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I was 17.5 and desperate for travel. College was the default option, but I didn’t want to waste oodles of money traveling, having fun, and being constantly irresponsible.
I was deeply uncertain of what to do with the rest of my life while trying to figure it out. No pressure.
To a 17-year-old who wants to avoid the inevitable the choice was obvious – join the Navy. Back then the motto was, Accelerate Your Life. I took that hook, line, and Titanic sinker. Was my 4-year contract everything I expected? All. The. No.
However, it was a smart decision and I learned valuable life skills during my short stint as a United States Sailor.
Change Is Hard Like Boot Camp
Boot camp was hard. I had to do things like run, pushups, sit-ups, eight counts, and mountain climbers.
Daily! On bad days, it was hourly.
This was our instructors (RDCs) form of entertainment: watch recruits’ workout. Up until that point, I avoided athletics. Boot camp turned into a special kind of torture because of the painful fact that I volunteered for it.
I didn’t pass the first fitness test.
It sucked on various levels of poor life choices. I wasn’t overweight but I realized that being thin doesn’t translate to being fit. Luckily, my sailor story didn’t end there, and I didn’t get the government-issued boot.
I pushed myself, with the incessant help of my RDCs, and I passed the final fitness test. I wasn’t first but I didn’t care as long as I wasn’t last. It was still excruciatingly hard. During one of my slow passes around the track, I passed a trash can and thought, “Well, if I throw up, I get to stop which sounds nice.”
In a shockingly short amount of time, I learned that I could push my body harder than I had ever done on my own.
Good Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness
I was an undesignated fireman for two years.
Navy fireman is different from a civilian fireman it’s like saying all ice cream is created equal.
Undesignated means professional floater. I was under the impression that I got to choose my job.
I was so young and inexperienced!
It actually translated into; I’m placed where the need is greatest which looked every inch of the repair shop. I was placed with the repair division which included sheet metal fabricators, plumbing, and general ship maintenance. At the time, it meant a hundred male sailors to one female sailor.
It was a tough environment that I had trouble adjusting to. However, I learned to adapt and managed some professional success when I transferred to the engraving shop. This was another lesson, just because you’re good at something like testing well on the mechanical portion of the ASVAB (military job placement exam), doesn’t guarantee happiness in maintenance.
Make Your Success
A lot changed when I finally chose a job (rate). I became more aggressive at proving I could be better than average which included taking classes after 12-hour shifts and planning for college after my contract.
I paid attention and work hard during emergency drills (battle stations) and I got called out for performing well during inspection, I picked up a journeyman certification, and fostered a French sailor.
The lessons from fireman failures became fuel for future success. I discovered working hard and enjoying what you do is the best route to professional success.
Life Lessons Hurt
Near end of my 4-year contract, I was on track professionally, but I felt lacking personally. I had little to show financially and even fewer quality memories. It was easy to get caught up with partying and it took too long to realize that is not what I wanted. I wanted to be more than what I drank and did at 2 o’clock.
I had to adjust my course and change is always hard. There weren’t many people who were interested in what I wanted. It forced me to be independent.
Another life lesson was not to wait for perfect circumstances because they don’t exist.
There were incredible trips that surfaced but instead of signing up quickly, I delayed. I waited for friends to make up their mind which turned into the opportunities sailing by.
Whenever I feel nervous about a new excursion, I gather up sailed regrets and remember what happens to the girl who waited.
You Can, Should, & Will: You’re A United States Sailor.
My hard-won military lessons are always standing at attention and waiting to be called upon.
Being a sailor taught a lifetime of experience.
- Work hard even when it sucks, and it will suck
- Attention to details or someone, like your best friend, could die
- Success isn’t a onetime event, it’s a long slog, pollywog
Hard lessons that instilled confidence and stubbornness that I didn’t have before. I would need every grain of salt I earned, as I transitioned from the military to college.
Life, in all it’s complex and banal detail, is like one of those magic eye pictures. It’s only when you look at it long enough, and in the right way, that the images—the deepest stories—start to appear. But first you need something to look at.
You have to stop all this self-editing, because you won’t know what’s part of the story until you know what the story is. And it’s then, and only then, that you can decide whether you want to tell it.Blair Braverman