In the "Letter to My Former Self" series, USNA graduates lay out the advice they would give themselves as midshipmen based on their experiences as junior officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. This week's letter was written by LTJG Tyler Farrar, an information warfare officer and 2012 graduate.
1. Pay tribute to all service selection options. Make the most out of your summer cruises and take advantage of any training available to you to obtain as much exposure as possible before making your service selection decisions. Shadow officers and sailors whenever you can and spend a little time with them to get a better feel of what the responsibilities of the position will be and whom you’ll be leading. Choose your service selection only after careful consideration of what your interests are and after thoroughly investigating what each community truly has to offer – not just the ones you’re initially most excited about. Don’t just choose a community because it’s the “popular” one or because your classmates want it; examine all possibilities and spend some time thinking of how your skillset can fit within each option. Ignore the negative stereotypes that exist at USNA of some of the warfare communities available to you. Your community choice should be driven by a strong interest that aligns with your personal and professional skills. Hopefully, these tips will provide invaluable insight into what service selection is right for you and also help you to discover yourself a little more.
2. It’s okay if you find you’re not as excited about the job you thought you would be passionate about. As a midshipman, I received my first choice during service selection and was selected for naval pilot. Following graduation, I headed down to Pensacola and began flight school, but as a few months passed, I began to see that naval aviation wasn't for me. I realized something was "off" when I noticed I lacked the excitement and passion my classmates and friends came home with after having flown all day. I was frustrated at my inability to share that delight and wondered why I wasn't feeling that same way. It just felt like "a job" to me, nothing more. After much deliberation, weighing the pros and cons of requesting reassignment and grappling with feelings of shame and guilt for considering abandoning the position, I finally decided to quit naval aviation. It was not an easy decision by any means and it took a while to build up the courage to go through with it.
Most people don't want to identify as a "quitter," nor want to admit they have given up on something in the past. The reality is though – we've all failed at some point in our lives. We've failed at different things in different ways, and I think there's a lot to be said about owning failure. You don't need to be defined by the decision to quit something. Let yourself be defined by what you made from the experience and how you handled the decision. Sometimes quitting is strategic, and it can be your best course of action. If you've realized you've made a wrong choice or an outcome isn't quite what you expected, even if you sunk significant costs into it, I encourage you to let go of your pride/shame and re-evaluate what is important to you. There could be many upsides to quitting.
3. USNA isn’t only about academia and commissioning officers. It's truly amazing to think of the personal and professional development that occurs in four short years. At the academy, we share many experiences that typical college students don't, which contributes to how deeply profound and significant the relationships that we form are. After senior year finals, school ends, but those relationships don't. They continue on through thick and thin.
Students go to the academy with the goal of earning a degree and starting a career in the Navy or Marine Corps as an officer. I applied with the same intention and hadn't considered anything else that would possibly factor into my USNA experience. The aerospace engineering degree I earned is prized, and the program is exceptional, but to me, the friendships I made are more invaluable. I could not be where I am or who I am today without the dedication and support of my friends at USNA.
While we are peppered around the world at various duty stations, we attempt to get together at any opportunity, like long weekends, football games, and weddings. If we're not stationed near one another, we stay in touch mostly through texts and social media. My core group of friends and I still keep our banter alive through group texts – something I truly appreciate as an instrument to keep these friendships fresh and fueled. It's been less than four years since we've graduated, but the depth and the gravity of these relationships will continue on for a lifetime.
4. Make an effort to slow down. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily rigors of Academy life with the continuous pressure to succeed – it can be overwhelming at times! As a midshipman, I found myself constantly focused on graduation and getting there as soon as possible. This focus can consume you so much that you can be completely blinded from many amazing opportunities that surround you and it may potentially lead you to burnout. Self-care is important to succeed. Learn to navigate the work-life balance during your time at the academy. Make it a practice to step away from your work and spend time appreciating the beauty of the campus, nurture relationships with family and friends, and enjoy what Annapolis and the D.C. metro area has to offer. Lastly, something I’ve learned that I would encourage you to adopt is to have hobbies and interests outside of the military. Don’t let your job be the only thing that defines who you are or the sole component of your identity.
In closing, I just want to say how much I appreciate my years at the academy. Remember the reason you’re there, but enjoy the experience along the way. Don’t get such a strong tunnel vision towards the goal that you miss out on all that the academy can offer personally, as well as professionally.