Make the most of your opportunities

I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities in my life and not all of them are what I would consider to have been earned. Most have been based on promise or potential while the rest were based on past performance, the latter being the vast minority. Depending on who you talk to and what their background is, people that know me might say that I lead a blessed life and others might say that I’m just plain lucky. To be honest, I am of the belief that I’m just plain lucky most of the time and have been in the right place at the right time so to speak. However, as time has passed, I must say that at times I feel like a higher power has been looking over me and guiding my path this entire time.

What am I talking about? Where is this coming from? Let me give you some background on my life. Over the last 15 years, since I was in middle school, I’ve had this reoccurring dream that my subconscious “greets” me with sporadically to remind me of past failures throughout my lifetime. For instance, when I was in 7th grade, the middle school I was attending offered my parents the opportunity to send me to a gifted and talented program over the summer. This program provided free transportation and lunch to a select group of students across the state in order to take advanced level classes and keep our minds active over the long summer break. My peers were some of the brightest students I had known at that time and they were all focused and looking to better their lives. I on the other hand didn’t take the program as serious as the others. I performed well when it came to learning the classroom material and applying it through conversations or tests, but assigned homework was often pushed to the side in favor of going outside during those long summer days so that I could bond and have fun with my friends at the neighborhood park. And unfortunately, homework played a very big part in the grades that I received so as you can imagine I didn’t do so well. What I didn’t know until it was too late was that if you passed the course with an overall B average or above, your tuition to the high school of your choice within the state of New Jersey would be paid in full as long as you maintained at least a 3.0 average. It broke my heart when I found this out and to this day it still haunts me. I often think about where I would have ended up or how much different my life might be if I just would have taken the time back then to show some discipline and do the necessary things to succeed.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. My father who typically brought in the only real income into our house, against my desire, paid for me to attend a local private high school where academics were taken a bit more seriously than at the city public high school. I begged and begged for my parents not to send me there since I would be separated from all of my friends that I grew up and went to school with but they did it anyway only thinking about my best interest for the future. So how did I thank them? By not applying myself and being in danger of failing a couple of classes during my Freshman year. And just like any good parents would do, they threatened to pull me out but gave me another chance to redeem myself during my Sophomore year. I managed to make matters worse by failing 2 courses that year and had to attend summer school in order to receive credit for them. Of course, when the pressure was on, I passed both courses with A’s.

Fast forward 2 years and I found myself graduating rather easily from the aforementioned public high school. The courses were easy for the most part and I certainly didn’t have to toy with the dreaded homework to do well in my classes; I never truly had to apply myself. In that environment, it was more than enough to just graduate and not drop out only to be welcomed by the cold, hard streets. But hey, 2 years had passed since I last failed a class and it was time to grow up, go to college and finally apply myself, right? Well, against my father’s better judgement I’m sure, he allowed me to attend college with the hopes that I had learned my lesson. Again, we weren’t rich and my father worked hard for the money he brought in so I’m certain he was hoping that I did the right thing and that I finally got my act together… wrong again. Attracted by the lack of structure of college campus life, I often missed classes either by oversleeping or lack of interest. My intramural flag football or basketball attendance was perfect, however. I still hadn’t learned my lesson and continued to waste the opportunities that were given to me, no matter if they were truly earned or not. I ended up failing several courses over the year and a half I spent there while acing other courses that I was truly interested in and gave an honest effort.

Let’s fast forward again to where I am today. I’ve done a lot of things in my life since washing out of college. I served for 4 years in the world’s greatest Air Force where I had the opportunity to mature, gain discipline, and become a man. After honorably separating from service, I decided to pursue one of my childhood passions, computers and the IT field as a whole. Within 5 months, I had my CompTIA A+ certification and a decent contract position working at a help desk. Within another 18 months, I doubled my salary and began working at a help desk on the same base I separated from, supporting my fellow brethren in the Air Force. Within another 5 months, I had my CompTIA Network+, my CCNA in routing and switching and a shiny new promotion from help desk to network administrator with no prior experience. Lucky? I tend to think so because all the stars seemed to align at the right time. A new opening in the networks section opened up out of the blue and while my supervisor was interested in promoting me, my promotion was contingent on getting the CCNA by a specific date. Another great opportunity that just seemed to fall into my lap. Sure, I worked hard on the help desk and garnered a lot of respect from my peers, supervisors and most importantly our customers. But with no prior experience in a fast-paced environment where failure is not an option? Just seems strange…

To date and to the best of my knowledge, I have not wasted the opportunity of getting into the network field. Since being promoted, I’ve obtained my CompTIA Security+, CCNP in routing and switching, CCNA in security and JNCIA-Junos certifications. Not to mention passing the FIREWALL exam which is a part of the CCNP Security curriculum. If you are anything like me, you might be wondering about what changed. Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it was the time served in the Air Force. Maybe it was the ready made family I fell into with my wife and 2 sons. Knowing that I had to be the man of the house and be the primary provider like my father was for us probably was what knocked some sense into me for the first time in my life…something the punishments my mother gave me never did. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t know exactly what triggered the change and it’s entirely possible that all of these experiences each contributed to my change over time. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell a fairy tale that just isn’t true. I still have my moments where I procrastinate or don’t give 100% to a goal of mine. I’m not perfect and I never will be. What I have learned is to just try to improve a little at a time while making the most of my opportunities, whether they’ve been earned or not.

I hope you all can learn from my story and if you were like me, then you can relate. If you are currently like I used to be, I hope that this story can help you and motivate you to do better for yourself and not waste the precious opportunities that we get in life. Take control of your future as best as you can and you will never be disappointed.

Take care!