When Life Has Other Plans

As hard as I have tried and as diligently as I have worked to control my direction through Life, as much as I have planned and anticipated and laid out my future, there have still been critical points where things simply did not go my way.

On many occasions over the past several months, I did not pass through the checkpoints that I had long intended to pass through. There have been moments where Life has sent me on crazy, unforeseen, unpredictable—even painful—detours.

And there will be many more, I am sure.

To resist Life’s direction only seems to make these detours more painful. My way may not be Life’s Way, and the sooner I come to embrace and celebrate that, the happier and more fulfilled I will probably be.

Image courtesy of https://media.istockphoto.com/photos/detour-street-sign-on-sky-background-picture-id546454312?k=20&m=546454312&s=612x612&w=0&h=oqZdx9KhUeDE1lgo_WGHjTi3avbt0khDQiakd7xKN7w=

I am cautious about preaching unearned wisdom. My only intent is to share my thoughts and experiences when I feel like I have something helpful—and dare I say original—to share.

When I graduated and received my commission from the US Naval Academy back in May 2020, I truly felt on top of the world. Things could not have been going better. I had graduated near the top of my class, got my first choice service assignment, and was about to start a new and exciting adventure with some of my closest friends. Pandemic aside, the plan I made for myself was coming together and the direction was clear. Full speed ahead.

Then I got pretty sick with C*vid-19. My bed was my companion for the better part of six weeks and I was in and out of the ER three times. Frankly, I considered myself a pretty healthy and fit guy, so I didn’t see that one coming. It was a pretty miserable time, but I was fortunate to make a full recovery. The plans I made continued along. This was just a hiccup, right?

Then my girlfriend of 3+ years broke up with me. I felt completely blindsided and that sucked pretty bad. This was really not part of the plan!

Okay, just a couple of unforeseen events, right? Although these seemed like pretty major detours at the time, the plan was not entirely lost. Some adjustments would need to be made and the plan would look slightly different, but I would nonetheless be able to carry on and pursue what I had originally intended to.

My training as a Nuclear Submarine Officer began in November 2020. It is now November 2021—one and a half years since I embarked on my career and over a year since I checked in to begin training…

…and I am no longer doing that thing which I set out to do. I am no longer training for the job that I chose and planned for over my four years at the Naval Academy.

And why not?

I worked my tail off for four years to prove my worth as a Naval Officer and demonstrate my potential for service on submarines.

I passed the technical interviews at Naval Reactors in Washington, D.C.

I sat across from the four-star Admiral that now sits where Rickover sat and he allowed me to join his community.

I even made it most of the way through Nuclear Power School with pretty high scores.

I checked all of the boxes I possibly could, but there is more to Life than checking boxes.

This is not a sob story. I am not telling this story to solicit pity or tout my past achievements. I am telling this story to illustrate that even when everything seems to be going right, even when everything is going exactly as planned, even when you control and optimize as much as you possibly can, there are still intractable factors and events beyond your influence that can and will send you off in a completely different direction than the one you had intended.

Or, at least, that’s what happened to me.

Several months ago, I learned that I have a medical condition which disqualifies me from service. And rightfully so! Work in the Navy, and especially on submarines, is largely characterized by a lifestyle which is in direct conflict with what I need to do in order to be a physically healthy guy. This means I will not be spending the next few years unduly suffering because of my own pride, ego, or misdirected ambition getting in the way of taking proper care of myself.

It has taken me a lot of time to see it this way. I was pretty pissed when this all started happening. I certainly had a victimized ‘Why Me?’ attitude.

‘Seeing the forest through the trees’ was really hard for me. I was having trouble finding the right perspective because I had become so hyper-focused on a single outcome—a single plan that could not be deviated from. This was a plan that I had spent so much time and effort preparing. Deviations were not allowed! I didn’t account for any.

But that’s what Life is; a series of deviations from the plan.

This experience has forced me to re-assess where my own measures of success and self-worth are coming from. It forced me to reflect and ask myself some hard questions. Where was I coming up short? In what ways was I neglecting important aspects of my own personal well-being? (There were a lot.) Where were my blind spots with respect to what I could and could not control?

