Lincoln, determination, and the truth about Walmart

I know, I know: it has been quite some time since I jotted down some thoughts for your reading and entertainment. However, I hope you will find the reasoning adequate… and we’ll get to that. First, though, I want to talk to you about Honest Abe.

To be frank, I am much more fascinated with the political mind of Madison, the rabble rousing of Sam Adams, and the dignity that makes Washington larger than life. They, along with several other of our Founding Fathers, are the most fascinating characters – to me – in our nation’s history. However, there is a little something about Abraham Lincoln that sticks out and brings a deep sense of admiration for the man he was.

While we may see the tall, bearded man as the 16th President and the man who led the Union to victory, abolishing slavery, and honoring us with the Gettysburg Address, I see a man with a deep sense of determination. It is that determination that leaves me in awe more so than all of his political accomplishments. For me, political accomplishments (and accomplishments in general) are simply a product of a man’s character. If Abe Lincoln has a philosophy and governs by it, that is one thing. But if that philosophy is one that puts him in the column of defeated for numerous elections, that is a different beast.

Considering his several losses in bids for elected office, and several other personal obstacles he faced, to know that this man ended up being the leader of the United States of America is and should be an inspiration to all of us. Here is a guy who faced loss after loss, who had personal problems that at times overwhelmed him, and who faced adversity for much of his life; yet, he pushed forward. He didn’t quit. He never folded.

That is the epitome of what this country was founded on. Discipline and determination. Perseverance and pursuit. To continue towards goals and success regardless of the dim light that seems to only flicker in brevity and distance.

For me, and for what has happened in the past three months, I see being those things – disciplined, determined, persevering, and keeping sight of what I pursue – hasn’t lost their reward in this life.

One year ago today I was about 35 days in to a 120 day stint of incarceration for some pretty serious mistakes. Before that sentence, I had resigned from elected office and been through several years of personal troubles and hardships (to say the least).

When I was released in May I was without direction regarding how my life was to proceed professionally. Personally, things were rough, but manageable.

But personally isn’t what this post is about.

For a period of about six months I filled out job application after job application. I came to a point of feeling that unless I wanted high-pressure telemarketing, prep-cooking for minimum wage, or temp employment, I was going to be at a loss. But I didn’t quit; not after the failed McDonald’s interview and not after the 75 or so job applications that I put in – one after another.

At one point, my loving wife looked over at me one evening and said, “Nick, I don’t know how you do it. You don’t quit. You just keep on trying.” I told her it was the stubborn Marine in me… and in reality part of it is. But another part is that I don’t believe in quitting. It’s really not an option.

Enter Walmart, and enter my temporary absence from The Missouri Thinker. It was a hectic several months to say the least.

While some of my liberal friends appreciate the protests against Walmart on Thanksgiving, and while they believe Walmart is evil and greedy and take local jobs away, I must dissent. But for those liberal friends and readers who think that, bear with me and give me a moment of your time to listen.

Sure, I can tell you all about the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations they contribute per year. I could tell you about the college programs they help their employees with. I could tell you about how they are simply the result of Sam Walton’s American Dream manifesting itself into something unimaginable.

But I’m not going to tell you things you can find easily on the internet. What I am going to tell you is about my personal experience.

After those 75+ applications, after defeat followed defeat in interviews, after cringing every time I signed a waiver to have my background checked, Walmart called me back. Not only did they call me back, but they called me back with an offer, and not only did they offer me a job, but what I heard was, “Nick, we are going to give you a chance. No worries about what came back on the background check. We see potential.”

I was soon able to share with my wife what I saw as an irony: for years in the political spectrum I defended, without hesitation, Walmart and what it stands for (the success of the American Dream). After years of doing so, they give me – a guy who had defeat after defeat everywhere in his home town – a chance.

Soon after the offer, I found myself at orientation. Now I know – Walmart takes jobs from small businesses and they are horrible, right? Well, I was in orientation with two retirees, another unemployed person, and a guy who decided to stop being a stay-at-home husband because his kids were graduating high school. No jobs taken – just jobs given.

