Energy, from a physical standpoint, is what drives everything in our lives. The sun’s rays allow plants to perform photosynthesis, which allows the energy to be transferred to animals via digestion, who are then consumed by other animals, and the energy is again transferred. Human beings fit into either step two or step three of this process. The energy we receive is used to produce ATP, which powers all of the processes in our bodies. It allows our bodies to perform the basic functions of breathing, digestion, and pumping blood. It also makes possible higher cognitive function such as learning, exercising, and cooking. Energy is the most valuable commodity a human being can possess, but it is often overlooked, and taken for granted, until it is dwindling. Unfortunately for us, it is also a limited resource. The energy for all of the activities we perform derives from the same pool of ATP, be it a purely physical action such as running a marathon, or something that is more subtle such as studying for a test, or as intangible as summoning the willpower to avoid eating a cookie, or motivating yourself to change your life. Regardless of what you are doing, there is only a certain amount of energy available at a given time in order to do it.
The law of conservation of energy states that energy can never be created or destroyed; only transformed from one form to another. For example, the IED that I stepped on in Afghanistan turned chemical energy into kinetic energy which pushed air molecules through the air, which subsequently sliced into my body. The ways that this law applies to physical objects is obvious. What is not so obvious, however, is how it applies to the intangible activities in our lives.
As we experience life there are different forms of energy constantly changing forms all around us. Some of these changes we are causing ourselves, and some occur without our input. All of this energy, however, has the potential to directly affect us, whether we want it to or not. I most certainly did not want the chemical to kinetic energy transfer that severed my legs to be anywhere near me, but it was. The key to success lies in the reaction to the energy which affects us.
It often occurs that we can only articulate our responses to situations after the fact, when we have the time and inclination to search for understanding. I couldn’t have explained it at the time, but as I lay in my hospital bed at National Naval Medical Center in July of 2010 I knew on some level all of the information that I have laid out thus far. I knew that my resources of energy were limited, along with my time. Within the first few days of regaining cognizance I had already created the goal of being able to regain my physical capability and independence. I knew that I wanted this goal as soon as humanly possible, and also, despite how much I may want it, that it would take a long time to achieve, and that there was no way to avoid this fact.
The Kubler-Ross model explains the stages by which an individual grieves for a lost intimate. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In this case it could be said I was grieving for myself. The former me that had died in Sangin. Since I had a natural understanding of conservation of energy, and an awareness of the time required to reach my goal, I instinctively skipped the first four steps and proceeded to the acceptance portion of the process. I had decided that to spend my limited energy resources on denial, anger, bargaining, and depression would be a pointless waste, and would be better left off of my itinerary. I wanted to be able to expend as much energy as I could toward my goal, which would not only allow me to reach it faster, but would also improve the quality of my success. The sooner I had accepted my situation, the sooner I could get to where I wanted to be.
At the risk of hubris, I believe that all people would be served by such an attitude. Not only in times of tragedy, but in everyday life as well. We may have limited energy to expend, but if we choose to use it efficiently, it is always more than enough. Removing energy wasting attitudes and actions is of the utmost importance for maximizing our efficiency, and thus arriving at our goals sooner, and with greater quality. Just like your car, your own gas tank only holds so much, and if the gas tank is being taxed by the engine, the onboard computer, and the AC, it will run out much faster than if it were only providing fuel for the engine by itself. If you focus on one thing at a time, your energy will be used much more efficiently than if you are trying to solve all of your problems simultaneously. If you are out training for a marathon, but are preoccupied by other events that have no correlation with your workout, then the energy you have to apply to the workout will not be sufficient. And thus, when your body needs to draw on your gas tank for a little bit of willpower to push your pace a tad faster, there won’t be enough left, and your goal will get marginally closer than it could have. If you lose your job, the more time you spend angry, bitter, and distraught, the less energy you have to find a new one. Whether or not you make one final phone call at just the right time could be the deciding factor in finding a job right away, or being in the unemployment line. And whether or not you feel like making that call all depends on how much energy you have left. Waste your energy concerning yourself with the past at the risk of your future.
As our bodies are converting energy in order to survive on a subconscious level, we can also convert energy on a conscious level. The conscious decisions to which I am referring are those that act to turn negative occurrences into opportunities. We cannot always control what energy will affect us, be it positive or negative. We can, however, always control our reaction to these energies: positive or negative. If we choose to react positively, we can take the energy of a negative experience, convert it, and utilize it towards our own purposes. If a person is running toward you in order to attack, you can use their momentum to throw them to the ground, and thus either escape or subdue them. If you choose to curl into a ball, you will most likely be hurt.
Having one’s legs amputated above the knee is categorically a negative experience. If I hadn’t had the right mindset afterward, the rest of my life could have also become a negative experience. Fortunately, I was able to react to the loss by accepting the negative energy from that occurrence and using it to open doors for myself in order to be sure that my life would remain a positive experience. No matter who you are, whether you are healthy or ill, injured or able bodied, everyone’s main purpose in life is to make it as good as possible. This is an unchanging objective for all people no matter what happens. Thus, now that I was a double above the knee amputee, I needed to figure out a way to keep my life enjoyable. With this in mind, I researched the Paralympics to see if I could participate, which led to a bronze medal at the 2012 games. Not only that, I accepted people into my life who have enriched it beyond what I could have imagined. From the experiences associated with sports I have learned lessons that have and will continue to make me a better person. Lessons that I can pass on to others in the future. It was in this way that I was able to transform the negative experience(energy) of having lost the lower parts of my legs into the positive experience(energy) of participating in sport, and all that has accompanied it. If you are ill or injured, use it as a way to discover a new hobby or career. If someone is rude to you and makes you angry, use the anger to fuel a workout. If someone you know has a terminal illness use it as an opportunity to make a difference in their life and in the world. The most important part of transforming energy from negative to positive is being aware of opportunities as they are presented, and having the courage to seize them.
Energy is all around us. Constantly fueling, and transforming. It will affect us in ways we cannot predict. Be a person that uses energy intelligently instead of wasting it.