The truth is that I was so caught up in this singular plan – so preoccupied with dodging individual trees that I was unable to zoom out and see a better way through the forest.

Life showed me.

Making plans is an effective way to achieve goals, but planning too much or adhering too strictly to them can get in the way of living well when circumstances change, as they often do. I found that it is important to revisit these goals and be honest with myself about whether they still align with my core values and with what I want out of Life – or what Life wants from me – in these new circumstances.

My intentions remain the same as they have always been: to leverage my abilities in an impactful way wherever I go, to work on solving important problems, and to help other people suffer less. I still intend to fulfill my responsibilities faithfully and dutifully to the extent I am able. I do not intend to let future plans get in the way of what is truly important, nor do I intend to let any future goals come into conflict with my own physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

So what, you may be wondering, is the plan now?

There is no plan. There is just Life.


Thank you to Cecily, Fish, and Noah for helping me communicate my ideas.


The 23 Books I Read At 23

When I turned 23 last year, I made it a goal to read 23 books before turning 24. I was reading at a pace of roughly a book each month at the time, and decided that this was a sufficiently lofty goal. It was close, but I managed to accomplish my goal within just a couple days of turning 24. The idea of the blog post only came to me recently, so here it is.

The books I read were fiction and nonfiction, varying widely in length and genre. I started and left unfinished many books which are not listed here. Most of the time I was reading more than one because I have a tendency to pick up different books depending on the mood I am in. I finished only the books which kept me fascinated and spoke to me at the time I read them.

These are the books I read in the order I finished them. I’ve included my attempt at a one sentence summary along with a favorite quotation from each book. My finishing of a book tends to signify my endorsement of it (with a few exceptions).

I plan to read 24 books before I turn 25. Recommendations are welcome and sincerely appreciated in the comments!

The 23 Books I Read at 23

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl – A spiritually transformational guide for navigating the suffering inherent to human life through the pursuit of meaning and love.

“Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.”

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – A manual for understanding the intricate rules of exercising power by studying its use throughout history and examining the philosophies of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Clauzewitz, and others.

Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory. The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.”

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason – A simple path to wealth explained through easily understandable and memorable parables.

“Where the determination is, the way can be found.”

Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall – An author’s journey to discover the the keys to endurance, nutrition, and movement as they were used by heroes throughout history.

“True heroism, as the ancients understood, isn’t about strength, or boldness, or even courage. It’s about compassion.”

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman – Dr. Chapman presents his 5 Love Languages—quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, and gifts—and an approach to understanding both yours and your significant other’s in order to better give and receive love.

“Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving. That kind of love requires effort and discipline.”

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household – A gripping 20th century spy thriller about an assassin’s foiled plan to assassinate a European dictator (read: Adolf Hitler?).

“The only periods, I suspect, when a man feels captain of his soul are those when he has not the slightest need of such an organ.”

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – A short story about one fisherman’s greatest conquest and loss, but not defeat.

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is.”

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – An inspirational and heart wrenching story of one boy’s indomitable adventurous spirit taking him across America and into the Alaskan wilderness in search of a simpler life.

“Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom – The compiled lessons in how to live from a college professor dying of ALS, as told by a former student who keeps Morrie Schwartz company in his final days.

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Rogue Justice by Geoffrey Household – A British assassin’s second attempt to assassinate a European dictator—Adolf Hitler—and his “own lonely war on the Third Reich.”

“And where do you want to go?”

“To join the armed forces of my country. And if I cannot, I will fight alone.”

My Early Life by Winston Churchill – A great man’s own words on the first thirty years of his life; from his childhood, to his rigorous schooling, to his adventures as a soldier, war correspondent, and prisoner, then finally his early days in British Parliament.

“You have not an hour to lose. You must take your places in life’s fighting line … These are the years! Don’t be content with things as they are. ‘The earth is yours and the fulness thereof.’ Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities. Raise the glorious flags again, advance them upon the new enemies, who constantly gather upon the front of the human army, and have only to be assaulted to be overthrown. Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. Never submit to failure … You will make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world…”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – Valuable insight into 1/3 of the population that tends to be undervalued in modern society—a must-read for extroverts to understand their counterparts and for introverts seeking validation, explanation, or both.