Oh – on a side note – my favorite part of orientation was the video that talked about how bad unions are. Again, another fine aspect of Walmart philosophy. Ha!

Again, after that I found myself in break rooms with my fellow employees. I will qualify my next statement by saying I doubt there is a job in the country where there is not a disgruntled employee. The same is for Walmart. However, and generally speaking, there weren’t a bunch of employees sitting around talking about how bad their employer was. The general tone of discussions about work was that it was work – nothing horrible. Amazingly, most employees had smart phones and cars, too (crazy, right?!). They had plans on the weekends, there were many couples who worked together, and many employees talked about family life as if they were… satisfied with life.

Further, in the short time I was there, I watched three new employees be promoted. What was amazing is they were the employees who showed up on time and worked hard. I mean, whoooda thunk it!

I say all that to say that now more than ever, whenever I see the protesters during holidays “hating” on Walmart, I will chuckle and shake my head.

I bring Walmart up now because I am no longer with them – as with many others before me, Walmart was temporary and a stepping stone; and what they weren’t was evil and of the devil!

Now that I have talked about Lincoln and Walmart in full, I want to go back to that interesting concept of determination.

My wife isn’t the first person who discussed my determination with me. Several years ago another friend told me that I was “different”, and that was the explanation as to why I could overcome many personal obstacles in life and succeed… that most people weren’t “like me.” I would get frustrated when he would say that because to me it’s simply about doing your best at all times – even when the situation is grim; even when you have fallen; even when the cards are stacked against you.

That is what I have done all my life; that is what I hope to continue to do for the rest of it as well.

And that is why after I had been at Walmart for just a couple of months I was given a call by a potential employer who offered a much more appealing “package” than Walmart. I was offered the position and I took it.

I’m there now.

With all that said, here is the point I wish to convey: the idea of success still exists. If a broken man with a record and past like me can pick himself up and get to a place he would consider success in the America of 2015, then anybody can. It’s still there. Will it always be there? I know not.

However, after what I have been through in the past year, after what I have fought for, and after what I have been able to achieve – what some may have thought impossible – I have become more firm in my belief that success and failure is an option… you can have either one. However, an underlying fact that was present with Madison and Washington in the Revolution still existed when Lincoln lived, and still exists now: the concept of “the pursuit of happiness”… pursuit is a hard word because it is not only the operative word, but also defined in this model by work, discipline, determination, and perseverance.

In sum: Never Quit. Success Exists. Failure is an Option.

PS: I’m back and will work hard on writing more often… (that’s to the person who slapped my hand in Walmart for not writing more). 🙂

The Light at the End of the Fight

“For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” -Unkown Soldier at the Battle of Khe Sanh

It has been a few weeks since I’ve had the time to sit down and write; but the reason has been a good one – or so I hope you’ll think.

Several months back I was approached by the Veteran’s Center in Springfield, Missouri. They explained a new certification the Missouri Department of Mental Health recognizes, and this same “title” is one the VA is trying to capitalize on to help veterans of the United States military, and in particular veterans of foreign wars.

A “Peer Specialist” is one who is certified through the Missouri Credentialing Board after training and testing, similar to a counselor, but with one caveat: the Peer Specialist has experienced the same issues psychologically that they are helping others with.

In my case, the issue is Post Traumatic Stress (commonly referred to as PTSD), from experiences I had in Iraq and some elsewhere. I completed the training and am preparing to test for my board certification. I truly look forward to helping other veterans (emphasis will be put on Iraq and Afghanistan Vets) who have come home to find a different “self” and need encouragement dealing with the issues they face.

I am also humbled to know the Veteran’s Center sees me as having made enough progress with myself to be able to help others.

But that isn’t what this post is about. What is it about is the humbled spirit I have after being with two Vietnam Vets and one former Navy SEAL for a week. These guys reminded me of the fact that while I may have my experience, to know what they went through truly makes me feel honored to have served under the same flag and for the same country these fellows did, albeit at different times.

