I spent 20 years in the military and picked up a few life lessons along the way that I figured I’d share. These are not all the lessons I've learned, but I think these three have been the key to my own personal successes.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” This quote by Aristotle embodies what self-discipline means to me. Self-discipline is about having the ability to avoid distractions to stay focused on what needs to get accomplished to successfully achieve a goal.
Before joining the military, I had many goals but didn’t understand the mechanics behind how to accomplish them. In my opinion, the most important ingredient to accomplishing a goal is self-discipline. This lesson was instilled in me early on in bootcamp by my Company Commander, Christine Brown Dilworth, who I am lucky enough to call a friend today. In bootcamp, we had to accomplish many small, seemingly trivial tasks like memorizing general orders, waking up at a certain time each morning, and folding our clothes a certain way.
Accomplishing these seemingly trivial tasks laid the foundation for understanding how self-discipline applied to goal accomplishment and turned self-discipline into a habit that I would apply to every goal I’ve set in my life since.
My Bootcamp Photo from 1994 –– Can You Find Me?
Surround Yourself with Good People
I’d be hard pressed to think of any personal success I’ve had, in or out of the military, that I achieved on my own. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of many great teams and to have had numerous extraordinary mentors in my life. The military instilled in me that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself. This lesson came in two parts –– the value of team and the importance of mentorship.
The idea of “team” is taught in two stages in the military. The first stage was early on in my military career. I first learned how to be a contributing team member and how the actions of each team member impact whether others can accomplish their goals. The second stage happens a little later in your career when you move into leadership positions. The military invests heavily in teaching its leaders how to develop an effective team. It was able to impress on me that in order to have individual and unit success, I would need to surround myself with a good team.
Next, the military taught me the value of mentorship. The military is almost obsessed with educating its members on the importance of mentorship. At every level of my career I was encouraged, and at times required, to seek out mentors. I quickly learned that mentors contain a wealth of knowledge and experience that provide a shortcut to success and can keep me from making common mistakes. I sought out mentors throughout my military career and beyond. I had mentors in law school, I have mentors in the legal profession and I even have mentors in the blogging community that have helped me develop this blog.
Never Stop Learning
The military does not get enough praise for how well it understands the value of continuing education and how much it invests in it. Not only did it give this young, dumb kid from the Midwest his initial job training, but they also expected me to participate in advanced job training and qualification programs. In addition, they sent me to thousands of hours of professional development programs and leadership training and literally twisted my arm to get me to enroll into a college degree program.
The military invests in education programs because they understand that you have to continuously learn to be successful. I’ve taken this lesson and applied it to my life outside the military and am constantly seeking out programs, seminars and courses to learn new things and stay up to date in this rapidly changing world.
Self-discipline, surrounding myself with good people and never stop learning are lessons I learned in the military that have become almost second nature to me now. I've learned many more life lessons from my time in the military, but I can point to these three specifically as reasons why I’ve experienced some success in my life.
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