I’m not sure how early I started mentally counting down to the end of various things. I distinctly remember doing so toward the end of my senior college, eager to get done with the last round of finals and out into the “real world.” But, then, my first stop in the real world was flight school, and I had a countdown to the end of that, too.
Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash
I kept a mental count down to the end of each seagoing deployment – and this time, I wasn’t alone. EVERYONE seemed to be counting down till the return to home port. People often expressed our time left as “X Days and a Wakeup,” as if there had been some irreconcilable difference of opinion over whether or not the days left included the morning we pulled up to the pier and people felt the need to be absolutely clear about their counting method.
In my last job, we planned and executed large-scale joint military exercises. While I liked my coworkers and bosses and absolutely loved living in Alaska for the assignment, the work could be all-consuming and often downright aggravating. I found myself maintaining countdowns to the end of each major exercise I was involved in planning or running. Since the exercises were biennial with almost year-long planning cycles that meant keeping pretty long countdowns (there’s an app for that).
When the time came to retire from the military (I had a countdown for that, too), there was the opportunity to continue working on training exercises. But one of the reasons I didn’t was the epiphany that I didn’t want to spend the next however many years of my life counting down to the end of whatever unpleasant thing I happened to be doing at any given moment.
It was a helpful technique to maintain focus and effort – even if, in retrospect, I probably didn’t need to use it quite as often as I did (college, for example, was something I needn’t have been in such a hurry to put behind me). But it’s inherently not living in the present; if you’re counting down the days to something else, you’re most likely just enduring the present. And that just seems like a recipe for letting your finite days slip away from you.
I didn’t want to look back after another twenty years to realize I’d spent all of my time waiting to be done with the next exhausting, stressful thing. I didn’t want to be counting down anymore; life is too short.
Circumstances afforded me the flexibility to choose any number of paths after I finished my first career, and so I chose one more or less of my own design. One where I wasn’t just marking time until the end of one of an endless succession of unpleasant undertakings.
Unless, of course, I’m out for a run. Then, there’s still a decent chance I’m counting down until I get to stop.