I have been out of the Marine Corps for 11 years now. I joined the Corps at the ripe age of 17. In fact, I didn’t even turn 18 until halfway through bootcamp. That might have been the only birthday in my life I literally hoped no one would notice. For if they had, it would have been bad. Very bad. None the less, 6 years later I found myself in Iraq in 2003 and upon returning, my time was up. I was a reservist with an infantry unit and prior to Iraq, I was working for a non-profit. The same non-profit I work for to this day actually. I love my job. However, these past 11 years have also given me the opportunity to embed some military wisdom in my career and offer general advice to others. Much of it goes well. However, I am here in this post to tell you the aspects of Military Wisdom that just doesn’t quite translate well to the civilian sector. Many of you exiting the military in the coming years might be able to use this as a guide. So let’s proceed.
One of the greatest traits a Marine can take with him into combat is the acceptance of the fact that he might die. No one wants it and no one will fight harder for their life than the US Marine. However, when one accepts the fact that this is a logical conclusion to their actions, there is a certain peace that comes about them. A peace that allows them to take action in the most daunting of tasks. Seems like good wisdom right? Well, as it turns out, not for everybody.
When asked to give some advice on how to handle the nerves about public speaking, I offered this seemingly brilliant nugget of wisdom. Just accept that disaster is a potential reality so fight. Inspiring, I know. You see, we all get nervous. However, I am of the opinion that much of our nervousness results from a survival desire to find a way out of the current situation. Thus, when you accept that there is no way out but forward and death is a logical possible outcome, I found a solid peace at the prospect of going forward.
What, was I going to let down my fellow Marines and opt out? Was a I going to tarnish the legacy of the Marine Corps? May it never be. So when I offered this advice to a young public speaker, it didn’t quite translate. This was a public speaking engagement that this person had to give and there was no way out of it. The only way forward was, well, forward. Now I thought this brilliant wisdom. If it can inspire Marines to charge towards incoming fire, then surely it can charge a young professional in front of a crowd. Well, as it turns out, a young civilian professional is not quite ready for such wisdom. Who knew?
My platoon motto in Iraq was as follows: Expect No Mercy from Your Enemies and No Help From Your Friends. Motivating right? Well, when you tell that to a young group of supervisors in the civilian sector, it turns out it needs a little more finesse. You see, I stand by that motto. However, not everyone is quite ready for such a mantra. I could see in the eyes of those who heard it a fearful response to the idea that no one is coming to save the day.
Most of America lives this way. There is always someone to come save the day. However, for the Marines in Iraq, whereas you could count on your fellow Marine, you couldn’t always count that the next unit or air support would be there exactly when you needed them. Not that I ever had to live that reality, but that was how our brilliant Platoon Commander trained us. Captain Day at the time, whom I now believe is Lt. Colonel Day.
When you own the responsibility for your own fate, you find yourself operating at a level of responsibility few know. It enables you to succeed in the civilian sector in a manner that surpasses that of many of your younger peers. It enables you to take a square peg and shove it through the round hole. So while this is a good mantra to have in your head, just understand not everyone else is quite ready to hear it in this manner. So sometimes, just sometimes, it’s better to keep this one in your head.
Embrace the Suck
Look, sometimes, regardless of how awesome your job is, there are aspects that are less than favorable. Now you could complain and get yourself down in a spiral of discontent. Or, you could complain with a jovial spirit that is fascinated by your misfortune and thus, you embrace the suck. No one, and I mean no one, knows how to embrace the suck like a member of the military. It’s a part of what makes our military so resilient. Much of war for a better word, well, its sucks. Yet we still love it.
So when you try to encourage people to find a way to secure the joy on the midst of difficult circumstances, I just want to offer the advice that embrace the suck is not a universal term. Some people just don’t get it because most of America have had very little suck to embrace. It’s a foreign term to them. So you have to find more subtle ways to express it.
So there it is. The experiences of War bring with it a ripe harvest of life lessons. However, take it from me, the world is not quite ready for such vivid lessons. So you have to find a way to ease them into it. You have to find a way to translate accept your death, no one is coming, and embrace the suck in a more universally acceptable way. This is a lesson I have learned over the past 11 years in the civilian sector and it has worked wonders for me. So I want to offer it up to you. For the wisdom we have all gained is solid. But it might as well be Chinese to some people. War Veterans have much to offer the world, we just have to find out how to speak their language. What about you? What have you learned that doesn’t quite translate?
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