Dear Second Lieutenant: Six Things I Wish I Knew as a Boot

For this post, former Captain Patrick Weeks (active 2009-14) shares the advice he wishes he could give himself as a brand-new Second Lieutenant. Hopefully it helps many of you future and new officers!

Dear brand-new Second Lieutenant,

First, you just graduated ten weeks of OCS, commissioned on one of the most memorable days of your life, and are headed right to TBS.

It was a tough ten weeks. Be proud but don’t be too impressed with yourself. This is just the beginning of a long, long road.

Second Lieutenant, you haven’t begun accomplishing anything. You haven’t taken Japanese bullets through three limbs in the Pacific, then re-enlisted when the Korean War came around…like Uncle Jack:

WWII and Korean War veteran Uncle Jack--my first salute as a Second Lieutenant, December 11, 2009
WWII and Korean War veteran Great Uncle Jack–my first salute, December 11, 2009

Second, don’t get so addicted to success. Embrace failure as the sign that you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.Β You only grow through discomfort. From challenging yourself enough. 20 pull-ups are easily achievable? Go for 25. Or better yet, help somebody else who could use a few pointers.

Thirdly, relatedly, get over your fear of quitting. That flight contract is a terrible fit for somebody who hates flying and gets airsick in every airplane. Quitting is smart when you’re headed in the wrong direction. Enjoy the stories and gold-framed aviators.

No longer a Second Lieutenant, the day I graduated the Logistics Officer Course and permanently headed to the fleet. Enough death by PowerPoint!
The day I graduated the Logistics Officer Course and permanently headed to the fleet. Enough death by PowerPoint!

Fourth, don’t celebrate or despair life’s surprises prematurely. The Marine Corps sends you many places and you don’t have a clue what it will be like before you get there. Flying airplanes as a Second Lieutenant? Who knew somebody’s dream job could be your personal hell. Lejeune? You had great times in that swampy little town. Afghanistan? Great times…and never want to go back again. Getting a MOS? Always an exciting time…nothing to get too excited or frustrated about. You just don’t know what life will bring until it happens.

This hilarious, friendly Afghan soldier was insistent we take a picture together, and asked that I get him “little blue pills”.

Fifth, take better care of your body. Go to medical for all those nagging little injuries. When you’re not 23 anymore, they’ll find torn labrums, bulging discs, and preventable joint injuries. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It doesn’t make you tough to avoid sick call. It makes you have to go to terrible VA hospitals 5 or 10 years later.

Meeting Gunny R. Lee Ermey at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in 2013 was a career highlight…the one Gunny every Second Lieutenant looks up to.

Lastly, invest more in relationships. You’ll wish you had spent less time in email as a Second Lieutenant (and beyond) and more time getting to know your Marines personally. When you lose a buddy, you’ll wish you had more of a connection, more to tell his grieving parents when you’re on the phone with them. When years later you have to call around your unit after one of your Marines kills himself, you’ll wish you had gotten to know them a lot better, let your guard down more.

And besides, after screwing up a lot of leadership roles, you’ll actually understand that relational leadership is light years better than relying on rank or expertise.

Cold professionalism is for the birds. Get authentic. Get messy.

Connect and learn from everyone you serve with.

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