As I am starting to regain function in my left hand again, I again get back on the blogging horse. For those not aware, in addition to being a central Wisconsin landlord, I am also a pyrotechnician and spend the 4th of July weekend setting off professional fireworks shows.
On my Pell Lake show on July 4th, a 5” shell exploded in its mortar causing a number of cuts to my left hand. Those stitches came out last Friday and it is nice to be typing again. It is interesting to return to the world of blogging at this moment, because a blog is much like a personal diary or journal… however it is a journal that the entire world can read. There are times when I really need to write to get thoughts clear in my head. I will write, read it a couple of times… and then delete it. It really is a good exercise. As a matter of fact, this is one of those blog entries that may never make it to the wordpress blog site.
It’s just that for the fourth time, I can feel my life approaching a major crossroads. I can see the intersection coming, and although straight ahead is my preferred path of travel, I would be completely negligent if I didn’t come to a complete stop at the intersection and at least consider those roads off to the left and right.
My first major life intersection was more of a fork in the road upon completing high school. My first choice was to go to the Air Force Academy. I had been accepted by the Academy and met all of their guidelines, I only needed to get the approval of my congressman. And although I finished first in that selection process, I was actually selected third because two other applicants had parents who were either major political donors, or worked on political campaigns. (This was my first real experience with the concept of it not being what you know but instead who you know.) The other option I had was to join the Army through the enlisted ranks, becoming a linguist. Instead of waiting and reapplying for the trip to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 1988, I decided to enlist in the Army. Looking back now, it was – no questions asked – the correct choice.
Even though I chose the Army over Colorado Springs and the Air Force, ironically my next major life intersection happened in Colorado Springs. It is from this point where I start to ask myself if I made the correct decisions at those intersections.
I had enlisted in the Army in 1987, and after a very quick and very eventful four years, I reenlisted in 1991. I had spent the large part of my Army career with 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in southern Germany. It was with that unit that I also found myself in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After returning to Germany, the military started to draw down. I was one of the last ones to shut down our base in Germany when 2nd Cav relocated stateside. As a German-Russian linguist, I was hoping to stay in Europe when I was reassigned, but instead was transferred to 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Fort Carson, CO (just outside of Colorado Springs). I didn’t enjoy my time with the 4th Infantry, more of a rear echelon unit at that time, than I did with the more front line and elite cavalry regiment. So, when draw downs were being done and the Army was offering incentives to leave, I took them up on the offer. I left active duty in 1993 after 6 years (I had fully intended on being a “lifer”), and returned to Wisconsin.
At that intersection, I could have continued with military (although it would have meant retraining to a different occupational specialty or a different language), or return to civilian life. Looking back on things now, that is a decision that if I had to do it over again, I would change my path in a second and would have remained in uniform.
Intersection #3 came up in late 2005. I had graduated from UW-Madison in 1997, and was immediately offered a job in Wausau. While I was in, my parents had moved from Stratford to Marshfield, and then to Wausau. So, I found myself in Wausau once I left the service. I found a part time job for a real estate company while doing my first two years of school at UWMC. I left a good enough impression that upon graduating, I was offered a job as the #2 person in that same company.
Some consider that a life intersection as I was also highly recruited by various consulting firms. But for me, the decision of taking a #2 position in a small company that I already had experience in versus becoming an “And-roid” (our college nick name for those who took jobs with Anderson Consulting right out of school) was no real decision at all.
In 2005, I was facing an intersection where I could simply continue the path that I was on, which to be honest, really wasn’t getting me anywhere. The options where take some risk and turn either left or right. To the left was leaving the employer and field that I had been in for about 12 years. At that time, Mrs. Rent was only the future Mrs. Rent and we were discussing whether I should leave my job of 12 years to relocate to Oklahoma, knowing I was going to hate their summers. Or, does she leave her job of 17 years to relocate to Wisconsin knowing she was really going to hate the winters. So, making a left turn meant relocating to Oklahoma and starting out all over again. To the right was an opportunity to take the properties that I had been managing for over a decade and transform from manager to owner.
Needless to say, I made a right. Looking back now, that was yet another decision that I would change. Purchasing $7 million worth of real estate about two years before the bottom would fall out of Wausau’s rental market has not been pleasant. My 60 to 70 hour work weeks transformed into 80 to 100 hour work weeks. Last week I sold my camper, primarily because it hadn’t been used in 3+ years. Although I truly love boating, it only hits the water 2-3 times per year simply because I don’t have time. I have become this job and that is all that I am. I get to the office around 7 AM and get home sometimes as early at 6 PM, and sometimes as late as 10 PM, and I have no energy to do those things that I enjoy. Way to many weekends, I am putting in full work days as well.
To be brutally honest, it has become a miserable existence. It would probably be different if this work equaled success, but it does not. Although I work on average 10-12 hours a day, for the last few years, I have a financial loss of nearly $150 per day to show for it. How does that song go… another day older and deeper in debt….
So… another intersection is coming… I can see it approaching… and I am starting to slow down to consider the alternatives. Do I keep going straight and hope that economic conditions change… do I just basically batten down the hatches and try to weather the storm hoping that there is calmer water on the other side? Do I take a curve in the road that leads me back to where I was, making the transition back from owner to manager, taking the financial burden off of my shoulders and returning to something where I truly excelled? However, the trade off is knowing that will be all that I will ever be and am I happy with knowing there is no upward movement on that path of travel? Or, do I take the risk of another left turn. Leaving this job, and even this industry and starting from scratch, seeing if I can find something else that I enjoy, that I am good at, and that allows for continual growth.
The fear of the unknown has kept me from those left turns over the year, is it time to put that fear aside? The next year is going to be the kind of year that builds character. In two years, I am going to be looking back at whatever decision I make and questioning if it was the right one. My first life intersection I made a great decision. The next two, if I could go back in time, I would have chosen a different path.
I am seriously not a big fan of regretting big decisions in life, and so far I am only 1 for 3. I really need to be batting .500.