Each time I speak to a First Term Airman Center class of our Air Force’s newly minted Airmen, it gives me a sense of relief that is beyond words. Knowing our Air Force has these phenomenal young Airmen ready to achieve greatness is the best feeling a leader can get.
Near the end of my last visit, one of the Airmen asked me, “What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?”. This question really made me think.
I began to immediately give an answer and realized I didn’t have an answer right on the tip of my tongue. Suddenly I needed a minute.
Next month marks my 20th anniversary serving our great nation. It’s a milestone I remember thinking was a lifetime away but suddenly here it comes.
For 20 years I’ve put on this uniform and I’ve watched people succeed, fail and even die as they defended our nation.
I’m not sure why, but that simple question made me immediately see a highlight reel of my career, one I couldn’t stop. I thought about all the people I’ve had the honor to serve beside and even the ones who I hope to never bump into again.
I realized how much I’ve taken from each of them and how everything I do is rooted in something someone taught me — even if they didn’t realized it. It made me think about all the deployments and missed time with my family, the missions and the people and all of the permanent change of station moves.
I thought about the classes I didn’t want to take and the feeling a guy, who barely graduated from high school, got when he received a master’s degree. I thought about the victories and the defeats and how each of them has minted not only the command chief that I am, but the man that I am.
After all this raced through my head, I realized I was still standing in front of a group of new Airmen. A group who are now leaned forward with extreme interest, or maybe they were concerned and wanted to see if the chief was OK.
Either way, after my mental moment, I had an answer, and it was the only answer an Airman who’s been blessed far beyond what they ever deserved could give.
What is this great thing I’ve learned in the last 20 years? It’s one of the simplest things you could imagine — you get out of something what you put into it.
As a young man, I thought this world owed me something, and I’ll tell you I had an impressively large chip on my shoulder about it. I had the honor of being humbled fairly well during my first few years of service.
Understanding people treated me the way I deserved to be treated was what started me down a path of hard work and dedication to excellence. So, there’s this big piece of wisdom from the chief, you have to work hard and be honest about that work.
It’s having honest feedback with yourself when things don’t go your way. It’s easy to fail and say if that person would have done what they were supposed to or if I had that opportunity it would be different.
Ask, if I had given 100 percent, how would this have gone? What else could I have done to make this a success?
Getting out what you put in means you succeed with greatness and, if you fail, you gave it everything you had and can grow from it. What makes the difference is learning from success and failure but still showing up the next day ready to go at it again, and again and even again.
It doesn’t matter what rank you attain or how much money you make, what matters is did you give it everything you had. Did you put in what you wanted to get out? We may not pick where we start, but we all get to choose where we end up.