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Sun Dec 21, 2014, 12:48 AM

Stories from the Road: The Pack Mule

My wife calls me her pack mule. It's a term of endearment. Whenever there is something heavy that needs picked up or carried, she enlists me to do it. But I got to thinking about it tonight. A pack mule is a work horse, and that's actually a pretty good description of how I have approached my life since I was a teenager. I have always worked hard. My parents made some very bad mistakes when they were raising me and my siblings, mistakes that left me crippled as I became an adult. It took me many years to get all of that sorted out. However, they managed to do something right. They instilled a good work ethic in me.

When I was in college and doing well, someone acted surprised that I was accomplishing what I was doing. I told them that, yes, contrary to public opinion, I actually have a brain in my head and I know how to put it to work. I am graduating from a tough program with a 3.952 GPA. My school counts anything above 3.9 as graduating with "highest distinction" and that will be on my diploma. However, I am no genius. What's the secret then? You have to be a work horse. I am intelligent, but the best thing I had going for me in my academic career was that I really worked hard at it. You do have to be smart to do well in school, but you also have to be willing to put in the hard work to attain academic excellence.

I drive a truck for a living (hopefully that will be changing soon) and I put in 50+ hours a week on average while I was taking three classes a semester. I did that for 2.5 years. I joke around about my wife putting up with me while I was doing that, but it was hard on our marriage sometimes. However, we really gained something in our relationship from that. We developed a deep respect for each other during that period. It really strengthened our bond into something that I think will last a lifetime. Not only were we working hard in our jobs and at school, but we were working on our relationship at the same time. That will pay dividends between us that will last decades.

I know a lot of people here at DU do not think that the American Dream still exists. However, I'm here to tell you that if you work hard in this country you can still get ahead and have a good life. I know there is some luck involved, but you can create a lot of good luck for yourself if you are willing to work at it. Also, success is not necessarily measured by the size of your house and bank accounts. It's mostly a measure of how you feel about yourself. I am not wealthy and I doubt I ever will be, but I really feel good about what I've been able to accomplish in life to this point. It's like being dealt nearly impossible odds in life and being able to overcome it. I've got three psychiatric medications that I will have to take for the rest of my life and I've been hospitalized for nearly killing myself three times. The last time was over 11 years ago. In the space of that last hospitalization and now I have managed to attract a very desirable partner, I attained a middle class lifestyle, and now I am a college graduate. None of that would have been possible without hard work. The people who gave me my method of personal destruction also somehow gave me the tools I needed to survive and thrive. Sometimes, I don't know whether to thank them or curse them, but I've made my peace with that and now my focus is straight ahead on the future.

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