When I talk to people who are thinking about signing up for the the military I make it a point to remind them that we have been engaged in two violent conflicts for almost 20 years each (Iraq/Afghanistan). I’m not trying to deter them, but we often get tunnel vision on the benefits of an endeavor without looking at the whole picture. The benefits of service in the military can’t be understated: education, healthcare, housing stipends, international travel, respect and admiration, and a litany of unique experiences. However, you could also end up in a fight for your life on foreign soil. It doesn’t matter whether you signed up for a combat job or not. Your enemy doesn’t care that you are a cook and you don’t kick down doors hunting for terrorists directly. For many extremists around the world, if you’re an American or a Westerner, you are a target.
The point of tempering people’s choice to enlist in the military with this reminder of reality is, just that, a reminder of the actual reality. Have you ever been blind sided by a harsh truth that you just weren’t ready for? Suddenly a loved one is terminally ill. Suddenly you don’t have a job anymore. Suddenly there’s infidelity in your marriage. Suddenly you’re going to become a parent and you hadn’t planned for it… and that’s the tough part. Not having the chance to get yourself ready, mentally and emotionally. Not having the chance to contemplate how these events will change your life and what you can do to mitigate the stress of the transition. No prep time. Change is right on top of you and many of us react. We make rash decisions. We say hurtful things that we can never take back. We have breakdowns because an event has interrupted our ideal interpretation of life.
I try to encourage people that there is an upside and a downside to every decision we make. The question is: Is the upside good enough, meaningful enough, to be willing to engage with the downside?
When I enlisted in the Army in hopes of becoming a Green Beret, I fully acknowledged that this wasn’t some video game I was playing or a paycheck that I needed. My life could be taken. I would more than likely have to take a life or lives. I could be captured and tortured to death or just tortured. I could lose an extremity or end up with a traumatic brain injury. This is not pessimism… This is dealing in reality. Understanding the Gravity of the decision and it’s potential ramifications caused me to approach training with a heightened urgency. There were challenges that arose that I didn’t foresee but acknowledging what I knew was true allowed me to mitigate those sudden challenges well, due to the vigilance that I went into the process with.
Thinking through the downside helps our minds get into a state of response. This allows us to strategically and tactically address sudden changes in our environment. This allows for more positive outcomes overall. You can’t predict the future but you can be realistic… you can be resilient… you can be ready.