Making Good Choices


Most people start out with about the same amount of raw material. As a result, everybody is the sum total of the choices they make in life. Some of those choices can take us in some of the most fascinating directions.


Elon Musk was born in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. He is 52 years old, six years younger than me. Musk’s father once illegally dealt in emeralds. His mother is a Canadian supermodel.

Musk made a series of decisions that led him to become one of the wealthiest people on the planet. He heads some of the most successful companies in the world and is currently worth an estimated $213 billion.

By contrast, Jeffrey Dahmer was born in 1960 in Milwaukee, Wis., to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. Lionel was a research chemist, while Joyce was a teletype machine instructor. Jeffrey had one younger brother.

Young Jeffrey made a series of decisions that ultimately led him to kill, dismember and eat 17 young men and boys. He was subsequently beaten to death in prison in 1994. In both cases, Musk and Dahmer made a series of decisions that led them to their ultimate fates for either good or ill.


Young people find themselves in a most precarious state. At a certain point in our development, we are physically imposing yet remain just as dumb as dirt. This curious intellectual dead zone represents a deplorable dearth of both wisdom and judgment and typically runs from about age 15 to around 22. It’s honestly amazing any of us survived.

Every individual is unique, but I draw these conclusions from extensive personal experience. Not only was I once young myself, but I also had the dubious honor of commanding quite a few young people back when I was an Army officer. I learned a great deal from this experience. One of the most profound lessons I inculcated was that I never wanted to be an Army Private.

A great many young soldiers simply cannot resist the urge to
buy one of these — whether they can afford it or not.
Photo by Greg Gjerdingen / Wikipedia

Private X

Most soldiers join the military with the intention of bettering their lot. They then find themselves smack dab in the middle of a minefield. Some sleazy guy offers them a lightly used Dodge Challenger at only 10% above book value and 27% interest compounded weekly. Then, some hot local girl marries him, promptly sues for divorce and renders the poor kid destitute. It’s a cycle as old as the Roman legions. Private X was going to break that mold.

The key was to be multi-level marketing. This kid drove the most craptastic beater car that was literally filled to the headliner with Amway products. There was room to slip behind the wheel but only just. Every free weekend, he puttered off to something called “Dream Night,” wherein he would get to paw over the yachts, supercars, and presumably, supermodels that the upper-echelon members of his weird religion had earned. He opted to live off post and received a housing allowance to do so.

One day, I came to work and found Private X asleep in his car. He had shoved enough blenders, vitamins, plant adjuvant and jugs of gourmet laundry detergent out of the way that he could at least recline his seat. I had the First Sergeant call him in and explain that U.S. Army soldiers were not allowed to live in their cars so they could send their housing allowances off to some multi-level marketing witch doctor. Soon thereafter, Private X was granted the opportunity to pursue his financial dreams as a civilian.

Specialist Y

Specialist Y was a homicidal maniac. She was apprehended in the shower in the barracks in the company of a male civilian friend when someone wandering by heard jungle noises coming from the latrine. She then attacked her roommate with a wooden-handled boot brush when she falsely assumed the hapless roomie had ratted her out. Specialist Y faked a drug test by scooping clear cold water out of the toilet bowl while the observer was actually watching.

The real gem was when her roommate reported that Specialist Y had stolen her debit card and emptied her bank account. I called Specialist Y into my office and asked if she knew anything about her roommate’s debit card. She looked me square in the eye and vehemently denied any knowledge of it. That’s when I showed her the surveillance photograph of her smiling face taken at the ATM while her roommate’s card was being used to make a hefty withdrawal.

Specialist Y acknowledged that the person in the image looked vaguely like her, right down to the distinctive hairstyle and prominent gold incisor. However, she assured me that it was actually somebody else. The implication was she had a terribly compelling local doppelganger. We concluded our brief chat, and I kicked her out of the Army.


I sincerely apologize for having deposited Private X and Specialist Y back onto the streets of middle America. Their offenses did not rise to the level of hanging, yet they demonstrated conclusively that neither of them needed to be unleashed around stuff like automatic grenade launchers. In the final analysis, they were just the sort who made bad decisions.