What the Navy Taught Me

by Kay Lynn

The Lone Sailor
This post was originally published in April 2010.  I thought it would be fitting for me to share on Veteran’s Day.  Thank you to all the vets to I served with and who came before and after.

My family has a long history of military service dating back to the American Revolution. Both my parents served and my father retired after a 20 year career. So when I decided to get a full time job to fund college it wasn’t surprising I selected the military.

As a 19 year old who had only worked a couple of part time jobs (not counting babysitting) boot camp was an eye opener. Initial training (labeled differently based on military branch) is designed to transform people into sailors, marines, soldiers or airmen by instilling you with the branch’s values and skills.

Since my military occupation was in the medical field it easily transitioned to the civilian job market. Years later I appreciated how the military had taught me how to be successful with any career with four key lessons.

Always Be On Time

The Navy standard for assigned work schedules is to start 15 minutes early. While this is not the norm in civilian life, planning to be early can increase punctuality despite traffic (or life) delays. Is a manager going to be annoyed with employees for showing up before their scheduled work shift? No but they will negatively note tardiness, especially if it is a habit.

Follow the Chain of Command

Translate “chain of command” to management structure and it will make sense. Even though this might seem outdated with more informal work environments that is an illusion. Supervisors and lower level managers are there to handle routine issues and float the bigger stuff up the chain.

No one is Indispensable

With assignments ranging from 1 to 4 years the staff changes regularly in a military work unit. This is designed to increase the skills of each person as they change work places and to ensure the unit can meet the core objective of keeping the nation safe regardless of individuals. During combat soldiers may be lost and the unit must continue to fight. This is a life and death lesson in this context.

Although not as black and white, corporations usually view employees the same way. Especially during these economic times with a high unemployment rate people are replaceable.

The value of corporate knowledge is weighed against meeting additional demands (pay or otherwise) and rarely does the employee win out.

The Power of Teamwork

Individually, no soldier or sailor could complete the unit’s mission but together they can do successfully. It’s the same way in most businesses. One individual can’t make the product, sell it and provide service.

Be an integral part of the team and you will be recognized as an individual for outstanding work. It’s also noted when employees are not team players and they usually won’t progress at the company.

These lessons are taught outside the military although it may be more subtle. What career lessons have you learned?

photo credit: eco77

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Money Beagle November 11, 2011 at 6:32 am

A former teacher used to use the phrase, “Early is on time, on time is late!” and it stuck with me. I don’t think he was in the military but it seems pretty close to the mantra that you outlined above!

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I would have liked your former teacher. Lateness to business meetings is one of my pet peeves. Some companies run that way and others don’t tolerate it.

[email protected] November 11, 2011 at 7:15 am

First of all, thank you for your service.
Regarding those things you learned – in my career I have worked for many managers. I can always spot those who have been in the military and hope I have learned from them. Their diligence and structure make a much better working environment. Clear expections result in clear performance and acheivement of goals. So much better than working for those who are governed by emotions or relationships.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Carol, I was happy to serve and as you can tell by my story not unusual in my family. I have found that some people perceive the traits you mention as being cold or mean. Not enough people are direct communicators these days.

Hunter - Financially Consumed November 11, 2011 at 7:46 am

Thank you for your service Kay Lynn. I’m always impressed by the depth of teamwork when I’m exposed to military commands and operations. Everyone is important, as you point out.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Hunter, thanks for supporting the military in general and at home. It’s a great community.

Doctor Stock November 11, 2011 at 8:48 am

I appreciate this post today. Interestingly, discipline is one of the things lacking on many levels in life. Essentially, you’re discussing discipline in various forms.

When I think of investing, I think of the importance of discipline… timing (in and out of trades), chain of command (the markets always rule… so don’t fight them), none indispensable (let go of a bad trade), and teamwork (learn from others). Just my take on applying a few of your ideas to investing.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Doctor Stock, good point. These lessons can be applied to anything we do I guess. Why am I so disciplined in many ways but I can’t lose weight!

ProfitsOn November 11, 2011 at 9:04 am


Discipline/Ability to withstand pain/Optimism/Humility/ Vision

Great post!

Thank you.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm

That’s a great list of traits we should all strive to have.

krantcents November 11, 2011 at 9:06 am

They call these “soft skills”! Soft skills will get you fired sooner than lack of skills. As a veteran (Vietnam era), I would love to see the business community embrace the returning veterans.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Krantcents, what branch were you in? Businesses are crazy for not going after veterans. They might not have direct skills but can be taught and will be the best employees.

Jon - Free Money Wisdom November 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Happy Veteran’s Day! Thanks for serving our country.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Thanks, Jon!

Financial Samurai November 13, 2011 at 3:59 am

Following the chain of command, I like that one. Kinda like respecting one’s elders.

Kay Lynn November 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Yes, but it’s really the reporting line. Don’t go over the head of the person you report to.

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