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  • Joshua Stevens

The Road To Success

Authors note: This was origonally written for the site back in early 2017 right after I'd been medically retired from the military. At the time I was planning to launch the business and whated to explain my mentality going into things. Much has changed since I wrote this now three years ago but the lessons I talked about in this post still ring true and in many ways are even more applicable and hopfully useful to others with everything going on in the world right now.


I want to use this post as a method of explaining where I am coming from and where I plan to go. I was an Infantryman for most of my career in the military and went on a number of deployments. Somewhere along the course of all that - aside from the normal wear-and-tear that comes along with that life - I incurred a traumatic brain injury, which led to a brain tumor.


Actually, that’s an oversimplification. Technically, bleeding in my brain led to the formation of a cholesterol granuloma of my pretorius apex, which is medical jargon for, “I didn’t exactly have a brain tumor, but rather a rare collection of stuff deep within my inner ear where it meets the base of my skull.” Because it wasn’t inside my dura, which is the sack that keeps your brain fluids with your brain, it wasn’t technically a brain tumor. However, since most people have no idea what a pretorius apex is, much less a granuloma, it’s much easier to say I had a brain tumor. Nonetheless, I feel it important to clear all that up before I get accused of committing “stolen broke-dickery,” or whatever it’s called when you fake a military medical condition.


Me with a good friend and fellow Infantryman after leading a company ruck up the Franklin Mountains


At the time I was in great physical shape, months away from my ETS date at the end of what most would consider a successful infantry career. All of a sudden, my vertigo became so bad I felt like I was on a rocking boat at all times, I had crippling headaches, my speech was messed up and my thoughts were jumbled, and I was always worn out. The doctors kept making all these promises: “This surgery will fix you;” “This medication will make it all go away;” “One more procedure;” “Just wait a week;” etc. Eventually, even the doctors stopped being optimistic. When they eventually started my med-board I was two months past my ETS date: it would be almost a year after my ETS date that I would finally medically retire from the Army.

Post surgery I had no idea how much my life was about to change

The doctors are still unsure of what happened, but somehow I had received a bunch of nerve damage during the whole process between getting to the tumor and having it cut out, along with a number of other symptoms that currently remain undiagnosed. In a few short months, I went from being the cocksure NCO holding formation to the fat, doped-up NCO in the back of formation with the bandage on his head and the permanent dead man's profile. To top it all off, I had tons of con-leave and crazy appointments going on so I was almost never around. It seemed like overnight I had become everything I, as an Infantryman, had been taught to hate. I became the personification of weakness in the ranks; I was a dirt-bag broke-dick, the person no leader wanted in their formation because I took up a slot and contributed nothing for it.


That’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone, especially a high performer like myself, and I’ve personally seen that reality break a man down faster than any injury. I think it’s due to a number of factors: some psychological, some sociological. But at the root of it all, I think it comes down to one thing: being strong when you’re strong is easy, but being strong when you’re not strong is hard.


I’ll put it another way. When I was a brand new Infantryman, I was horrible at rucking: my short legs and light weight didn’t stack up well in my favor. I never fell out, but I was always right there at the back, barely holding on. Luckily, while I was coming up, hazing was still highly encouraged, and my leaders quickly cured me of my weakness. Later on in my career I would participate in a number of ruck marches that could suck the soul out of anyone. What struck me as odd on these soul-trying events is that after the weak bodies fell out, it was oftentimes the PT studs that fell out next. Many times, the dudes that made it all the way were just average, with one or two studs that went all the way.


How I could pass someone with natural athleticism and long legs was something I could never come to understand. I would always think it was such a waste: if I had a muscular build and long legs I would never fall out of anything. Then one day it hit me: PT studs don’t often have to push past failure because it’s so rare for them to reach that point, and when they do, failure is so foreign that they don’t know what to do with it, so they quit. It was easy for them to be strong when their strength was doing all the work, but it became hard when it was just their minds doing the work.


In my case, it wasn’t until around six months into everything that the truth finally dawned on me during a meeting with one of my doctors: this wasn’t something that I would one day wake up from and be cured of. It was going to be a lifelong disability that I would most likely struggle with until the day I died, a personal ruck march with no end. After running around doing cool alpha-male stuff for most of your life, finding out you’re permanently disabled at twenty-eight years old is quite the blow.


It was at that moment that I knew I had a choice. I could get mad and grow bitter, and fight tooth and nail to try and convince myself that I was still a lead-slinging grunt. Or, I could accept the new me, start a new chapter in my life and figure out what my new normal would be, taking into account the limitations I was now faced with. I decided it would be a lot more practical to accept my new role in life. Ultimately, I just slowed down a little bit sooner then I’d originally planned on, but that didn’t mean my life was over, not by a long shot.


Discovering my new normal digging water lines for my new house

I think that, like on the ruck march, many people find themselves facing something hard, and rather than pushing through, they sit down and give up. However, like that ruck march, you can’t get where you’re going if you stop. Now, you might need to pause, take a knee, and catch your breath. Sometimes you might need to slow down and work out a cramp, but you can’t ever stop. I told myself that this disability wouldn’t stop me from getting where I wanted to go: all it would do is slow me down a little bit and teach me to work harder.


I’m not this rock-hard, super mentally-tough bastion of almighty will-power. I have bad days too. I feel sorry for myself, I get frustrated, I think about how easy it would be to lay around all day and do nothing but wait for death, and I sometimes get upset because I can’t do something I used to be able to do. The truth is, everyone feels that way. The road to success is plagued with doubt and second-guessing. What separates the successful person from the unsuccessful person is pushing past the doubt, going on despite the bad days, and being successful in spite of everything stacked against you. I don’t fully understand where my road will take me, though I have a good idea. What I do know without a doubt is that I’ll get there, no matter what gets in my way.

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