Everything we do in life is a stepping stone for what comes next, whether we realize it or not.
While modern wellness coaches encourage us to practice mindfulness and live in the moment, the old adage “we are the sum of our experiences” is also true. Those are not necessarily in conflict, though they can be if we become so intent on accumulating credentials that we are unable to enjoy the journey.
The story on page 1 of today’s Times about Andrew Aultman, “From Alexandria to Afghanistan, and back,” shows that sometimes our life-changing experiences can point us in unexpected directions. Aultman, who attended T.C. Williams High School while his Air Force officer father was stationed in D.C., enlisted in the Army at age 20.
Aultman became a member of the “Water Dogs,” whose job was to make sure that the water in Afghanistan, where he was stationed after the 9/11 attacks, was safe – not just for drinking, but for “showering, cooking, rinsing. Anything you can think of that you need to do with water, that’s what we did,” Aultman said.
Little did he realize that more than 15 years later he would be overseeing custodial operations in seven Alexandria schools, including T.C. Williams, and managing 70 employees. Each experience leads to the next, and Aultman’s experience as a Water Dog has led him to help expand and implement eco-friendly policies in Alexandria schools, such as recycling and rooftop gardens.
There are many reasons why we write — and you read — feature stories. First, it’s just plain interesting to hear about the lives of those who work or live in Alexandria. The person we pass each day at the bus stop or in Safeway may have experienced fascinating things and it’s fun to learn about them.
But second, and perhaps most important, we can learn from reading about the experiences of others. It gives us the opportunity to stop and reflect on our own lives. The job we might be doing now in a coffee shop or at a day care or some- place else, is helping prepare us for what’s to come.
Fully experiencing each step along our paths will help prepare us for the road ahead. Even if we have no idea where that road will lead.