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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

Wrong paths can still lead to right places and failed dreams can still create successful people.

J. Basil Dannebohm

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question most of us were asked in our childhood. When I was young, a lot of kids dreamed of being astronauts, doctors, and firefighters. Then we grew up. The mysterious adventure of space exploration gave way to raising a family. Curing the sick morphed into working as a medical coder. Putting out the fires of office politics became a 9 to 5 battle. As we matured, so too did our goals and priorities. In the words of a lullaby written for his son, John Lennon observes, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

For some of us, our careers continue to evolve. Sometimes by choice, others as a result of failure. My life is blessed with both career successes and epic failures. My goal was to become a priest. I left home at 14 to attend a school where the curriculum would advance me toward that aim. However, a series of experiences, including sexual assault at the hands of a Catholic priest, caused me to rethink what I had prepared to do for most of my life. I would go on to enjoy a successful career in public relations and marketing in the corporate world before my life would experience yet another shake up — this time as a result of my health.

After stepping away for a while to address some neurological issues, I decided to enter public service. I became the administrator of a chamber of commerce and was appointed by the governor to serve on a handful of committees. After a short time, those roles evolved into my election to the state legislature. That didn’t last long, though. My health issues worsened substantially, and I found myself stepping down and away from public service. I began to focus instead on being an advocate and dabbled a bit in ministerial endeavors. However, I encountered insurmountable obstacles around every turn.

Failure had become an old friend. I knew it far too well. On the surface I exuded confidence, but behind the scenes I was suffering immense pain and disappointment in myself and the direction my life had taken. People see what you appear to be; few experience who you really are. Withdrawing from actual relationships and existing primarily in the metaverse was, for me, a way of hiding my emotions and struggles. Social media gives us a perception of access to people’s lives without forming actual relationships, so we think we know people based on what they choose to share. It’s a warped view. There are an absurd amount of layers to a person that will never be revealed by the posts they make. Muhammad Ali once said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

It took me a while to realize that I no longer needed to seek validation from a world that frankly doesn’t have the range to understand who I am. How could it? For decades even I didn’t understand who I am. I spent far too long yearning for a hiraeth that never truly existed instead of realizing that the stumbling blocks on my journey were actually stepping stones. Everything that I thought was drowning me was actually teaching me how to swim. Reinventing myself over and over again wasn’t failure, it was trial and error. Like Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Sir James Dyson suffered through 5,126 failed prototypes before he landed on the first working Dyson vacuum. Colonel Harland Sanders was rejected over 1000 times before finding a franchise partner. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times. John Grisham’s first book, “A Time to Kill”, was rejected twenty-eight times. As for me? I’m now just a simple writer. My days are spent researching, praying, thinking, and writing. I’ve finally found peace after wandering in a desert of discontentment for 40 years.

Life happened and along the way I learned that bad chapters can still create great stories. Wrong paths can still lead to right places. Failed dreams can still create successful people. Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself.


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