• Jerry L. Burrell

Wilderness

Day 10 of my 21 day writing challenge


She asked “What happened?”

This simple question which I had no answer for was like a gut punch. My Aunt Rosie was asking because she was concerned. I graduated from Arizona State University in May of 1987 and here it was September of ’89 and after a string of jobs, I returned unemployed to Denver to her home, where I had lived for most of high school.

Written down, this question just wants an answer. Spoken, It revealed the need for much more. I sensed her concern and her confusion. What she could not hide though was her disappointment. While she didn’t say it out loud, what I heard was “You were the one that was supposed to make it.”

But here I was 9 jobs later and looking for the 10th.

I didn’t have an answer for her. I mumbled something like “I’ve just got to figure things out.”

I quickly got job #10 only to find myself looking for job #11 a few weeks later.

After the high of my college experience where it seemed like I enjoyed 99% of every single moment (calculus = 1%), the real world didn’t make sense to me. Trading my time, trading my talent, trading my soul for a few dollars? How could people do this, day in and day out?

This is what started it:

While still in school, I accepted a job offer from a company and a few weeks later reneged on them to accept a job offer from another company that offered me a $1500 hiring bonus.

I didn’t know hiring bonuses existed for bachelors degree graduates unless it was a professional sports team doing the hiring. Problem #1 - The company that offered the hiring bonus was not my first choice. Problem #2 - I chose their money, not their opportunity. During the hiring process they showed me what I'd be doing. It was not my style. I figured If I took the job, I could deal with it.

I lasted 3 weeks and created quite a mess for them by leaving without giving notice.

I even had the audacity to call the company I reneged on to see if that opportunity was still available to me.

It wasn’t!

This was not how it was supposed to turn out.

For over 2-1/2 years after I left ASU, I was in the wilderness drifting and uncertain and going thru the motions. There has to be more to life than this I told myself time and time again. If I am going to trade my time and my talent for money, I want it to mean something to me.

As many challenges as I had on my journey from George Washington High School to a degree from ASU, It never felt forced. At ASU, I was being tested literally and figuratively on a constant basis and I kept moving forward. I was where I was supposed to be and I was working toward something with passion, determination and focus. I was truly motivated.

I now realize my true motivation during that time.

If she were still alive and I could talk to Aunt Rosie right now, I would answer her question this way.

Aunt Rosie, I was on a mission. Sure, our family gave me enough hope and love to keep me going but I still felt the need to prove that I mattered. All around me was struggle and strife and not enough, like the 5th grade bus ride to a new school surrounded by beautiful homes told me not enough. The guys who jumped me on the playground in 5th grade told me not enough. The nights sleeping on the kitchen floor in front of the open gas stove because it was cold and our electricity was turned off told me not enough. The frail nerdy kid in 7th grade with glasses who called me a “little 70lb bitch” told me not enough. The 8th grade counselor who didn’t believe I should take algebra 2 even though I got a B in algebra 1 at my other school told me not enough. The high school student parking lot filled with student’s cars that I passed while riding the school bus told me not enough. The AP history class that I barely got a C in told me not enough. The calculus class that I needed tutoring for told me not enough. The judges at the state gymnastics meet my senior year told me not enough. West Point Military Academy disqualifying me a week after HS graduation leaving me with nowhere to go to college told me not enough. I was on a mission to prove that I was more than enough and that I mattered and I thought a college degree would do that for me and then life would be easy, no more struggle, no more doubt from others, no more doubt from myself. ASU was my ticket to freedom and for 5 years, I hustled and I busted my ass and i racked up student loans and the work I put in started to pay off and I got a taste of what mattering felt like and I wanted that for the rest of my life and I walked across that stage with my degree in my hand and 15 members of my family who all drove 18 hours in 1 rented van were in the audience cheering me on and we celebrated afterwards and the love I felt was real and I was more than enough and I mattered and I basked in the glory of mattering to myself, to my family, to my friends, my teammates, my world…..and a few weeks later as I began the job with the company that paid me $1500 just to agree to work with them, I realized what I did in college didn’t matter, what I did in gymnastics didn’t matter, what my friends and family thought of me was moot. I would have to prove that I mattered to my boss, my customers, my co-workers and as much as I appreciated all the opportunities that came my way, that was not how I envisioned it working out.

Aunt Rosie, what I didn’t know then but what I know now is that what people think, what I own or possess, where I live, where I work, how much money I make and even how smart I am doesn’t matter when it comes to whether I matter.

I exist, therefore I matter. The universe since the beginning of time and throughout eternity has never had the pleasure of experiencing anything exactly like me. My being here is an event in and of itself. I am more rare than blue moons and total eclipses and 500 year floods. I am the third child of Elvin and Eileen Burrell whose combined DNA churned out a life force never before or since produced.

I am rarity exemplified.

I fill the void that no one else can.

I MATTER!

Aunt Rosie, once I figured that out, things made more sense. I also figured out that I have to remind myself every now and then that I really do matter because the world has a way of denying it. I also discovered a new mission for my life and I've spent over 20 amazing years packed with adventure fulfilling it.

Aunt Rosie, the way you lived your life helped me to see all this.

I just couldn’t see it at the time.

That’s what happened Aunt Rosie.

I remain grateful.





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