I’ve had many goals and aspirations throughout my life. But just short of realizing a dream, I would often quit and start something new. I would put in so much work and just quit. At 19 years old, I joined the military to seek a new direction for my life. Serving in the U.S. Air Force was one of my most rewarding decisions I have ever made. Yet my thinking at the time was that 20 years of committed service felt like a lifetime. So, I only served six years. Now, my old buddies who chose to stay twenty years, which is the minimum service time for retirement, are benefitting from retirement at only forty years of age. Needless to say, ending my service was one of my biggest regrets.
From 2007-2017 I worked as a pipeline controller for an energy company. I always hated math and this job was full of it. It was full of the kind of problems we all asked of our teachers and parents. “When will I ever use this?” It was full of hydraulic, density, rate, time and distance problems. I had found the only job in the world where I had to solve these equations. On top of those complex problems, I rotated 12 hour shifts 5am - 5pm, then 5pm - 5am. I was shut in a room with four other people and had to be alert and sharp enough to respond to emergencies and make spilt second decisions. I hated it with a passion, but I never complained. My bosses and co-workers loved my work ethic and my attitude. It became a running joke that I would be leaving the job soon. Every time they were to implement a new procedure or change, I told them I would be gone by then. I was there almost nine years after I first said it.
During my first year of working for the company a friend tried multiple times to get me to come work for him on a popular TV show. But, because I was “loyal to a fault,” I never accepted the offer. The company spent a year of training on me and I didn’t want to disappoint my managers. I turned down many good opportunities due to my “so called loyalty”.
During those years I learned that management didn’t care about us like I had expected them to. I saw many people come and go and the company continued to operate without missing a beat. If we were short staffed the rest of us had to work extra shifts. It didn’t matter if it was your normal day off, Christmas, your child’s birthday or if you hadn’t slept in days. You were expected to work.
It wasn’t until this grueling work schedule and almost ten years of lack of sleep caught up to me that I decided to make changes. I suffered some severe anxiety attacks which I initially thought were heart attacks. I was hospitalized. As the paramedics closed the ambulance door I asked to say goodbye to my family. I thought that would be the last time I saw them. One of the thoughts going through my mind while I was riding in the back of the ambulance was that I had left some things undone.
My blood pressure climbed as high as 252/120. I was borderline diabetic, had an overactive thyroid - but I still had a fit physique and was in good shape. Little did I know that these were all symptoms from 10 years of shift-work. A neighbor told me once, “that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if you have to spend it on all medical expenses”.
My son was nine at the time of my first attack. I worked two more years and decided I wasn’t going to miss anymore holidays or birthdays. I quit! I decided I was going to get my mind and my life back. I was always strong willed so it bothered me that I couldn’t control anxiety. I sought counseling and God put the right people in my life to guide me though my journey. People around me reiterated what I already knew. I needed to break down the emotional barriers that I held onto for so long. I am learning how to tear down the walls and how to have more meaningful conversations. Most importantly, I learning how to listen, something I avoided during my marriage. My wife yearned for us to be closer, but I didn’t posses or want to learn the skills to achieve that. I took what I thought was the easier route and our twelve year marriage ended in divorce.
Because I was a veteran I was eligible to receive vocational re-training. I enrolled in a business management course. My professor taught us how to have difficult conversations. He actually made us revisit conversations that went badly and recreate them using our new skill sets. He taught me that a passion is not about me, but it’s about helping others. I learned that the happiest and most fulfilled people do what they are designed to do - to love and to help others. The money will eventually come.
The the owner of the college just recently asked me to teach a course at the school, so I can now proudly call myself a teacher.
Since my bout with anxiety attacks and leaving my job, my journey has taken on a new meaning. The most fulfilling things to me now are easy to access and are mostly free. I hike to local places in California that I never knew existed — beaches, parks, and local mountains. I learned that there are waterfalls within an hour from me. I camp and spend meaningful moments with my son. He won’t remember how much money I made. He will remember the times we had together. I picked up things that I started and never finished.
Last year, I published my first children’s book that I wrote many years before, “I Can’t Eat No Pippin Apples”, a semi-autobiographical story about my 95-year old grandmother, “Nana”. I volunteer at the Veterans Hospital and have started writing my second book.
Now I fully realize that it took the loss of my health and marriage to learn what I had known all along but was too stubborn and unwilling to change. I knew money and things didn’t make me happy, but meaningful relationships and community did. Even at my worst moments, when I was laid off from a job while my wife was 7 months pregnant and I struggled watching her go to work each day while I stayed at home, I still knew I had a higher purpose — that God had instilled in me so many dreams and a mind filled with creative ideas. I am forever grateful that I now place greater priority in listening and fulfilling my dreams. My health is better and I now live each day being fully present.
If you ever hear that voice that keeps talking to your heart and tends to resurface every time you try to quiet it. Listen to it, it’s probably God talking to you.
Good luck. I will also make myself available for questions about my journey if anyone needs me.
Chris Stewart is a Digital Media Specialist with an emphasis in video and photography. He is the Founder of Chris Stewart Media and a published Children’s Author. With over 20 plus years of experience, Chris has produced and directed videos for authors, public figures, sports, models, and local entertainers. Chris’ passion for digital media was born after completing his commitment to service as an Airman in the United States Air Force. Chris served his country dutifully and is proud to call himself a U.S. Veteran.
After stepping away from his craft to raise and support a family, Chris worked for 10 years as a Pipeline Controller in the Energy Industry. However, with his unyielding desire to return to media, Chris terminated his position and continued to pursue his lifelong passion. In 2018, Chris published the first of his children’s book series, “I Can’t Eat No Pippin Apples”, inspired by early childhood conversations with his 95-year old grandmother.
During his early career in media, Chris acted as a Production Coordinator for the Lifetime TV Series, Any Day Now.
Chris has a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Television Arts and a Minor in Theater Performance from California State University Dominguez Hills and a Business Management Certification from American Heritage College.
Chris is the proud father of a 13 year old son. He and his family currently live in Southern California.
To Find Chris:
Instagram: : @chrisstewartmedia
Facebook: Chris Stewart