Lessons from my first Navy-versary

April 24 marked my one-year anniversary in the Navy Reserve. A year marked by the steepest learning curve I’ve ever faced.

My experience is a bit unique in that I am serving as a Direct Commission Officer (DCO) with no prior military service. For those unfamiliar, the DCO program welcomes applicants from a variety of professions to apply for a commission in the Navy Reserve. Prior service: optional. Professional experience: mandatory.

Given my passion for writing and career in strategic communications, applying to become a Public Affairs Officer was a natural choice. I was selected by a board of senior officers and subsequently commissioned as an Ensign (O-1) on April 24, 2014.

It was easily the proudest day of my life, but also the most terrifying. I had just joined the world’s best Navy with absolutely no knowledge of what being a Naval officer actually entailed.

I’ll admit that my first few months were marked by feelings of great inadequacy. Sure, I technically had the credentials and would eventually receive the formal training to do public affairs the Navy way, but I had no idea how to be in the Navy. This concern was eventually alleviated by my attendance at a mandatory two-week training that really got me up to speed, but the year was still punctuated by feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt.

However, each day since I first raised my right hand has brought me only more confidence and knowledge. Do I know everything I need to know? Nope, not even close. But do I have the right resources to get me there? Absolutely.

This year I’ve been drinking from the proverbial fire hose and I’ve been loving every minute of it. I’m happy to report there has been no shortage of new information and people willing to help along the way. Of course there have been frustrations and difficulties, but that comes with any new job. I’m an optimist though, and I choose to focus on the positive.

With that, I wanted to take the opportunity of my Navy-versary (Is that a thing? If not, can it be?) to share the biggest lessons I’ve learned over this past year. While specific to my experience as a Navy DCO, I think they are transferable to anyone starting a new career.

  1. Ask tons of questions. The only bad question is the one not asked. It’s cheesy, but it’s true. You’re not the first to be in this position or to struggle over administrative requirements. Reach out and ask for help. There are no awards for going at it alone. (Trust me, I asked.)
  2. Be a sponge. There’s always more to learn. Sure, you got to where you are right now because of your skills and background, but you still have a long way to go if you really want to be successful. Soak it all up and listen to everything. (Grains of salt, optional.) You’ll be surprised by what you can take in and apply down the line.
  3. Collect mentors. Yes, mentors, plural. Have a mentor for your personal growth, one for your professional development, and one to give you the real scoop. It’s a small world, but an even smaller Navy. Be friendly and reach out to those around you.
  4. Help your fellow Sailors. My command is filled with Ensigns, and it’s AWESOME. We are always helping each other in any way we can, whether it’s in the Navy world or the “real” world. Do the same in your command. The Navy will pit you against each other for promotions and evaluations down the line — don’t do it prematurely on a personal level.
  5. Chiefs really do run the Navy. I heard this saying from my first day in the Navy, but I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t really understand it until I personally dealt with Chiefs. Holy crap, it is so accurate. Chiefs don’t just keep help enlisted Sailors, but they support junior officers at every turn. Seriously, take advantage of all their knowledge. Pick their brains and ask them anything and everything. You’ll be a better Sailor for it.
  6. Have no shame. A better wording might be, “Put your pride aside.” And by that I really mean, “Stay humble.” Just 1% of the U.S. population responds to the call to serve. Yes, that makes you pretty special, but never forget what an extraordinary privilege it is.
  7. This is the best job on Earth. No explanation needed.

Serving in the U.S. Navy is my honor and I couldn’t be more excited to see all the lessons that the many years ahead of me hold.

I’m on Twitter (@mcruzmissile) and would love to hear your thoughts. Have you had a similar experience, military or otherwise? What lessons would you share?