Taking the Road Less Travelled

And Forks in the Road

I can’t tell you how many times – in both my personal and my professional life that I’ve reached a fork in the road and thought that I should turn right, but circumstance took me left. 

At the time, I thought “Why is this happening to me? How did this happen to me?” 

One example: 

I was a hard-charging Army officer and eventually found myself on the list for both Colonel and command. My boss called me in and told me that he had both good and bad news. The good news was that I was now the “proud owner of a golf course.” The bad news was that I was now the “proud owner of a golf course.

He was telling me that I had been selected to command a base, rather than what I had spent 20 years preparing for: a combat arms brigade.

I recall thinking at the time, “There must be some mistake. I don’t know anything about running a base and, quite frankly, I’m not interested in learning.” 

It took me about three months to learn that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned more about people and how the Army worked than I ever would have had I continued on the traditional Army path. 

Over 95 percent of my 3,000-person workforce was civilian, half were females, and an equal number were German nationals. 

I was joining THEIR team and needed to learn quickly how to adapt to THEIR environment. I became a “town mayor” serving more than 45,000 constituents and customers. My leadership style needed to adapt to this very different environment or I would fail. 

This experience helped me grow as a leader and prepared me for the rest of my time in uniform and beyond. My career – and my life — took a dramatic turn at this point and was positively shaped by taking this non-traditional path. I am where I am today because of this turn of events and I have no regrets. 

In the movie “Forrest Gump,” Tom Hanks’ character said “… life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” He was right. 

If you play the cards you’re dealt — and do the best you can — you often find it turns out just fine. Work with what life hands you and don’t become bitter about what might have been. 

There’s usually a “pony under every pile.” You just have to find it.

Retired Major General Craig B. Whelden

Major General Craig Whelden,
U.S. Army (Retired)

Served 30 years in the Army followed by another nine as a member of the Senior Executive Service for the Marine Corps.

He is a global Fortune 500 speaker and the author of a three-time award-winning, #1 international best-selling book, opens in a new windowLEADERSHIP: The Art of Inspiring People to Be Their Best.  He now resides in Bluffton, South Carolina.