Posted by: joshjasper | February 18, 2012

Be Yourself

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1999, I attended the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) to study criminology.  I was destined to become a police officer, or so I thought.  The last class that I took at UNI was called “Theory and Criminal Justice,” taught by Dr. Clemons Bartollas.  There were no exams, quizzes, or books for this class.  Students were required to write one paper:  a 200 page document that detailed their entire lives, goals, self-defeating behaviors, values, and assumptions.  Students were also asked to write a poem about themselves, illustrate their personal code of arms, and detail their “emotional monsters.”

While cleaning out our coat closet recently, I found my paper and started reading.  It had been nearly 12 years since I last looked at it and what I found gave me some great insights.  To begin, I closed my “essay of self” by detailing my future career goals.  I noted that I was near the end of the hiring process with the U.S. Border Patrol, and that I was looking forward to having a job in law enforcement within the federal government.  My plan was to work with the Border Patrol for approximately five years and then make a lateral move to the FBI or the CIA.

I wrote extensively about wanting to find a career in which I made a difference; a job in which I was helping those in need.  I thought I was going to find that in federal law enforcement.  In the end, I never ended up taking that job with the Border Patrol and after a move to Los Angeles, I soon found my calling in the social services field.  Looking back though, I can see now why I wanted to work in law enforcement, specifically the FBI.  I wanted to achieve that status.  I thought that by being a federal agent, I would be somebody; a person that people respected and admired.   In retrospect, this is probably the same reason I joined the Marines.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out a relatively simple method of realizing true happiness.   I’ve always known, I just wasn’t listening.  I got lost along the way because I wasn’t being genuine to myself.  And through it all, I was slowly losing my true identity.  I’m not sure when it happened, but later in life I realized that if I were to be happy, I needed to start following my heart.  I needed to be myself.

One of the final sections of the paper asked students to develop a personal creed.  I opened my creed with the following: “I believe in myself and in others.  I believe that in order to have a strong sense of self, you have to surround yourself with individuals that genuinely care about you.  I believe in the future.”  I copied this statement and it now hangs in my office to serve as an important reminder.  I can get distracted by everyday life fairly easily and lose sight of what’s really important.  When in the end, what really matters to all of us is staying true to ourselves.

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