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What Did You Learn In The Military That Has Been Useful For Your Civilian Life?

I was reading on a LinkedIn group the other day about a member (veteran) who recently applied for a job. He was challenged every step of the way by his interviewer about how the “hardass” military mentality translated to civilian life.

Now, this interviewer was apparently incapable of thinking outside his own mental silo and instead based his questions on what he saw from watching Full Metal Jacket.

So, here are 10 learning lessons I gained from the military (not an inclusive list):

1. On time means on time. I don’t believe in getting somewhere 15 minutes early just to wait, but punctuality is a matter of priority. There’s nothing worse than being that guy who shows up late who everybody else is waiting on. While I don’t advocate the “hurry up and wait” approach that pervade many military cultures, arriving five minutes early to a commitment demonstrates two things about your character: 1) You are reliable; and 2) You are reliable. Consistency is key to establishing sound character, which leads me to the next point…

2. Be of sound moral and ethical fiber, but don’t expect others to be the same. Not everybody values the same things. If they did, then I wouldn’t have had to “take out the trash” on a global stage. Aim high, set the example, and keep climbing.

3. Tradition is good, but don’t let it define the future. It’s important to know where the organization comes from, to value its legacy and be proud of its achievements. But don’t dwell on past success. People who conform to tradition because “we’ve always done it this way” are not leaders and will (likely) not be proponents of improvement but rather security.

4. Nobody is so good that they can’t take out the trash. Remember this, it’s important. If you’re the head honcho, demonstrate to your people — and yourself — that you’re willing to get your hands dirty and help. Anyone who ignores the bare essentials opens a (metaphorical) door into grander shortsightedness; he may ignore diversity of thought, feedback from others, or avoid listening to subordinates because ego is telling him he’s better. Don’t be that guy (or gal).

5. The “open door” policy never really stays open. Confiding in people is important, but they oftentimes can’t help but remember what you said and stigmatize your opinion into a broader category. If you have something worth sharing, share it with everybody so they know where you stand. Doing so will likely enlist similar support. At the same time, don’t be an asshole about it — don’t confuse authenticity with “telling it like it is.”

6. Perception is reality. I hated — and still do — this saying but, unfortunately, it’s true. People have a difficult time distinguishing between appearance and competence. In the army and marines, for example, there is a direct relationship between how a soldier’s uniform looks and his/her level of competence. In naval special warfare, not so much. But, if you’re going to play with all the kids on the block then you need to play the game.

7. There is no work/life balance. “You” exist everywhere; there is no compartmentalization when it comes to job or life roles. How you deal with stress at work is the same as how you do so anywhere else — just make sure it gets managed accordingly before it overflows and your “personal jar of stress” explodes on others.

8. Sleeping is a privilege. I remember being overseas, flying to a target, and looking around in the helicopter and seeing guys asleep (and ultimately, myself). The point is, sleep when you can. Your brain needs rest just like every other muscle in your body.

9. Rules are meant to guide. Granted, some rules exist that shouldn’t be broken (i.e. moral, ethical, illegal) but the rest (well, an overwhelming majority) are in place because they’ve always been in place. If rules need to be updated because the times they are a changing, do it. Just make sure they make sense.

10. Change happens. Deal with it. It’s so interesting to me the paradox of change, and how people naturally resist change but without it they wouldn’t be who they are today. Embrace change as a learning opportunity to make yourself, others, your team or company, better than yesterday.

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