While humbled and honored, I was encouraged. To be around these guys that carried themselves as former service members often do (confident, secure, and not to be messed with), I found that underneath I was with a group of loving, caring, understanding men that truly want to help those that still struggle with “demons” from experiences in war.

The experience made me see hope in mankind that I often miss because of the rough and grueling schedule I have, and I’m sure most of us have. It reminded me of a thought I had several times after coming home from 47 missions in one of the more rough areas of Iraq: “War, it will definitely show you the worst man has to offer; but it also shows the best man has to offer as well.”

I don’t know if there is a specific intent in this post other than to say that the experience I had with the guys I was with while we all trained to become Peer Specialists reminded me of the camaraderie and esprit de corps I often miss – feelings that are only shared by those who experience situations in which life depends on one another.

Moving forward and being in the position I’m about to be in, I sincerely desire to make a difference in the lives of those who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel because of the barriers in their way from the experience they had… it may have taken me six years, felony charges, a lot of money and humiliation to realize it – but the light is there and it is attainable.

The Lens in Which We View Life

I was very excited recently to sit down with an old friend and political mentor, Bob, for a breakfast at the Cook’s Kettle in Springfield. We have been friends for a while, but the way life has it we get so busy and forget to have the occasional meeting just to visit. I was glad to have the opportunity to do this with Bob.

As Bob and I were preparing to pray over his breakfast platter and my biscuits and gravy, Jim, the operator of the restaurant, came up and gave me a hug. With sincerity Jim told me he has been praying for me and was glad to see me for the first time since I was released from custody in May. He and Bob also know each other, so the three of us briefly visited.

During the quick discussion, Jim explained that he understood my difficulties I have had in life and also of his pride to know me and see me picking myself back up. Jim mentioned an analogy that resonated: While we may fall down, we must get back up; we may have a limp for the rest of our life because of the fall, but that doesn’t keep us from continuing on in life.

After the quick discussion Jim excused himself to allow me and Bob to continue our visit.

Bob and I talked about the analogy Jim gave. While I appreciated the kind words, it was an interesting way Jim looked at life. While the analogy can be valid in many people’s minds, for me it is not.

I told Bob exactly that and went on to explain.

Sure, a man may fall and rise again. That fall may keep him from running full speed again be it due to injury, lack of confidence, or any other number of reasons. But what if the fall itself started long ago, and what many perceived as the fall was simply the inevitable loss of balance that the outside actually sees?

You see, my fall didn’t happen in an altercation on Thanksgiving of 2011; it didn’t happen on New Years’ Day of 2012; and it didn’t happen when I was given the punishment for those two situations and my admitted guilt for my actions. My fall was a process that happened long before those events.

Through many losses of loved ones, my experience in Iraq, and other life-altering experiences, I went through many things in life that I may have overcome, but never dealt with. It festered. It simmered. It laid wait. It eventually came to a head. Much like the athlete who is administered cortisone shots to avoid the reality of his injury and that injury eventually catches up to him, I numbed myself through running my body ragged, and by self-medicating. Eventually the running and medicating didn’t work any longer, I broke, and I was forced to deal with the fall and injury I had ignored for so very long.

However, the limp in my walk was already there. It was after that I began to fix the injury and made plans to run again – run without pain. Father with love. Husband with sincerity. Be a friend with humility. And above all else, serve my Heavenly Father with a meek heart. That is the plan. That is the marathon of life I want to run.

It isn’t that we always have to see the misfortunes in life as something we can’t recover from. Rather, I see them as learning experiences, building blocks, and obstacles to not only overcome but deal with. For if life is an experience – a test of will, then the harder the obstacle is the more opportunity we have to build, to learn, to overcome and deal with… to gain wisdom and be better because of it.

That is the choice we have – to be the victim or the victor.

The victor decides there doesn’t have to be a limp, not if we consider life experiences spiritual strength training.