“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” John Wayne in Stagecoach
This is one of the more personal Wisdom of the Duke pieces that I’ll ever do, because I quite literally lived that statement.
When I was a bit younger I failed at something pretty big. I had made it into the US Coast Guard Academy (which is not easy); but for a combination of reasons, none of which were good, I ended up leaving during my sophomore year. That stuck with me, and even though I served and received an honorable discharge, even though I graduated from college, even though I landed a great job; the sting of failure had stuck with me.
The problem was that I was trying to run from it. I was doing things to compensate for a failure, even though I knew that no matter what I did, I can’t go back and change the past. Every single good thing I did felt like an attempt to compensate for not making it through the Academy. Every test I nailed or paper I wrote during college felt like vindication. It wasn’t until I met my wife that I realized I was going about it all wrong.
Instead of being upfront with her about it, I lied. I carefully omitted that detail from my past, and in so doing constructed a tremendous web of lies that I could not sustain. In running away from my past, I had created a much worse monster, a monster that ended up damaging my relationship with my wife.
Once we had set to work repairing the damage I’d done to her trust, I started to think about how I let this happen. I realized what I wrote above, that all the blood, sweat, and tears I’d poured into everything I’d done since the Academy was an attempt to compensate for that one moment. Instead of owning my decision (and my failure), like a man; I chose to try and mask it with a pile of successes. It was my wife who finally drove the point home to me. After the truth had come out, she said “You know, I’m more proud of you now, knowing what happened than I was before”.
I was running. I had spent years running from something that I had no reason to be ashamed of, and it took the simple words of my wife for me to pull my head out of my ass about it. The point of all this? What happened in the past is just that – the past. If you’re ashamed of something, don’t even try to run from it, because it will catch up to you. Own your failures like a man, don’t run from them and don’t try and hide them; especially from people you love.
It takes a tougher man to admit to his mistakes than it does to pretend you’ve never made one.