At Georgetown, almost everyone focuses on the future. We know that learning is important, but most of us chose Georgetown because of a desire for a good job rather than for a well-rounded education. That reasoning may not ideal, but with social pressures being what they are, it is understandable. Students give a variety of reasons for wanting these excellent opportunities to labor away their lives: They want to better the world, to travel, to immerse themselves in subjects they find fascinating, to earn money, to achieve status. I would not disparage any of these goals, but as one of these intensely ambitious students, I’d like to pause and consider what I’m sacrificing for all this excitement.

Like my fellow R.O.T.C. cadets, upon graduation I will become an officer in the Army, where I will spend several months in training before being assigned to a unit. Unless there is a drastic shift in our national defense strategy in the next two years, I expect to be deployed to an exciting foreign location not long after that. This is what I want, and I know what I’m getting into. I spent five and a half years in the Army before I came to Georgetown. A little over two years of that time was spent in training, the rest, overseas. I enjoyed it, I loved the perspective it gave me, and I can’t wait to go back.

While I was in the Army, I only saw my family for a few weeks every year. I was never assigned anywhere closer than a full day’s drive from Detroit, Mich., my hometown. I accepted that without question: As a professional soldier, I expected to take orders. Furthermore, the prospect of leaving Detroit had a lot to do with my decision to enlist. As a nation, we need soldiers, and they have to come from somebody’s family. Still, there is something wrong with this truism: The Army only has use for me as long as I am physically and mentally fit, but my family has use for me regardless. It is true that the Army takes my well-being seriously and will not use me as mere fodder for a hopeless cause. (Some, who probably have not served in the military, are inclined to disagree with this statement. Let me assure you that you are wrong.) However, the nature of any organization so large and so focused on completing its various missions precludes an all-encompassing concern for any one person; in other words, the Army doesn’t love me as much as my mother does.

The military might be on the extreme end of the self-sacrifice spectrum (not too many other jobs have laws that govern your actions in the event that you are captured by people who want to kill you), but plenty of jobs demand sacrifice. And we young men and women of ambition are prepared to give it. My classmates will find jobs all over the world, doing great things, and giving much to their industries. Modern society needs people like us. But here’s the thing: Society does not love us as individuals. Society doesn’t care if we’ve been having a rough bit of it lately. As far as society is concerned, if something is stopping us from working harder, we should get rid of it. Why have families or close personal relationships if we can spend all of our energy giving and giving and giving to society?

That sounds facetious, but many people decide to live lives in which their primary concern is their work. Everything else comes second. A lot of these people are parents of students at Georgetown. Some are professors at Georgetown. Some people think their work is too important to be done by someone else. Some think that by working, they better the lives of those around them, including their family and friends. Some find a very real and true sense of fulfillment in their work. Most of the Jesuits I know seem to fit into this last group, and they are not alone.

Now that we are still at the beginning of our professional lives, we should take a bit of time to consider this: How much are we willing to sacrifice for our professional goals? Are we willing to allow our jobs to make demands of our spouses? Are we willing to have children we rarely see? Are we willing to not have families at all? A friend of mine told me that she wants to go into a medical field so demanding she doubts she will ever have time for a family, but she thinks it will be worth it because she will save so many lives. Are we willing to save others while ignoring ourselves? If we are, why? People are always praised for self-sacrifice, as they should be. But what are they getting out of it? Some people obviously get a lot out of it, but my guess is that there are plenty who are miserable.

I don’t mean to condemn those who choose to pursue ambitious careers. I’m one of them. But we are students now, and we should use the opportunity to think long and hard about what means most to us in life and find ways to create balance. I’m beginning to sense that there is a bit more to life than soldiering, but I’m not yet ready to walk away.

William Quinn is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and a former staff sergeant in the United States Army. He can be reached at AIMLESS FEET appears every other Tuesday.

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