Jamie Schwandt and his daughter.

We are not asked which family we would like to be born into. Similar to a poker game, we cannot change the initial hand of cards we are dealt; however, you better believe we can change how we play the hand!

I was born into a life of drugs, alcohol, violence, and depression. My father was an alcoholic and committed suicide. My mother is a drug addict, an alcoholic, and suffers from chronic depression. Essentially, I was born into a life of failure.

Growing up with nothing to lose, I discovered that I possessed an inner fire that would never burn out. The military provided the perfect career and path to make this discovery. I will share with you my key to unlocking my inner fire and how you can unlock yours.

Here are 5 ways being a foster child prepared me for a powerful career in the military and how it led me to my most important moment in life.

1. If I fall down seven times, I stand up eight.

“If you’re not progressing, you’re regressing; so, keep moving forward.” – Elon Musk

Simply put, life isn’t fair, nor should it be. If you live thinking the world should be fair to you, then you are fooling yourself. It’s like expecting a lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him. Life in the military is a difficult one. Similar to foster care, we are exposed to trauma, death, and all sorts of things that continually knock us down. Yet, foster care was the perfect training ground for my career.

Life has knocked me down more times than I can count; however, when I discovered that failure is a good thing I started to pick myself back up again. Foster care provided me countless opportunities to learn; to learn not only from my failure, but that of everyone around me. Some of these experiences are harder than the rest, yet you must always get back up. I will admit, at one point I nearly stayed down. It took a while to stand back up after my father committed suicide… but I did.

2. If it scares me then I must do that thing.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

Foster children are experts when it comes to living outside the comfort zone. Most foster children fail to even have a comfort zone. This is not a bad thing as we create magic when we leave our comfort zone.

Think of the following the next time you see a ship in a harbor: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” Similarly, we are not made to sit idly by in our comfort zone, we must venture out and create magic. This is easier for a foster child than it is for a normal person due to the complete lack of a comfort zone. This lack of a comfort zone was perfect for my transition to the military. Foster care prepared me for life-altering moments normal people simply could not comprehend.

3. Danger you say? Point me in that direction!

“When the whole world is running towards a cliff, he who is running in the opposite direction appears to have lost his mind.” – C.S. Lewis

The next time you are watching the news, pay attention to how people are reacting to a tragic situation. For example, watch old news broadcasts from 9/11. You will notice there are two types of people: (1) those who run away from a burning building; and (2) those who run into a burning building.

Living in poverty and in foster care made me a more courageous person. I remember having to react fast as a child when my parents put me in difficult situations. It didn’t matter if it was confronting a grown man beating my mother or rescuing my mother as she attempted suicide. The life I was born into built my backbone and a strong backbone is required for a long career in the military.

4. Put things into their proper perspective.

“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.” – Unknown

It is only when we witness the horrible things in life that we can truly appreciate the wonderful. I always wondered how God could allow such horrible things to happen to people, but what a beautiful moment it was when I finally realized the why. I discovered the why when I asked myself this one simple question: “Does happiness exist if we don’t experience sadness?”

So, what would a world without sadness truly be? Put another way, in a world without sadness, happiness might still exist, but we wouldn’t value it because we wouldn’t understand its value.

Life in foster care provided plenty of opportunities to experience sadness. Because of it I am able to cherish those happy moments. This prepared me for sad moments in the military, which there are in plenty. These past experiences have allowed me to place things into their proper perspective. I am able to look at situations from a different angle. For example, if I have a difficult day, I am able to remind myself that a new possibility awaits me tomorrow and I have been through worse.

Point 5

5. Just try and stop me.

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Lastly, living in a life of failure provided me the spark I needed to succeed in life. Foster children have an inner fire, but we must show them how to use it to their advantage. The military was my way to use this spark to my advantage. A career in the military provided me the perfect opportunity to unlock my inner fire. It helped me realize I can use this fire as a springboard to success, not a crutch to failure.

This realization led me to the following conclusion: I can be knocked to the ground, dirt kicked in my face, spit on, you name it… it doesn’t matter. My fire will always burn. I will always get back up stronger than before. In essence, I figured out how to use the hand I was dealt to my advantage.

As promised, here is the hidden key to unlock your inner fire: when you find your purpose, then you find your meaning in life. The moment my beautiful daughter was born literally changed me. It made me realize everything I had went through and everything I am going through led me to this moment. Getting to this pivotal moment was the result of learning how to play the hand I was dealt. After her birth, it was as if God had reshuffled the cards and dealt me a new hand. Except this time, he dealt me a wild card–my beautiful wife and magical daughter.

So, when all else fails and life kicks you to the ground… remember this:

“Suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds meaning.” – Viktor Frankl