“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Thus begins my favorite Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”. The poem itself is a wonderful metaphor about the one thing we all have in our lives – choices. Do we do this? Do we do that? How do we decide? What logic should we apply? Shall we flip a coin? Or just go whichever way seems to be more appealing? We all face moments like these in our lives. Several times over. Sometimes in a single day. Or even in a single hour.
Whatever the time frame and whatever the methodology that we use to make those choices – we make them. And sometimes, after we make them – we wonder why we wanted to go down this extremely difficult road we are on. Why didn’t we choose the other direction? Or later on in life, we wonder what would have happened if we had made a different choice at that time. And I cannot tell you the number of times I have done this. In the last few days. Yes, the good old “what if” game. But here’s a hint, that game will do nothing but erode your confidence in the choices you made.
Given enough time, that erosion can eat away at who you are, and the way you approach everyday life. The constant second-guessing can pull you back from making future choices. It can leave you second-guessing the easiest and most mundane choices in life. What kind of smoothie should you get at Smoothie King? Add-ons? Do you want the sweetener or not? It can become bad enough that you don’t know what to do with so many choices.
In the Information technology world, this can sometimes be referred to as analysis paralysis. Where you turn over every choice in your mind so much that you spend all your time trying to figure out what to do – rather than making a choice. You find yourself not making a choice – or at least not making a choice on time. And that lack of making choices can erode your self-confidence too. Don’t scoff. This is part of what has happened to me.
In my past, I was known for quick assessments of situations and then making quick, decisive choices of how to repair the situation as best as possible. One Friday night in the bunker at the Air Force installation I was stationed at, our command post’s outside communication lines were not working. Somewhere between our bunker and the primary communications relay that was three-hundred-plus miles away, we had no communications sync. Our command post was the airborne early warning system and radar facility for the southern European portion of the NATO theater. Within five minutes, I determined that our lines were dead. I looked at the overhead outbound lines and saw the German civilian communications lines next to ours. A quick test showed that those lines were still working. Our traffic could easily be routed through those lines and remain as encrypted packages. So I had our lines in our duty section cut, right next to a cut in those lines. We spliced the good civilian lines to our lines and the command post was back online. Four hours later, when our lines were repaired, we returned the communications patch back to what it was meant to be and everything worked as it had been. The fix was unorthodox and not precisely legal. However, it was about results – which is what I was known for. I was confident that the fix would work. I was confident that the temporary patch would not be around past the end of our shift. And I was prepared to take the punishment if any was to be meted out. Decisive, minimal analysis of risk v. reward, confident in what needed to be done.
In the past six months to a year — current me would never have adhered to this fix. I would spend too much time trying to determine who might be mad, and then trying to find ways to appease everyone. I would be over-analyzing the situation and making too many assumptions over how any group of people may or may not have felt. Too many “what ifs” to try and formulate, rather than seeing a solution and making it work. Even if it was just a temporary fix until a more appropriate, permanent one would come along later. That’s just one example. And a fairly extreme one at that.
What if I had been caught using civilian lines to make military traffic flow at a time when a line investigation/repair was needing to be accomplished? I’d hate to even contemplate it. But coming back to the point – I made a decision, utilized it to keep operations going. The amount of analysis I put into figuring out what to do was not much. I looked for solutions and I used them. And if there is one thing I can look back at my career and know – it’s that I am a valuable troubleshooter. Provide me with a problem, I’ll find a solution.
What I need to do going into my future is reapply this thinking to everyday life. Look at things, find a solution, move forward. In the end, there will be mistakes that get made. There will be repercussions for some mistakes or actions taken. But, as long as I am ready to take the responsibility for what I do…these will already be a part of my thinking. Risk analysis is a definitive part of my career. It’s long past time that I returned to a perspective of providing results and stop worrying about how elegant the process was getting there or who might get angry over me doing so. As has been noted before, the “peacemaker Druid bullshit” is not going to fly very often, particularly where results are needed. Toes will get stepped on. Feelings may get hurt. But in the end, getting results is where my confidence has always been highest. And I know I can return to that perspective. Because I have to. Without that self-confidence, I am no good to anybody – especially myself.
Two roads did diverge in the woods…I took the one less traveled. And it has made all the difference in who I am. I learned how to navigate. I learned how to see the woods for what they are: an adventure that starts every morning when I open my eyes. A chance to be me, once again.