard once said that there is a proper size for every endeavor. For me, throughout that journey, the constant reassessment of whether its worth it kept tugging at me. I wondered how bad the feeling of guilt would be once I started a family. As we get older, we amass a lot of things in life. Both tangible and intangible. Responsibilities grow. Thus I decided to shed my tangible things more and more. Anyone at my age or above whom you've read about accomplishing a lot personally may or may not behoove to tell you that they sacrificed a lot in order to get there. This means not only of themselves, but the other things in their lives that they love. People, things, places, experiences, animals, passions and quite simply: the quiet mornings having not much to do which give us the time to reflect. In this constantly progressive society, its precisely these things are often lost or neglected in the pursuit of personal gain.
Ultimately, dreams shift. I've come to understand that its okay. Thats because it has to be okay. If its not, you cannot move on. Its okay to fail and try again only to fail again in the process as well. I write this not with an answer on what to do. I write this confirm that most of the time that I dont know what to do. And thats perfectly okay to. Its okay to hold onto dreams and give it a go. The window of opportunity on achieving my childhood dream may have ultimately closed, but thats okay.
I've got plenty of dreams now to focus on.