(If you haven’t read Chapter 1 yet, do that first)

Anyone who tells you they’re from Washington, D.C. is usually lying to you.

 

They’re actually from Northern Virginia, which shouldn’t be confused with Virginia. It really isn’t like the rest of the state. In fact, there has always been a push (very much unsuccessful) since the 1970’s to succeed from the Commonwealth to be the 51st state.

 

Northern Virginia is home to almost 3 million people, most of which are involved in government. It is the most affluent region in the nation. In fact, 7 out of the 20 richest counties are clustered in this area. It’s relatively important with several governmental agencies including the CIA and the Pentagon, which are all peppered all over Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties. There’s a good chance as you read this, your internet usage runs through Loudoun county, as its data centers process 70% of the nation’s internet traffic. Sure, all the big decisions happen in the nation’s capital, but Northern Virginia literally keeps the country running. It is a machine.

 

I spent most of my formative years in Northern Virginia. My father spent the majority of his career in the Air Force which eventually led him to working as a private contractor for the Missile Defense Agency. They basically exist to shoot any missile, satellite, or foreign projectile out of the sky before your tuesday morning commute is obliterated by a trigger happy dictator across the ocean. I never knew how to accurately describe my father’s job without sounding like a complete moron so I reverted to telling my friends he’s a rocket scientist, which it turns out isn’t very far from the truth based off my conversations with him about trajectories, sensors, and space. Most of which is over my head, literally.

I reverted to telling my friends he’s a rocket scientist, which it turns out isn’t very far from the truth

I once went with my brothers to a take-your-child-to-work-day with my father when I was in middle school. We along with twenty or thirty other kids were each handed classified notebooks with a giant  “MDA” emblem on the front. Inside the notebook laid out the day’s mission. There had been rumors of a missile launch headed toward D.C. and Los Angeles at the same time from two locations: Iraq and North Korea. (Of course.) The briefings had several George Bushisms in the day’s objectives such as “Eliminate the evil doers”,  and “Gather intel from the Iraqi regime.” The missiles were known to come from places that housed the famed “weapons of mass destruction.”

 

Obviously this was well before Matt Damon and the cast from Green Zone proved Bush was ill informed on the WMD’s which couldn’t be found anywhere. He did apologize for this blunder in his Decision Points memoir which is a great read even if you couldn’t stand the guy. He’s now taken up oil painting and has stayed relatively quiet on anything political, which I think most ex-Presidents would be wise to follow suit.

 

We got placed into groups of five and had 60 minutes to figure out how to save 30 million people. Seems easy right? One problem, budgets were tight after blowing most of it on end of the year bonuses and work retreats, the U.S. government only had one MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile left in inventory.

 

We had to figure out at what velocity we could shoot this thing to intercept both enemy missiles before two major metropolises were the next Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

The most fascinating thing about the whole exercise was distinguishing which kids lived and breathed this stuff  and which kids just wanted to avoid the scenario entirely.

 

I was somewhere in the middle of each political stance as we were throwing out all kinds of ideas. These ranged from dropping bombs on the entire countries of Iraq and North Korea, just to make a statement to not mess with the U S of A, all the way to the more passive kids who suggested everyone evacuate L.A. and D.C. and drive our Dodge Caravans to Kansas and live off an organic farm community with antibiotic-free cattle and free range chicken till we were given the all clear.

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the mental capacity our moms and dads had for solving these types of problems and we failed the entire country. Both missiles struck without a hitch and left the country utterly crippled and weakened our position as the number one world power. Initial casualties were over 30 million and radiation would most likely kill another 10 million.

 

It wasn’t even lunch time and we had all lost a few pounds from pure stress. I just wanted a fun office tour and get sent home with a laser pointer. Real world problems with gigantic consequences? When can I go back to art class? And is this kid in tears over a hypothetical situation? Someone get him a kleenex. I don’t want this kid anywhere near anything important, ever.

