If you told me two years ago that I would be working and thriving around vets, first responders, and former intelligence, I wouldn't have believed you. Frankly, I'm not the person I would picture fitting in with that environment (i.e. a muscle-bound guy who enjoys the outdoors, is a dog person, loves guns, and tells it like it is).Allow me to introduce myself: I'm a 24-year-old female that isn't very athletic, loves cats, hasn't been camping since I was four, and shot a gun for the first time about nine months ago (I like scotch, cigars, and bacon, though - so I've got that 'murica streak going for me). I'm not exactly anyone's idea of a "hard charger." But in the last several months, I have been totally immersed in the post-service community. It's been awesome, and rewarding. It's also been the hardest thing I've done, to date.Here are some of the lessons that I've been taught:
1.) You're not f*cking special.
I'm woman enough to admit that there was a time in my life that I bought into the idea that I was inherently special, that I was "born for bigger things."Reality curb-stomped most of that starry-eyed BS out of me (and then some) during my first three years post-college, when I was almost sued, almost homeless, and stood in line at a food pantry every week for six months because I was too proud to admit to anyone that I needed food stamps (all stories for another time). But working for these guys (and gals)? It's a whole other ball game.If you're about to enter into this world as a civilian, here's your first lesson: you will never impress these people. Embrace that right now. It's all but impossible. Everything that you currently consider a major accomplishment is just another day at the office. Did you manage to roll out of bed at 4:30 AM all week this week and get to the gym, even though it was cold out? Good for you, they did it for years, no one cares. Oh, you worked a 20 hour day? Let's slow clap it out for Mr. Productive over here who had the absolute luxury of four hours of sleep and doesn't live off of rip-its, dip, and crayons (here's looking at you, Marines).Even the examples above that were very hard for me at the time, those are still comparatively benign to people who have actually been homeless, actually been without food, and have been totally written off by society. I work for and with people like this, who decided to take circumstances that would otherwise break people and become successful in spite of them, because they were trained to never accept defeat, never leave a man behind, and to have inherent pride in themselves.Now, I don't want to be the person to reinforce the feeling that vets can't ask for help because they have to be "strong," especially if they really do need assistance. The real point that I'm making here is, most of these people won't brag about any of those things. The everyday sh*t-talking and banter is one thing, but I have the privilege of working alongside a lot of men and women who are supremely humble, who have more grit in their little finger than I've ever had to call upon in myself to get through my life, and who will deny to the end that they are any kind of special.I choke up when I think about this in comparison to my cocky attitude just a few years ago. This lesson has been the biggest adjustment, but it's been the best one. I've learned to take pride in what I accomplish without relying on other people to tell me I'm awesome. It's taken away my ability to set the standard for myself at "what will impress others," and, in the process, learn that impressing other people is something that insecure people do, and it's a waste of time. Now, I get to look at myself in the mirror every morning and impress ME. It's humbling, and it's important.I'm not special. But that will never mean that I can't make something of myself.
2.) If it doesn't suck, we don't do it.
"Embrace the suck" is thrown around my workplace whenever something gets uncomfortable. Impossible goals? Embrace them. Push harder.Frankly, I didn't have much experience doing things that are uncomfortable. I'd learned how to avoid them easily, and become ok with the fact that I'd just "never" be a runner, or "never" master that skill. I'd impress others with what I could do well, and gloss over the lack of skill I had elsewhere.Working with the team to my left and right, you'd be well-advised to throw your excuses out the window and light them on fire. They don't matter.This can be frustrating. I'll speak from personal experience; you'll get angry if you're not used to it because you have a good reason for everything. You don't have the time, energy, resources, personnel, authority, support from leadership, etc. to accomplish that. It's impossible.Do you know how to accomplish the impossible? I'll tell you the super-special secret: You do a lot of sh*t that sucks. And you do it often. You trick yourself into loving it. You picture the humiliation you and your family will feel if you fail. You reach what you think is your limit, and keep going. In my case, you remember standing in that food pantry line, knowing what it feels like to not be able to take care of yourself or the people you love. And then you HUSTLE, because f*ck my feelings, I'm not going back there.One by one, hurdle by hurdle, I've overcome a lot of mental barriers just by watching and learning from the group around me. It hasn't always been easy. I'd be lying if I said I've never cried, or panicked, or punched a wall in fury because of this job (uh, pro tip, make sure it's not cement before doing that). I'd also be lying if I told you I've never complained about it. But none of that keeps you from doing things. At the end of the day, you keep going.
3.) Know your limits, and ask for help.
I was totally immersed in those first two rules for nearly two years. I worked hard to give the suck a big bear hug every day, and look with pride (and humility) at myself at the end of each day in that mirror. I kept up with the pace that was set, reached higher than I thought was possible, and charged through so many barriers.But, while immersed in that culture, you forget about the toll that you take on your body and mind.The last and final lesson I learned from this job is to not let the first two rules convince you that you can't ask for help or express your limits. It is so easy to give into the temptation to want to "prove" and "earn" everything on your own in a culture that values personal pride and individual ability. If you're like me, and you're stubborn, ambitious, and on the introverted side, you could wind up thinking that it's especially important that you do things alone, for so many reasons. To avoid inconveniencing others. To prove your ability. To demonstrate a better way. To convince someone of something. To find your home, your place, your role in the middle of a group that can seem so intrinsically, naturally interconnected in spite of your presence.Along the way, you might internalize the messages that you're embracing in an unhealthy way. You may start to think that "You're not f*cking special," means, "no one cares about you." You might think that "embrace the suck," means, "suck it up and shut up." If you're not careful, it can turn into a feedback loop from hell. No one cares about you. You're not special. Don't bother saying anything, because No one cares about you...It's very important, if you find yourself in that situation, to be very honest with yourself about where this change in perception happened, where your limits lie, and what you need to rebalance yourself. It is also crucial that, despite the overwhelming anxiety or pride or stubbornness, you ask for the help you need from people you trust.I mentioned that this is already a struggle in the veteran community. Veterans know better about it than I do; it's part of the reason people participate in ruck marches and do push-ups. The pressure to "be all you can be" or "adapt and overcome" can lead people into very dark places internally. At times, people need advice and assistance to be able to do those things effectively. There is nothing wrong with that.Sometimes, assessing what you need can lead you to dig deep, embrace the family you've come to be a part of, and continue to push forward. Other times, you come to the realization that it's time to go, even if that may be the hardest decision of your life.Regardless of the conclusion, just remember three things:1.) You just did a lot of sh*t that sucks, and you were halfway decent at it.2.) You can still accomplish the impossible.3.) You're not f*cking special.It has been such an honor to be the editor of this magazine. I wish everyone in my family nothing but the greatest success. Thank you for your lessons, your advice, your criticism, your encouragement. Most importantly, thank you for giving me a chance.Mission first, people always. Sylvia