F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- Being introduced to the military when I was 12 years old was one of the best things that could have happened to me and has had a lasting impact on my answer to this question, “What do I want to do in my life?” The lifestyle, comradery and security of being in the military was exactly what I wanted for myself. I had no doubt I would achieve this as a military officer. What I didn’t know was recognizing distractions, fighting complacency and learning to take action in the face of self-doubt were all a part of the journey to achieving that goal.
My journey began with a desire for adventure and more than a touch of impatience for adulthood. Eager to be on my own in the world, I enlisted in the military straight out of high school. I knew I could work towards my degree and apply for Officer Training School or the Reserve Officer Training Corps to become an Air Force officer. My plan was to accomplish it in four to five years, tops. So why did it take almost 12 years and four application attempts to achieve a goal I wanted since I was 15?
My experience with working toward goals has been tricky. Everyone is always saying, “stay focused, don’t get distracted,” and we try to avoid making decisions that would place our goals on the back burner. In order to not overwhelm myself and stay focused, or so I thought, I followed sage advice of various mentors. I took it one step at a time. Little did I know, good distractions can come from making the right decisions.
I learned success can seduce you into complacency and lead to a hidden self-doubt.
Throughout my eight years of being enlisted, my positive attitude and thirst for opportunity made me a successful Airman. Awards, decorations, senior airmen below-the-zone and making staff sergeant the first time were all results of taking one challenge at a time and doing my best. Looking back, I realize those accomplishments became what I consider “good distractions”. I unknowingly slipped into complacency and became comfortable doing what I knew I was good at, being an enlisted Airman. Thoughts like, “why start over,” and, “why do I have to prove myself again when I could continue in what I know,” crossed my mind. I ended up putting my pursuit of a becoming an officer on pause.
I will never forget working in the 552d Air Control Wing command section. My leadership offered me a recommendation to attend the Air Force Academy Prep School. Too nervous to meet with the commander and afraid she would see through me, I let the opportunity pass me by.
When I am honest with myself and examine my feelings, those thoughts were rooted in uncertainty. My real worry was maybe I didn’t have what it takes to be an officer, just maybe. I had a few officers I looked up to and wanted to emulate, but I knew I would fall short.
Working through those secret insecurities and listening to my supervisors, family and mentors is what actually forced me to pursue my goal. My fourth application attempt was my last shot before I could be disqualified for being too old. So I dug in and made myself finish the application. As I reviewed my records and gathered my best bullets, I began to see what was clear to everyone else was not to me. Prayer and a resolve to push through were the driving forces behind my determination to complete my application for an ROTC scholarship. No matter what obstacles were in my way, I chose to believe I could do it.
My college graduation and commissioning were some of the happiest days of my career. I thought to myself “Yes, I did it!” I accomplished my goal and felt like I crossed the finish line in first place. It wasn’t a bad feeling to have because, for me, happiness is a natural part of success.
I quickly understood my commissioning was the beginning of a new journey with a few of the same stops, and in reality there is no finish line.
Today, I keep in mind what someone recently told me: don’t try to emulate those you look up to and worry about letting them down. Instead, focus on not letting your fellow Airmen down and giving 100 percent effort day in and day out. I concentrate on being the best officer I can and having a positive impact on the Airmen around me. Self-doubt will always be present, but moving forward allows for constant growth in my leadership, knowledge and professionalism.
No matter the goal, whether it’s making chief master sergeant or becoming a squadron commander, the journey will always require focus, perseverance and the ability to take action in the face of self-doubt. When you reach YOUR “finish line,” be excited about the next level of your continued growth.
Top: U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Nikita Thorpe