 

One of the kids who opted to carpet bomb the enemy claimed we didn’t have the tools our parents had and only had simple physics formulas and calculators.

 

The kid had a point. But, it’s all hindsight now. And besides, given our location, we were all most likely dead anyways. This might just be me, but this all sounded like a terrible recruiting tactic to raise the next generation of rocket scientists.

 

The next week I was standing in the LEGO store at the world’s biggest outlet mall, right in Northern Virginia’s famous, Potomac Mills. It takes a good twenty minutes to get in the store given the mall is one story and almost half a mile long. I don’t know who planned the layout but I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s out of a job. I was staring at the giant National Mall the employees had built out of Lego’s. It was massive and the most impressive thing I had seen from an engineering standpoint. The display included a White House, Capitol Building, and a Lincoln Memorial with a reflecting pool. Instead of simply admiring their handiwork, all I could think about was a giant missile with Kim Jong-un’s face painted on the side flying right into the White House, spewing shards of plastic legos all over the store. The classified missile exercise left quite an impression on me.

 

This was the first moment I started seriously considering what I wanted to do career wise. This ramped up in high school when all kinds of government agencies and recruiting tables for the Army and Marines would set up shop in our cafeteria and tell you why there’s nothing more exciting than shooting an M16 in the streets of Baghdad or mining through your fellow classmates’ text messages to stop the next terrorist threat.

 

I wonder if Edward Snowden did some personal snooping before he blew the whistle on the NSA’s mass surveillance program. Check on his ex girlfriends’ real reason for breaking up with him.

 

I had a friend that joined the Navy right out of high school. They probably have the best commercials out of the military branches. Clips of fighter jets taking off aircraft carriers and the world’s most advanced submarines manning the shores while you panic about sharks on the beach promise the most exciting adventure for any recent graduate to become the next hero on the high seas. The US Navy’s emblem flashes on the screen with the tagline “A Global Force for Good.” It’s a very compelling ad.

 

What wasn’t very compelling was the actual reality of joining the Navy. My friend and I met up for dinner a few summers ago at a steakhouse to catch up. He had been in the Navy for almost a year now so I was hoping with him on his third Sweetwater Pale Ale I could divulge some classified info on when we’d invade Syria, or if my phone lines were tapped.

 

I don’t know if I could ever join the military or any intelligence community for that matter because I would be so curious about all the things our country does that doesn’t make CNN’s breaking news because CNN doesn’t even know about it. I would inevitably spill the beans to my friends and family on the hot gossip simply because I’d find it too interesting or shocking to keep quiet about. My behavior would catch up to me and then I’d have to call up Julian Assange and join Wikileaks just to survive.

 

Instead of hearing my friend tell me a story about a year long trip on a nuclear submarine, I learned he was a Military Police officer on a base in Norfolk, Virginia. Most of the time he would drive around in his patrol car on twelve hour shifts and then chase down the occasional drunken sailor who would steal over-the-counter drugs from the grocery store. It’s a position that is obviously needed, but one I never saw in the commercials or in the recruiting brochures. Not necessarily the global force for good I envisioned.

No one wants to be in the grocery store. They want to be at sea.

I thought back to my father’s team of rocket scientists building out countless algorithms and scenarios to protect us from the next missile attack. There’s a whole separate internet just to maintain all the data and communication needed to alert the missile defense system when there is a threat. $7.5 billion a year all for a “what if” from mostly one North Korean man in his early thirties. I’ll be content if I’m still hanging out with my friends when I’m thirty. Unfortunately there is no choice but to prepare for these what if scenarios.

 

Kim Jong-un is the master puppeteer and we’re all pawns in his game of threats.

 

I started to look back through my own life and I came to the realization that there were puppeteers peppered everywhere. None of them looked like North Koreans with bowl cuts and dark green uniforms, but they were still pulling strings.

 

Puppeteers are people or systems who, knowingly or not, want you to live a certain way that produce a desired result to positively impact themselves. Get the right job. Join the right clubs and organizations. Carry on the family legacy.

