Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The CA Conservation Corps and Purpose

Winston Churchill

Og Mandino

The challenge is before me.  I have 20 blogs to go before I reach 150.  The hardest part about doing this is working straight through a blog without stopping or allowing myself to be distracted, so I’m going to try that again.  I have a strong sense of determination, but truly the hardest parts are to get started and to keep going.
When I was 18, I wanted to travel and see the world or at least the country.  But I didn’t have the money.  Then one day I got a call from an employment worker saying that my application for the California Conservation Corps had been accepted.  I was so excited.  It meant I would be leaving home for the first time and I would be able to travel.  What I didn’t realize was how hard the job would be. 
First, it was scarier leaving home than I thought it would be.   Then the job itself was very demanding.  What I learned was that I wasn’t actually in the Corp yet.  I was a trainee.  On the first day there were about 250  to 300 young people from all over the state.  But the ranks would thin quickly.  The CCC had a policy called termination.  They would terminate anyone who broke the rules.  Obviously anyone caught with drugs or alcohol got terminated.  So did anyone who got in a fight.  But they also terminated anyone who was disrespectful to the supervisors.  And they were terminating people who could not or would not do the work.   In the first week, people were being terminated right and left.  I was determined to not be one of those people.
I don’t know what it was.  Perhaps it was fear of failure.  Perhaps I wasn’t ready to go home.  I really don’t know what my reason was.  I just knew that I was not going to quit or be terminated. 
CCC was a cross between military and prison.  It was the most structured environment I had ever been in.  The work was often demanding and physical.  We were told when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat and when to work.  No insubordination was tolerated.  We started our mornings off with calisthenics in the dark.  Then we ate breakfast and worked.  The work usually involved digging or raking or clearing weeds or bark.  Sometimes we stayed at the campsite and other times we traveled for a while.  The camp was in Angel Camp, California, a site made famous by Mark Twain’s story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.  The area was beautiful.  Verdant rolling hills were everywhere.   
Overall, it was a good job.  I worked hard and I was fed well.  I even gained weight and muscle tone.  I met some good people and a few bad ones.  But I was determined to see it through.  I had never been more determined in my life.  The training was 30 days long and it was the longest 30 days of my life.  And it got worse. 
One October 31, my best friend, Rudy died in a car accident.  I found out the next day.  Needless to say, I was devastated.  I wanted to leave so I could go to the funeral, but I wasn’t allowed.   Quitting was my only other choice.  There was one week left before we graduated.  What should I do?
I stayed.  I missed my best friend’s funeral and to this day I wonder if I did the right thing.  I rationalized my decision by telling myself quitting with one week to go wouldn’t bring Rudy back or help anyone.  I never completely convinced myself that I did the right thing. 
But I stayed on the job.  And one week later, I graduated.  There were about 100 people left.   I remember the graduation ceremony.  It was on a Saturday morning and it was one of the proudest moments of my life up.  I had done something physically and mentally demanding.  I had survived it.  I felt great.
At the age of 18, I had no idea what Purpose was, but I was knee deep in it.  My Purpose, my goal, my one consuming ambition was to get through the training no matter what.  Nothing was going to stop me.
There are sometimes things in life that we want more than anything else.  That is a wonderful and terrible place to be in. That was the case here.   Nothing was going to stop me.  Not fatigue, frustration, pain, or even the death of my best friend. 
What I learned is that your resolve will be tested.  Constantly.  And the closer you are to the finish line, the greater the test.  I’m worried because although my goal is difficult, I haven’t had any great test yet.  There are six days left.
What will I do when this test comes?
I will Get Started and I will Keep Going.  Or I will give up.  But probably not, because I would really like another graduation ceremony.