6 Lessons I Learned From the Military

Most people go to college right after they graduate high school, but I took a little detour instead and joined the military. As you might imagine, the four years I spent on active duty in the Air Force taught me countless life lessons, and I still use them to guide me even now! I’m going to share the six most important ones with you—take it from me!

  1. 1. Embrace the Suck

    In the military, this is a common phrase that can be used in a condescending way (think: Basic Training) but is actually meant to be empowering. The meaning aligns with the idea that you can’t have flowers without rain. So, yeah, what you’re going through sucks right now, but embrace it because this is the time you are learning and evolving. Push yourself and overcome the challenges. You will come out on the other side even greater, and it will be worth it!

  2. 2. Be a Good Wingman

    A "wingman” (or “battle buddy” in the Army) can refer to pretty much anyone: an assigned partner, a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, whoever. Being a good wingman means looking out for the people around you instead of just for yourself. This is important to understand in the military because, as a group, we are stronger when we support and help each other.

    I've found that this is a great mentality to have in the civilian world, too. Essentially, be someone who is reliable and who others feel they can count on and lean on. It can also mean helping your roommate study for an exam, cheering on your friend at a competition, or standing up for someone—maybe even a complete stranger. Remember, when one of us succeeds, we all succeed!

  3. 3. Everyone Is Important to the Mission

    Yes, everyone! This was an especially important belief for me while I was in the military. I worked in medical administration, which entails mostly of emails and paperwork, and it was easy to lose the big picture of how important my work was. For others with more tactical, physical jobs, it was easy for them to undermine my significance. But, as the saying goes, "everyone is important to the mission." So be the best at what you do because your work matters, and treat everyone with respect because their work matters, too.

  4. 4. Perception Is Reality

    Every airman will roll their eyes when they hear this. Maybe you’ve been working hard all day, but your boss walks in the one minute you’re checking your phone. Your reality is that you are a hard worker, but when your boss sees you on your phone he now perceives you as a slacker, and that’s his reality. Therefore, perception is reality.

    This applies outside the military, too. If you fall asleep in class, splash some water on your face and let your professor know you had a rough night. If your friends are trying to hang out with you while you’re swamped with homework, say it’s a bad time and make sure they know you care. Keep in mind how your actions might appear to other people and consider what impact that could have in the long run. Recognizing and addressing makes everyone’s lives better—including yours!

  5. 5. Be a Servant Leader

    A servant leader... that’s an oxymoron, right? Wrong! In the military, everything we do revolves around service, including how we lead. A servant leader is someone who leads by serving the people they are leading. This does NOT include those who order others around, take credit for the work of their subordinates, or are willing to move up the ladder at the expense of others. Servant leaders don’t lead from the front, they lead from the back. They encourage everyone to keep moving forward, provide guidance and motivation and help any stragglers who are falling behind. 

    This is one of my favorite ideals to apply to day-to-day life. It’s so important to realize that being on top by pushing everyone else aside is not fulfilling and not true success. Leadership means helping, guiding, and supporting those around us because when everyone succeeds, we succeed.

  6. 6. Integrity, Service, Excellence

    Ah, the Air Force core values. How could I not end with this? In full, it’s, “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.” When I was in the process of joining the military, these values really struck a chord with me, and they reminded me of the big picture throughout my time in the service.

    Now, even in my civilian life, I find myself gravitating back to these core values. Integrity First means to always ALWAYS do the right thing, even when no one is watching AND when everyone is watching. Service Before Self tells you to make your contributions to the greater good a priority. It’s not about you, it’s about something bigger! Finally, Excellence in All We Do is pretty self-explanatory. Whether you’re working towards your career goals, or you’re going to start exercising again, or you simply want to be a better friend, strive towards excellence. You’ll be surprised at just how great you can be!

While my time in the Air Force was full of ups and downs, I learned and grew more than I could have ever imagined. Hopefully, these military life lessons can help you grow to be a better you, too! Here’s to reaching our fullest potential!