I joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) when I was 16 years old. At the time I was unfocused and unambitious. After concentrating on my personal development in the Army, I gained the confidence and aspiration I needed to advance my civilian career.
When I joined the Army in 2012 during my co-op semester I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought it would certainly be difficult, but I did not expect it to be a transformative experience. I was without a clear direction in life, I had average grades in high school and I was ambivalent towards my future career. The Army helped me focus through discipline, personal development, and planning skills.
Anyone who has ever seen an Army movie with a scene at boot camp (Full Metal Jacket anyone?) knows that it is not an easy go. The instructors are intense. Unrealistic time constraints and stressful situations are manufactured to put you under pressure to meet your objectives. The only way to improve yourself and your team is to become disciplined. Starting early, being prepared, and being on time were all skills I first learned and practiced in the Army. To say that these skills have helped me in my current career would be a massive understatement. Instead of learning them in my first job out of University, I already had these skills hardwired into me. They put me ahead of the other candidates for the position.
Let me begin by saying that I mean personal development in the sense of reflecting on what your strengths and weaknesses are and working towards improving them. When I started my basic training, I had a lot of weaknesses. This was my first time in an institute outside of the comforting walls of my school and it showed. I wasn’t punctual, didn’t move as fast as I could have, and wasn’t physically ready for the intensity of the Army. It was not an easy realization knowing that I wasn’t all I could be. It led me to many moments of self-reflection and doubt, but I preserved. Instead of quitting, I moved forward. It was a colossal task to persevere through. It was the most difficult task I chose to do in my life at the time, but I’m happy that I powered through it and made it.
Whenever I feel doubt in my career, whether being overwhelmed or lacking confidence, I think back to those times in my basic training. I reflect on what I did to push through and apply those same skills to the task I am performing. The qualities of perseverance and working through difficult tasks was discovered in the Army, and I haven’t forgotten them since.
Looking Towards the Future
With a new-found sense of reflection comes the inevitable act of thinking about the future. After about a year in the Army with my basic qualifications and trades course completed, I had found a new sense of self. I started looking towards the future. It was here that I began to evaluate my interest and focus on going back to school, achieving higher grades, and applying for post secondary. It went beyond that too; I started to think about what kind of a leader I wanted to be? What kind of work environment do I want to create? I still consider these variables to this day. When a difficult situation arises at work, I think about what role I am playing in it. Am I a negative, neutral, or positive influence?
It was a culmination of my difficult experience in the Army and the skills it gave me that led me into the career I have today. I can confidently say that without my experience in the military I would not be as focused, disciplined, or as reflective as I am today.