It’s close to midnight as I type these lines. I should’ve finished my editorial a while ago, days ago actually. Tha’ts what happened the previous two issues. But for my third issue a realization dawned on me, one whose roots stretch all the way to back a military unit outside Havana twelve years ago.
I found myself in that unit one sweltering summer afternoon, surrounded by quivering recruit’s on the first day of our compulsory military service. I stayed in that military unit for two years, waking up at five in the morning and running more miles and doing more pushups than I cared to count, and I came out fitter and stronger and more disciplined, not because I chose to, but because I was forced to.
I still workout, but never with as much intensity as when I had a screaming sergeant hovering by. I struggle to get up before seven and I eat more than I should. I do these things because I have a choice. I do them because no one forces me to do otherwise.
If I come across as someone who supports a compulsory draft, then rest assured that I do not. I know of at least one soldier who committed suicide in that unit, and a friend of mine was sent to a military prison because a warehouse he was guarding got broken into. Both of them would probably be better off today had they not been forced into the army.
I do believe, however, that very valuable experiences can be learned form doing things you never wanted to do. Many journalists wish they could write about whatever they wanted to write about. I know I did. Id propose ideas to my editor-in-chief, and whenever he said no, Id sigh and promise myself that one day Id write whatever the hell I wanted to write about.
Now that I have that freedom, I realize that doing what you want can be more difficult than being told what to do. Writing whatever you want takes practice and strength and determination as a well as a certain je ne sais quoi , a screw-you attitude: I don’t care if you’ll like what I write about. The problem is, I don’t have the practice and I care what people think about what I write. I want to wow people, entertain them with my wittiness and make them reflect about things and ponder life, and so I set a high standard for myself before I even begin writing, one that Im almost guaranteed not to reach.
That doesn’t just apply to me. I’ve asked around. Many agree, even here at UTM: it’s easier when you’re assigned a very specific topic or task or assignment.
Im not proposing that it’s better to be forced to do things. Im proposing that sometimes things work out easier when you are, and that you can get more out of it when forced to do things you don’t like. Im also proposing that to do whatever you want, you must have serious work ethic, solid experience and a bottle of aspirin.