“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.”

The Way to Love by Anthony De Mello – Wisdom and meditations for loving others and yourself in a manner that is both unconditional and fully aware.

“Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now, and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection, that you can truly love them. Otherwise, it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person, or this person as the object of your desire, not as he or she is in themselves.”

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss – Why wait to design the life that excites you?

“People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson – A true story of masterful leadership and courage during the Blitz—a period dominated by unspeakable evil and crippling uncertainty.

“Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson – Twelve simple principles on living in balance with order and chaos to maximize growth, freedom, and fulfillment.

“If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.”

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson – A convenient collection of pithy wisdom from podcast interviews, Tweets, and essays by Naval Ravikant, a brilliant thinker, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist.

“A happy person isn’t someone who’s happy all the time. It’s someone who effortlessly interprets events in such a way that they don’t lose their innate peace.”

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey – Matthew McConaughey’s “love letter to life,” packed with funny anecdotes about his childhood, career, and other whacky life experiences with some pithy wisdom, poetry, and “prescriptions” thrown in for good measure.

We all have scars, we’ll get more. So rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it, because we don’t live longer when we try not to die, we live longer when we’re too busy livin’.”

South of Broad by Pat Conroy – A tragic and inspiring story of friendship, love, and growth which confronts many of life’s confounding dilemmas set in Charleston, SC spanning several decades.

“Time moves funny and it’s hard to pin down. Occasionally, time offers you a hundred opportunities to do the right thing. Sometimes, it gives you only one chance.”

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman – A free-thinking Nobel Prize physicist’s account of his adventures and misadventures—frustrations with bureaucracy and academia, the making of the atomic bomb, theories on quantum physics, safecracking, and playing the bongo drums.

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”

Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – The history of the human species presented in a way that you have never heard before.

“Biology enables, Culture forbids.”

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – A poignant tale of the Lost Generation, from cafe society in Paris to the bullfighting rings of Pamplona—the truth is unclear, the love is unrequited, morals are questionable, and the wine is endless.

“Never fall in love?”

“Always,” said the count. “I am always in love.”

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel – Think for yourself, ask good questions, and build new things, while trying to avoid competition at all costs.

“In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (if this describes your company, you should quit now).”


Do you have any book recommendations? Did I miss anything? Have questions or critiques? Post your response in the Comments section below.

Dear Dad

Happy Father’s Day!

It’s been five years since the last time I was able to celebrate Father’s Day with you but, as your son, this day still carries weight with me no matter how far away I am or how long it’s been since I’ve seen you.

I thought about passing this letter off as an idea I had all along, but the truth is I neglected to put a card in the mail on time. I hope this note can make up for that.

I wish I could be with you today. If we were together, we probably would have risen early, shared a pot of coffee, walked the dogs along the river bluff, all the while discussing ideas and projects in the way we like to do. I would inevitably share a hot take, you would question my thinking in a genuinely curious way, and I would be challenged to defend my position only to realize I had not actually thought it out. You are good at that.

I have always admired your ability to think; to parse out problems into their fundamental parts and address each part on its own. You have an uncanny ability to identify the relevant factors contributing to almost any decision, and you never hesitate to ask the difficult but important questions. When you find a gap in your knowledge, you fill it. You have the humility to acknowledge that which you do not know, and immediately set out to learn that which you do not understand. Thank you for teaching me how to learn and showing me what it means to really think; to question my assumptions and be humble about my ignorance.

You have a rare but keen understanding of your emotions and the impact they have on your outlook. At no point in my life did you try to convince me that men don’t have feelings or that men do not hurt. Thank you for not shying away from expressing your emotions in an honest way and showing me that it is okay to be vulnerable.

Your work has never come before your family. Nothing was ever so important that you could not support me at a big event or sit down for a family dinner. Thank you for showing up and being there.

Even when you are busy with work, you never hesitate to take my call or answer a text when I need something. Thank you for dropping everything to help me with whatever project I’m working on at the moment or whatever problem I am trying to solve—even if you’re explaining something for the 100th time.