 

These puppeteers came in all shapes and sizes. Some were student organizations who measured my spirituality in the form of attendance. Some were bosses who thought making all the decisions was the definition of true leadership.

 

These puppeteers are not interested in the real you. Their “investment” in you is really an engine to propel them forward. They are interested in pushing their own agendas. Their own moral highground. Their own careers. Their own lives.

 

Other puppeteers are much harder to see but can be the most powerful. These can be your best friends, or even your own parents. This group truly wants the best for you but because of the relational impact they’ve had, your own vision and goals for yourself can get foggy.

 

It is no secret we are all wired to connect and fit in a group in some fashion. That is why friendships are built around five hour discussions (arguments) into the wee hours of the morning on the most obscure topics, such as church budgets and memberships. Should they really be tax-exempt? Should they follow the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)? Should membership even be a requirement? What’s the balance of investing into Chauvet DJ Intimidator Spot 255 IRC lights and global missions? I fell asleep shortly after the accounting discussion.

 

These discussions don’t just happen right away. They’re built on hours upon hours of time spent together. I am no math wizard, but there’s a small handful of people I would argue I’ve spent collectively over 3,000+ hours with. These repeated decisions to spend time together are built on the most minute similarities but blossom into the most complex homogeneities.

 

He’s wearing the same shoes as I am.

 

She’s listening to one of my favorite albums.

 

I thought I was the only one to find Justice Scalia’s dissent in PGA v. Martin absolutely hilarious?

 

Trust me when I would claim we’ve covered just about every topic at least on a surface level.

 

See discussion on GAAP being followed in religious institutions.

 

Although there really is no point in life if you aren’t connected with friends and family, there is a danger to reverting to pleasing other people’s wishes rather than listening to yourself and pursuing something you wanted to do all along.

 

Obviously there is a balance in all of this. There is certainly value in some of the puppeteers you come across. My family and friends have opened my mind wider than I thought could ever be possible. They’ve also kept me from making some really terrible decisions.

 

One of these decisions has been believing that your dream can be accomplished at the expense of others. I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t know anyone who was trying to living out their dream while being a burden to others around them. Maybe I am being overly critical or not passionate enough about my own dreams, but there’s something to be said for the young adults who don’t need their parents to pay for their rent to get a shot at “making it.”

 

There seems to be this ever growing trend of people who want to be entrepreneurs or work from home but don’t want to take the time to learn from those around them to create a healthy launchpad they can sustain themselves on, or create real value in the world.

 

Maybe if we started to utilize the people around us that have been in our shoes before, there would be less of us selling energy drinks and losing our friends in the process, and more of us involved in something purposeful.

 

Sooner or later, the puppeteer you have to be cautious about is yourself.

 

That is why you have to see who the strings are being controlled by .

 

There is a difference between puppeteers who truly care about you and puppeteers who could care less.

 

I had a discussion about this thought with a friend and he said something very interesting.

 

“Introduce anything that’s outside their immediate interests or beliefs. A thought, a career choice, anything. If they’re not interested in learning from your point of view or at the very least listening to what you have to say, they’re not interested in you. They’re interested in themselves.”

 

It’s true.

 

Even if your idea really isn’t the best life decision or truly is damaging, anyone who cares about you will at the very least hear you out before steering you in the right direction.

 

We’ve all got puppeteers with their own rockets in our lives telling us a million different things and they’re just waiting to push the big red button to finish you off.

 

But, we’ve all got our own rockets too.

 

The biggest rocket in your arsenal to provide some clarity in your life is your authentic voice.

Your authentic voice is critical in your pursuit of your sehnsucht.

Without it you are simply another person listening to the million Kim Jung-un’s dictating your life’s every move instead of listening to what should be your clearest voice.

 

Your’s.

 

A few months ago, my friend in the Navy told me he was going to Kuwait. This may sound dangerous to most of us, but I couldn’t be more happy for him.

He was out of the grocery store.

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