|Lee Haney at Mountain Warfare School|
Graduation will be here before you know it, and you will not believe what you will see over the next 10 years. You will have traveled to Turkey over Spring Break for an Olmstead Foundation Staff Ride, spent a month in China for a USNA language immersion program, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, completed TBS and the CI/HUMINT Basic Course, moved to Camp Pendleton, CA (the best duty station on Earth), deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, completed your service commitment and received your DD-214, earned an MBA, transitioned to your first civilian job working in investment banking, and found yourself at a huge tech company in Silicon Valley. You may have even found a wonderful woman who you somehow miraculously convinced to become your lifelong partner (but it’s okay if it doesn’t happen immediately upon graduation…take your time!)
Yet none of that probably seems all that important right now because the big ticket items on your mind are your upcoming summer training (get excited for Mountain Warfare School) and semester exchange at the Air Force Academy in the fall (spoiler alert: all the rumors you have heard about Zoomies are true).
Hopefully, what I tell you below, based on some of my favorite Marine Corps Leadership Principles, will be helpful in making both your immediate experience more enjoyable and your long-term goals come true.
“Be Technically and Tactically Proficient”
You may have agonized over your choice of major, but it turns out that this decision was not that impactful in the long run. I’m really glad you ended up choosing a major based on what excites you rather than what you think might look good on your future resume. Whereas your choice of major did not make a huge difference in your future opportunities, your academic performance certainly did. If there is one thing you need to do during these next two years to set yourself up for the long-term, it will be to get good grades. Especially when it comes to applying for elite civilian careers and graduate school, your grades will really matter, and they will follow you for a long time. To see just how important they are, check out the average undergraduate GPA for institutions like the Stanford Graduate School of Business or Yale Law School.
“Seek Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions”
Your Company Officer may seem incredibly senior to you now, but they are only a few years ahead of you. You may very well see them again in the Fleet and Operating Forces! Or, just as likely, they could end up being your civilian hiring manager if you decide to leave the Navy or Marine Corps. Likewise, your classmates are the future Rhodes Scholars, Harvard Kennedy School alumni, and general superstars you will count yourself proud to be among. But that may be difficult to see right now when your Company Officer denies your special request chit or a classmate acts like a “Joe.” During these moments, think about what you want to achieve in the long-run and consider that the people you meet at the Naval Academy will all remember how you treated them. Invest deeply and broadly in your classmates and Company Officers. They will look out for you for the rest of your life and will bend over backwards for you if you have earned their respect.
Likewise, a small tidbit I didn’t understand 10 years ago: your alumni network won’t just be made up of Naval Academy graduates…your fellow Service Academy alumni (especially West Point graduates) will look out for you as one of their own. Do the same for them and take advantage of every opportunity you can to build relationships with them (rivalry games, exchange programs, and joint assignments upon commissioning).
“Know Your Marines and Look Out for Their Welfare”
Some of the best advice you ever got was from a graduate of the Class of 1957: “Look down, not up…if you take care of your people, they will take care of you.” You will make mistakes as an Ensign or Second Lieutenant. LOTS OF THEM. (I definitely made plenty of mistakes). But if your Sailors and Marines know you genuinely care about them – that you are focused on the mission and their welfare before your own FitRep – they will make you very successful (and keep you out of trouble).
“Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement”
Three books you have already read will continue to form the basis for your future success. Keep these on your bookshelf, because you will return to them many times for counsel and good habits:
Siddhartha – For when you’re feeling lost and need to reset your internal compass
How to Win Friends and Influence People – To help you become a leader and influencer
The History of the Peloponnesian War – Every challenge you face will have been seen by someone else before; come here for a preview of the many strategic, political, and ethical dilemmas you may face in your life
Beyond these three books, devour topics that you find interesting, particularly those that reflect whatever environment you’re about to enter (be it in warfare, politics, education, or business). In an email to officers exhorting them to read broadly and regularly, General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis said, “Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.” General Mattis is a lot smarter than me, so I figure he is advice is worth considering.
There is nothing on Earth more rewarding than leading Marines and Sailors, and that opportunity will be upon you before you know it. 10 years from now, you will have seen more than you could possibly imagine. The best part is, it will only have been the beginning.
Lee Haney, (Former) Captain, USMC