We all have them -- lined up and neatly labeled -- and sometimes, if we are lucky, we get to see them through. But sometimes, the best results aren't from the first set of goals we pursue.
Playing professional football was the main goal Anderson Mack, a junior at Florida International University, had set his eyes on while playing strong safety at Martin Luther King High School in Decatur, Georgia.
During his senior year, Mack was listed as one of the best players in his position in Georgia and was offered numerous college scholarships.
"I had been playing football since I was five years old," Mack said. "It was part of my heart. I was playing strong safety in high school and was offered a scholarship to Auburn playing wide receiver. I chose Auburn because I wanted to play pro football, and I knew that a lot of players from Auburn went pro. I had a lot of options, but I chose Auburn. "
He was majoring in biology and doing well overall. He redshirted his freshman year and was starting his sophomore year when he went to the grocery store.
"[I was riding my motorcycle] and I didn't have my leathers on, only a pair of shorts and a T shirt,'' Mack said. "The car in front of me stopped and had no turn signal on, so I went around it -- but then it turned. Right into me. I hit the side of the car and flipped over it.
"My helmet [had come] off, and when I woke up, I could see my ankle was in a funny position. So I popped it back in. I also saw that the bone in my arm was sticking out -- I was in shock and trying to just press it back together but it kept popping out. People on the scene kept telling me to relax and told me I was bleeding."
When the ambulance arrived and he was explaining what happened, Mack couldn't finish his sentences because it hurt to breathe. When he got to the hospital, he found out that in addition to a fractured arm and glass embedded in his other arm, he had a collapsed lung and a fractured orbit -- the area around the eye.
"That year, we played South Carolina in the Georgia Dome for the 2010 SEC championship, and we won," he added. "And the BCS championship was in Arizona in January of 2011, and we beat Oregon [for that title]."
He was still a part of the team, received his rings and was on the mend, with a titanium plate in his arm. But later that year, he got a call from one of his coaches. The coach told him he could try out again the following year, but they had to let him go because he was not able to perform the way he had before the accident.
"So I didn't sweat it. ..." he said. "I went to my Plan B about moving down to Miami where my mother was moving to, and I applied to and got accepted into Florida International University. I came in with 60 transfer credits from Auburn and changed my major to psychology. My Plan B was to go into the military so I looked into the Army ROTC program."
Mack said he always kept Plan B in his pocket, just in case. It started with his grandfather. Mack's mother was a single parent raising three sons, and he said he looked to his grandfather whenever he needed guidance.
"My grandfather was a first sergeant during Vietnam and was stationed at Fort Knox. He did 12 years as infantry, four years as a cook and about eight years as a drill sergeant," the cadet said. "He was my role model coming up. My mom was a single parent, and I didn't communicate with my father that much. So I went to my grandfather for advice, and he would always talk to me and lead me in the right direction. We lived with them in Louisville for a while when I was little."
He has a cousin who is serving in Korea, one who is deployed to Afghanistan and aunts and uncles who had served.
"The military is the backbone of my family, so that was my Plan B,'' Mack said.
Mack, a psychology major and co-captain of his school's ranger challenge team, said he is enjoying ROTC and has the second highest PT score in the battalion.
Mack returned recently from Tanzania, Africa, where he taught conversational English to schoolchildren as part of the ROTC's cultural understanding and language proficiency program.
CULP allows cadets to travel to different countries on one of four missions: military to military, teaching English, a state partnership program (SPP) and humanitarian. Through these efforts, cadets gain knowledge of different cultures, learn new languages and different ways of doing things, practice leadership skills and build relationships in other nations.
"This was really a fun experience,'' Mack said. "It opened my eyes to get a view of other parts of the world. I now have a heads-up on how things are here -- the different cultures, religions, tribes, customs and courtesies. And just to get a feel for the people over here."
Although he was teaching conversational English, he also was learning Swahili and getting to know Tanzanian culture, partly through the children he taught.
"If there was one thing I wanted to do and didn't with the kids, it would be physical activity,'' Mack said. "Just going out and interacting physically -- having them teach me their football because I am not familiar with their football and I can teach them American football. And tour -- they can show me parts of their homeland. But I am thankful for [the experiences], because it has changed me and made me thankful for what I have in life."
Interested in Joining the Military?
We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.