The best piece of advice I’ve ever received came from my Army chaplain right before I returned home from my first tour of combat in Iraq—no expectations; no frustrations. But after having been involved with the capture of Saddam Hussein (as well as numerous other highly influential missions), not having any expectations was nigh impossible. I felt like I couldn’t NOT have expectations for the glory of our return, and it almost killed me. But, I feel that deserves a bit of a backstory first…
I was a reconnaissance specialist in the Army (A Troop 1/10 CAV). The eyes and ears of the Army
The Iraqi Army and Republican Guard surrendered almost immediately. I couldn’t blame them. The US military is an impressive sight to behold. We moved into our objectives and completed our missions with precision and ease. We joked about how combat was easier than training back home (don’t get me wrong, combat is horrible…no…horrible is how one describes a car accident. Combat demands new adjectives to describe the level of horror). Four months came and went. Six months, we were told, and when that flew by we were told eight, and then ten, and then a year. Some of us had long settled on the prospect of a year-long tour, but not me. I held onto my hope that we would go home sooner than later.
We made the most of it, trying not to get shot, blown up, or die. Most of us were successful, some not so much. My unit was highly influential during that year, participating in some of the most sensitive missions during the war, to include the capture of Saddam Hussein. We were told that there would be parades and parties, glorifying our accomplishments (and indeed there was). We were told that we were heroes, and we were.
During our tour, we would all talk about what we were going to do when we got back—eat a big fat ribeye, take a month-long vacation with our family, drink copious amounts of alcohol, and have lots and lots of sex. When we finally moved back to Kuwait, we could taste our fantasies forming into reality. Our chaplain gathered us all into a tent and explained to us that we’d been gone for a year, and how combat changes a person; that those of us who were married would have to relearn to be with our spouses and children, and vice versa. Those of us (me) who weren’t married were going to have to relearn how to talk to ladies. He explained that, despite our fantasies of having a big welcome home party, that maybe our families would want to do something else, and that we should be considerate of that. After all, we’d been gone for a year, but they’ve been alone, taking care of things by themselves for that same year. There was going to be a lot of relearning and readjusting.
“Most of all,” he said. “Remember. No expectations…no frustrations.”
I didn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t help but have some expectations, even if it was just a simple welcome home event. Something. After all, we were the heroes that captured Saddam!
I almost died the night after we came home.
The gymnasium was full of family members, but due to the secret nature of our return, the families hadn’t been informed until the day before we left Kuwait. Only the family members that lived close to Ft. Hood, TX were able to make it. Mine lived in CA. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, they were all there, tears streaming down their faces even as pure joy pulled at their lips. Hundreds of people had gathered to welcome home their heroes. None of them were there to see me. I was alone. More alone than I’d ever felt in my life.
My friend’s wife had acquired a lease for me, in a furnished apartment next door to them. I sat at the edge of the bed that night and cried. If I’d had a gun that night…I wouldn’t be writing this now.
When I awoke the next day, I felt better. The chaplain’s words seemed loud in my mind and from that day forth I infused my soul with those words—No expectations; no frustrations.
It’s almost impossible to not have expectations when we’ve done something that we feel is great, grand, and otherwise amazing. Like writing a novel. We pour our heart into those pages and are rightfully proud of our accomplishment. It’s natural to feel that agents and publicists are going to swoon over your words and throw contracts at you, screaming, “
No expectations; no frustrations.
Learn to write for no other reason than that it will make you a better writer. Let your fingers dance across the keyboard and pencils to scratch near-illegible marks on paper. Do it because you love writing. Just write, and see what happens.