We find different things important at different times in our lives. When I was young, what was important to me was excitement, adventure, and really wild things. Especially when I first joined the Army. I didn’t follow that age-old military wisdom: “don’t volunteer.” I was raising my hand for just about every cool thing, and caught quite a few not cool things, but it was okay. I was young and having fun.
As I came up through the ranks, my priorities shifted. My own enjoyment and adventure seeking was not primary. The concern I had for my Soldiers became important. When I got married, my wife became important, and when the kids came along, they became important, too. My wife would probably argue that the Army continued to battle for priority over family in my life. She would probably be right.
As a leader, especially after 9/11, world events became important. A farmer always has one eye on the clouds. A fisherman always has their eye on the horizon to be able to predict the weather. Service members do the same. Privates look to their leaders to predict storms that may be coming. Leaders look to the intelligence office or the news to predict what the storms of war may bring. Think about a scene in We Were Soldiers. Colonel Moore is running his officers through the woods, and comes upon a radioman who picks up a radio signal from Vietnam. They stand there, listening to the battle, knowing what is to come is important.
Sometimes, what was important to others became significant. A mentor of mine once told me, “If it’s important to the commander, it’s important to us.” Not in a suck-up boot-licking kind of way, but in a loyalty kind of way. The goals of the organization, the fact that we were part of something larger than ourselves: that was important.
Often, we allow the wrong thing to become important, and it gets in our way. We chase notoriety, or money becomes important. Our career or our ability becomes our focus, and it causes problems. Running away, numbing our problems becomes more important than dealing with them. Denial becomes more important than the truth.
What happens when those things that we think are important do not seem to be important to others? I hear this often. Troops are on the ground in Afghanistan. No one seems to notice…or care. I get back from combat or leave the military, and what was important to me…IS important to me…seems not to be anything that anyone cares about. The fact is, we have a choice about what is important in our lives, we choose what to focus on. Maybe that choice isn’t good for us, maybe it’s not a conscious choice, but even if it’s made by default, it’s still a choice.
If we continue to be angry about things that have happened in the past, it’s because we choose that. We can stop. It’s possible. If we are anxious about an event in the future that may or may not happen, it’s because we choose that too. We don’t have to; it’s possible to stop that as well.
My time in the service was important to me. Absolutely. Notice, though, I said WAS…not IS. I’m not one of those twenty-year-old high school football stars, hanging out at the high school party with my too-small letterman’s jacket. I have a lot of Army stuff in my office, and it’s nice every once in a while to lean back and look at it, but it doesn’t have supreme importance in my life. It may represent who I was, but I don’t need it to be who I am.
A future is important. A satisfying, balanced, productive future. It’s all I can ask, and I have the ability to make it be so.
What do you find important? What necessary thing is in your life that compels you…or gets in your way?