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Everything I Really Needed to Know I Learned In The Marines

Written By Tom

Published on 04/14/2018 5:15 PM


Everything I really needed to know I learned in the Marines

Back in 1988 Robert Fulgham authored a self-improvement book titled “All I Really Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. This was a book that referenced some of the simple life lessons that were being taught to young expanding minds and how they really should translate into our adult lives. Lessons such as “share your things-play fair-don’t hit people-wash your hands before you eat, and so on.  It was a wonderful short read! At the risk of insulting the esteemed Mr. Fulgham, I offer up my own version of his book titled “Everything I Really Needed To Know I Learned in The Marines”

Now to be clear, not everything I needed to know, as my parents stood "firewatch" over the first 18 years of my life, which I'm pretty sure was less fun for them than I. They were the ones who built the foundation, for which I am forever grateful.

Let me start by saying I spent 10 years serving with the Marines, entering directly out of high school in 1977, with 6 years on active duty and 4 years in the active reserves. It was during that time that I was branded into who I was to become as an adult. And much like a tattoo, that brand doesn't disappear when you opt out.

To say my “time in” was a blast would be a misstatement of epic proportions. While there were no doubt epic times to be had, much of the time spent was in miserable, uncomfortable and difficult "climes and places", as the Marine Corps hymn goes. That’s what we do! Marines do misery! And we do it well! Marines have a saying, "We've done so much with so little for so long, that now we can do everything with nothing forever!" There's a lot ot truth to  that saying!

Let me also say this. I was a peacetime Marine. Never fired a shot in anger; never had one fired at me. And while I had the privilege of serving with some heroes; was trained by some and even got to train some myself, to be sure, I wasn’t one of them. So if you came here for war stories, you'll leave disappointed. All that said, the lessons I learned during my time in the Corps brought me much farther in life than I could have ever hoped for were I to have taken the easy way out.

Enough about me! I give you my list!

  1. Get up early!
    • The Marine Corp didn’t ask me to love getting up early. They just gave me a well placed boot every morning until I learned that lesson on my own
    • Morning is when your mind is at its clearest, even if it may not always feel that way
    • Teach yourself “awake” when your feet hit the floor. It is a learned process
  2. Show up early!
    • Marine time-If you’re 10 minutes early, you’re 5 minutes late
    • Your time is valuable…so is everyone elses
  3. Keep your gear in order- Respect your stuff
    • Your brain can’t function at its highest level if your belongings and equipment are in chaos
    • Have a place for everything and put everything back in its place when you’re done with it
    • Expect things to be where you left them; have a backup plan for when they're not
    • Think “Rote Memorization”… ABCs. If you do your tasks consistently they become habits tattooed into your brain
  4. Keep two of everything on hand, because one will break
  5. Have a backup plan
    • For every action there’s a reaction
      • Expect the need to adapt when the reaction is different than what you anticipated
      • Know the “other ways to skin a cat” before you need to know them
      • Work the “problem” beforehand in your head
        1. What if I do this and they say that?
        2. What if I say this and they do that?
  6. Think outside the box
    • How can I do what needs to be done more efficiently?
      • Break your task down by the numbers
        1. Do I need more numbers?
        2. Can I eliminate any numbers?
        3. Are my numbers in the right order?
    • How can I improve the process?
    • What can I do that my competition isn’t?
    • Look around at different businesses and see what they are doing that makes them stand out
      • Can I incorporate something similar in my profession?
  7. Do the right thing
    • Listen to your gut
      • Your gut tells you when you’re about to do something that isn’t right
      • It’s called a conscience
      • Learn to recognize that gut check and react accordingly
  8. Tell the truth
    • You’re either telling the truth or you’re telling a lie
    • Once the truth is bent, it’s’ no longer the truth. It becomes a lie
    • It’s OK to not know something; it’s not OK to make something up because you don’t know the answer
  9. Never stop learning
    • It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at something, there is always more to know
    • Learn from the “old-timers” and learn from the “new guys”
    • Everyone brings something to the table
  10. Do something for nothing
    • Give something away when it’s not expected
    • Do something nice when nobody’s looking
    • Hint: Doing something for nothing and then posting about it on Facebook is no longer “for nothing”
  11. If you’re at the bottom of the ladder, reach up to those who can help you climb. It you’re at the top of the ladder, reach down (If you're in the middle, reach both directions)
    • You’ll never forget those who pulled you up
    • Those you pull up will never forget you
  12. Don’t forget who and what brought you where you are
    • Surround yourself with people who have your back. Marines call it "having your 6-o'clock"
    • Have their 6
  13. Be bigger than the chaos
    • Stay above the fray and the politics of life
  14. Own it-
    • If you screw up, take your medicine
    • Everyone makes mistakes
    • Don't beat yourself up
    • Learn from it, own it, fix it and move on
  15. Don't take yourself too seriously
    • This crazy ride is supposed to be fun
    • Laugh at yourself...everybody else already does!
  16. Learn to take a punch
    • People are not always going to be happy with you or what you do
    • So what?
    • If you believe what you did was the right thing, let that be enough
  17. Lastly, I leave you with this thought:

We are all different, but every one of us has one thing in common-

We are all going to wake up one day and take our last breath. That may be 30 years from now or it may be tomorrow. We don’t know what the plan is and there’s no way for us to find out except for living it. And when that last breath happens, every one of us is going to fade into the haze of history. No more “what’s for dinner” and no more “cups of coffee” and no more “gotta go grocery shopping”. No more “wanna see a movie?” and no more “How was your day?”…No more nothing! Your turn will be over. And all the cars and the money and the houses-on-the-hill and the toys…none of that will matter. The footprints from your life will be measured by your deeds, not your stuff

Semper Fi