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You’re seventeen and a half and desperate for travel. College is the default option but you don’t want to waste oodles of money traveling, having fun, and being constantly “irresponsible”. Oh and by the way, you are excessively unsure of what you want to pursue as a career. No pressure. Seventeen years ago, it seemed obvious to me – join the Navy. Back then the motto was, Accelerate Your Life. I took that hook, line, and sinker. Was my four-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.
Grab the Dramamine, the seas are about to get rough!
Change is Hard just like Boot Camp
Boot camp was hard for me. I had to do things like run, pushups, sit-ups, eight counts, and mountain climbers. Daily! This was our instructors (aka RDCs) form of entertainment: watch recruits workout. Up until that point in my life I avoided all things that hinted at athletic ability. Boot camp turned into a special kind of torture because of the painful fact that I volunteered for it.
I didn’t pass the initial fitness test and in case you’re wondering, it sucked and was various levels of poor life choices. I wasn’t overweight but I awkwardly realized that being thin doesn’t translate to being fit. Luckily, my sailor story didn’t end there. I pushed myself, with the incessant help of my RDCs, and I was able to pass the final fitness test. It was still excruciatingly hard but in a 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. Civilian people are like, Fireman sounds fun. Navy fellow sailors are like, what did you just do with your life? In the Navy, undesignated means professional floater. I was under the impression that I got to choose what job I pursued. I was so young and inexperienced! That translated into: you are placed wherever the need is greatest. I was placed with the repair division aka sheet metal fabricators, plumbing shop, and general ship repair. Bonus Round: At the time that meant a hundredish male sailors to one female sailor. Want to guess who the one female sailor was?
It was a tough environment that I had trouble adjusting to. However, I learned to adapt and even managed a bit of professional success as the ship’s engraver. This was another hard lesson: Just because you are good at something, like testing well on the mechanical portion of the ASVAB (the military’s form of a job placement exam), doesn’t guarantee happiness.
Make Your Success
A lot changed when I finally chose a rate (a fancy Navy term for a job). I became more aggressive at demonstrating that I could be better than average. This included taking classes and planning for college after my sailor contract. As well as paying attention and working hard during battle stations (aka emergency drills) and I even got called out, for good reasons, during an inspection. Plus, I picked up a journeyman certification and even had the opportunity to foster a French sailor. I took the lessons from my failures as a Fireman and turned them into successes. I found out that working hard and enjoying what you do is a good route to professional success.
Life Lessons Hurt
By the time I was close to ending my contract, I was on track professionally but I felt lacking in my personal life. I had little to show financially and even less quality memories. It was easy to get caught up with the partying atmosphere and it took me too long to realize that is not what I wanted. I had to adjust my course and it was hard. There weren’t many people who were interested in what I wanted which forced me to be more independent. I spent a lot of time waiting for friends to be ready to do things I was interested in, this lead to opportunities that passed me by because I waited.
This unfortunate lesson included emotional pain
and I was whinny: Don’t wait for perfect circumstances because it doesn’t exist. Every time I feel nervous about a new excursion I am about to pursue on my life list, do you want to guess what I try to remember? If you are guessing that feeling of lost time while I was a sailor, you are correct.
You Can. You Should. You Will. You’re a United States Sailor.
There are so many more lessons I could wax about but these are the ones that were standing at attention and waiting to be called upon. Being a sailor taught me a lot. It taught me to work hard, attention to detail, and what a long fight for success feels like. It also instilled a confidence in me that I didn’t have before. I would need that later on while I was pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. If I didn’t have military-grade self-confidence, I never would have the fortitude to finish.
Look at that! What started as a salty saga ended up at tale of inspiration. What are your life lessons that have enhanced your saga?
You got this!