Your love of reading has always been something I’ve aspired to. The amount of books on your shelf is astounding to me, and you certainly have the wisdom to show for it. Thank you for passing along your proclivity for reading, and for sharing your books and articles that you think I will enjoy or learn from.

When I was about 10 years old—and many times since—you told me something I’ve never forgotten:

The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Thank you for teaching me how to love by loving my mother, and being a model for how to treat my future partner.

When I am discouraged, demoralized, or defeated, you consistently say what needs to be said—not just what I want to hear—to set me on the right track. I have never once questioned your support for what I am doing or where I am going because you have always been in my corner, coaching me in the fight. Thank you for believing in me unflinchingly.

“A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.” –Ian Morgan Cron

Thank you for being that man for me, and for inspiring me to be that man one day for my son.

I look forward to many more long walks accompanying long talks.

Love,

-KDP

Take The Next Best Step

What is the best way to act in the face of uncertainty over the future?

How should I handle the sometimes paralyzing anxiety that comes along with trying to plan for the unknown?

A handful of events have taken place in my life over the past several months which have led to major deviations from the plans I had made for myself. Some of these changes have made me anxious about the uncertainty of my future and what to do next—or where to even begin. This anxiety sends my frontal cortex into overdrive; thinking about all of the possible decisions, actions and outcomes that will put me back on a path towards my goals. This tends to result in a kind of mental paralysis that keeps me from doing anything altogether. The planning, the details, the possibilities, and the unknown put me in a state of overwhelm that can be difficult to break out of.

The problem is this: you will never know the future. You can make plans all day, but they will never execute with 100% perfection. There will always be hiccups, detours, and monkey wrenches that get in the way of the otherwise flawless plans that we lay out for ourselves. This is not to say that planning is useless or ineffective. Looking ahead, laying out your goals and milestones, and accounting for bad things happening are a very necessary part of getting what you need and achieving what you want in this life. However, making plans may not always be the best use of your time, especially if planning gets in the way of doing or if the plan itself cannot be conceived in the first place. To realize this is one thing, but to act in spite of this realization is not always straightforward.

I have, with deliberate practice, developed a strategy that usually pulls me out of this pit of paralysis. The way to break out is to take the next best step in the direction of greatest importance, as defined by your current priorities (if you don’t know what your priorities are, you should figure them out, but that is a post for another day). Based on your current circumstances, the information you have, and your current abilities, the best thing you can do is move in the direction of your choosing.

Simply determining what the next best step is helps to keep me grounded in the present. I can recapture my agency by shortening the timeline and reminding myself that the only things I have power over are my thoughts and actions in this very moment. Nothing else. Nobody else. Nowhere else.

You can leave the details for later. You can detach yourself from future outcomes and focus only on the process of acting in the short-term. Try to avoid getting so caught up in the details that you paralyze yourself from even starting. It does not matter that you don’t have the whole thing planned out or that you don’t know where you’re going to end up. It’s okay to not see the whole picture—sometimes you have a paint-by-numbers (if you’re lucky), but most of the time you have a blank canvas. Painting by numbers will produce a pretty picture, but it never results in a masterpiece. You have to start with a blank canvas to create something exceptional. But you have to start. When the alternative is inaction or paralysis, the best thing to do is to narrow your focus and shorten your projection to the most manageable view that allows you to further your cause.

I am not going to say that this is always easy. The idea of the next best step is simple, but right action has a tendency to be difficult. The trick is, however, to focus only on what is right in front of you. That’s it. Not all of the other steps that come after it—this is the fast track to becoming overwhelmed and things tend to devolve rather quickly after that. So, if your next best step is making you feel this way, you probably haven’t broken it down enough. The more you break it down—the more manageable each step becomes—the more the plan actually unfolds as you act.

You are not in charge of the future and there is nothing you can do about the past. The only real power you wield is the ability to control your actions and make decisions in the present moment. Thus, given the circumstances, your abilities, and the information you possess right now, all that matters is moving—even if ever so slightly—in the right direction.

Do what you can with what you have where you are.

