They called him “Big Al the Sailor’s Pal”.
His staff called him Admiral Konetzni.
I just thought he was another guy using the urinal next to me at Riordan’s, a local bar in Annapolis.
“So, what do you want to do when you graduate?”
“Uh, I’m deciding now between Surface Warfare and Submarines”
“Ah, I remember those days. I keep thinking I’ll retire but they always pull me back in. The key is to just take it one tour at a time.”
There aren’t many 3-star admirals that dress in civilian clothes just so they can go out to local bars in Annapolis and have honest, meaningful conversation with the midshipmen, but that’s why Al Konetzni was a legend. His advice became more meaningful the more I saw how genuinely happy this man was. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. As I thought about Big Al’s advice, I realized there is an important lesson in it, and one that we teach completely wrong at the Naval Academy.
Take life one day at a time.
Since day one of plebe summer, we recite, teach and bank all our happiness on the future. Not a day goes by (literally) where you don’t hear the number of days until the next joyous event, the most important of all being graduation. The freshman memorize it and recite to the upperclass three times a day.
We loved the countdown, but what was it really doing to us?
We were taught to avoid living in the present by procrastinating our happiness. If you constantly say “I’ll be happy when I graduate”, you’ll miss out on what it’s all really about… the journey. Attending the Naval Academy is no walk in the park. There are plenty of times when midshipmen would rather not have to think about how busy and stressful their lives are, so I understand that basking in the Naval Academy experience doesn’t always sound appealing, but it’s all you have. There is no happiness in the future, it’s only in the moments that life gives to you, one day at a time. Having been through commissioning week I’m sorry to report that doesn’t contain 4 years of happiness all rolled into one week (the truth is most people are so busy with all the family members and events that we barely get to enjoy it ourselves). It’s just like any other day. You wake up, experience some great moments and then you go to sleep, just like the day before.
Take it from Al Konetzni. Stop waiting to live in the future, because you can only experience life in the present. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and things like graduation and retirement will not relieve you of the pain of procrastinating life.
Stop counting, start living.