Take the next best step.


Am I wrong about something? Did I miss anything? Do you agree? Disagree? Have questions or critiques? Post your response in the Comments section below.


Special thanks to Caroline Buzzard for her help with communicating my thoughts.

There Is No Such Thing as “Self-Made”

Why do I insist on doing things on my own? Why do I refuse the help and support of others for the sake of independence? A good argument can be made for personal growth and learning, to an extent. Sometimes it is truly beneficial to struggle alone for a while to achieve some kind of breakthrough or revelation. However, it seems to me that more often than not, I am too quick to adopt lone wolf status and resolve to do things by myself. I allow ego to decide that I don’t need anyone else’s help, because to accept help would be to admit deficiency or shortcoming.

I often find myself thinking about overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, and solving problems in terms of ‘Me vs. ___.’ But what about ‘We vs. ___?’ Or ‘Us vs. ___?” Why not make it the team’s problem to solve? My friends’ challenge to face? My family’s obstacle to overcome? Instead, I am inclined to dismiss collaboration and insist upon shouldering the burden myself and going it alone.

Maybe it’s because—on some subconscious level—I feel I have something to prove. To myself, to my family, to my friends, to the world. Is it to prove that I am strong, worthy, capable, independent, undeterred by challenge? That I am in some way a superior being to my ancestors before me who got by with a tremendous amount of help and are the only reason I am here today? Maybe it’s because I am afraid I will be judged as stupid or incapable if I ask for help. For some reason a part of me thinks that admitting I need help and asking for it makes me weak or dumb or incompetent.

There is no such thing as “self-made.” The truth is that everyone gets help. If you got any kind of education you had help. If you were born in a hospital you had help. If you were orphaned and raised by wolves—I am sorry and also impressed—guess what? You still had help. I am not a self-made anything, and neither are you. Everything I am and everything I have accomplished or overcome is the result, directly or indirectly, of the collaborative effort of many people.

Help comes in different shapes and sizes. Some types of help are easier to ask for than others. When I’ve needed to learn something, I sought teachers and coaches. When I was feeling lost and needed advice, I leaned on family and friends. When I’ve needed to escape or understand, I looked to books written by authors trying to do the same. When I was injured or ill, I sought the help of trained physicians. During especially challenging times, when I’ve struggled with mental health and anxiety, I turned to the help of a therapist. I did not achieve anything on my own. I had parents, a sister, friends, teammates, teachers, coaches, mentors, bosses, doctors, and even authors there to help me every single step of the way.

And yet, there are times when I still find myself feeling ashamed to ask for help or admit that I need it. The messier life gets, the more internally focused I become, the harder it is to turn outward for help. I still feel slightly uncomfortable writing this with the intent for others to read it. I still feel the need to show the world—even those closest to me—how strong and capable and independent I am.

But I am here to admit something: I am human, I am flawed, I am vulnerable, and I need a lot of help. If you’re reading this, you’re probably human too—and you should consider thanking whoever helped you learn to read. You are not self-made. You didn’t get here on your own. And here’s the big one: behind every single person who has helped you is a whole team of people who helped them. Consider how many people you have helped in some way, small or large, over the course of your lifetime. Try to count them on two hands. I bet you don’t have even close to enough fingers—or toes—to count the people you have helped this week alone.

We all need help. We all got to where we are with a tremendous amount of it. As a species we evolved to work together, lending a hand where we can or reaching for the one that is outstretched in our time of need. Remarkably, we are that much stronger, more capable, and independent because of it.

I am here to tell you, in this new blog of mine, that it is okay—expected, even—to ask for help. And if there’s something you don’t need help with, I hope that you will offer yours to someone who needs it, because nobody can do this solo.

You are not self-made, and neither is anybody else. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.


Am I wrong about something? Did I miss anything? Do you agree? Disagree? Have questions or critiques? Post your response in the Comments section below.


Special thanks to Noah Evans, Caroline Buzzard, and Daniel Fisher for their help in communicating my thoughts.

Thank you to my friends and family for their encouragement in the launching of this space, and to Rhys Parry for his help with launching this site.