Thinking About Military Service? Don’t Be a T.I.M. and Avoid These Three Things

Navy recruiter League of Latin American Citizens Conference
Lt. Jason Bailey, assigned to Navy Recruiting District Ohio, discusses opportunities available in the Navy during the League of Latin American Citizens Conference. (Petty Officer 1st Class Keith Bryska/U.S. Navy)

I’ve learned a few things about people during my years of working with countless recruits, candidates and people considering military service. Many of those people have followed through and completed their goals.

There are also those who only have excuses as to why they never served. I don’t mean to imply that those who serve are successes and those who do not are failures, but if you are really thinking about serving, there are three critical things you should avoid so you can get the most out of your military service.

T: Don’t Think or Talk Too Much

If you are “thinking” about serving and also considering a civilian job, do the civilian job first. Military service is more of a calling than it is a job. If you are just thinking about joining because you cannot find a civilian job, you may be on the wrong track.

The military can give you valuable skills if you know your options before joining. Many people talk and think about service, delaying a decision until they’ve aged out of their eligibility to serve. However, if you find that the urge to serve is getting stronger and you cannot stop thinking about it, you should consider making that jump into service.

Instead of thinking or talking about if you are going to serve, do your research and learn more about what service means.

Many of the candidates or recruits think about how they are going to serve, not if they are going to serve. This is a completely different group from the one discussed above. Deciding what branch of service and what job to choose within those branches can be overwhelming.

That’s why it's necessary to do a solid amount of research before you make your decision. There are hundreds of jobs from which to choose in all the branches of service. Once you’ve done your research, chances are there will be many that interest you.

See the military’s official websites, talk to active-duty or retired military members, and read as much as you can about the things that interest you before you talk to a recruiter. You really need to have a clue before walking into the recruiter’s office, because they will want you to decide quickly on what you want to do with your military career.

Take advice from the source and not the person whose good buddy’s cousin said they heard something about the military journey. Rumors are out of control and typically spread by those who never have served in the first place.

Once again, spend less time thinking and talking and devote more time to research on the official military websites.

Know that the Defense Department has countless job opportunities and information about those jobs on their websites linked below. These also have specific physical fitness requirements. You should also check the ASVAB scores you need for certain Army or Marine Corps military occupational specialties (MOS), Air Force specialty codes (AFSC), or Navy and Coast Guard ratings.

Air Force Careers

Navy Careers

Marine Corps Careers

Army Careers

Coast Guard Careers

On another note, there is nothing wrong with declaring what you want to do in the service when people ask you. It is another thing entirely, though, to bring up the topic constantly while at the same having a reason as to why you have not joined yet.

Sure, many people do not meet qualifications through no fault of their own, whether it’s medical history or citizenship issues, but there are many decisions that are within your control that can prevent a candidate from qualifying for service.

Legal, financial, physical fitness and academic factors are all your responsibility. If you’re arrested, in deep debt, have poor fitness scores or bad grades in school, you’re doing things that can prevent the most talkative recruit from being able to join. Don’t be that guy.

I. Don’t Idealize the Profession

Going into the military as a realist will help you achieve your career goals and get the most out of your military service. Too many candidates enter service overconfident and overly optimistic, only to find themselves crushed by the reality of living in a new town, working with and for new people and working harder than they ever have in their lives.

The work is tough, and there is a lot to learn in a short period of time when you serve in the military. Remember that things are never as good or bad as they seem. Your experience is what you make of it and how you grow each day.

Any success in life is all about attitude and understanding how to take the good with the bad. The realist knows there will be pain with long days and nights and hard work. The realist knows that the key is to see the pain as a learning experience and keep moving forward without their dreams being shattered.

The realist weighs pain and payoff equally but interprets the pain differently, considering it more of a challenge than an unclimbable obstacle or immovable object.

Regardless of what type of person you are, realize that there will be pain. It’s your attitude that drives the journey.

M. Don’t Just Maintain the Minimum Standard

Exceeding the standard becomes the standard when you choose a profession where your life, your buddy’s life and the life of someone you might be trying to help depend on your physical abilities, tactical training and skill at remaining calm under pressure.

You get all of the above by exceeding the standards put in front of you every day. This ability is more than just an attitude. Consider it a lifestyle and a mindset.

In other words, don’t be a T.I.M. Don’t talk too much or think too much, but do more research. Don’t idealize serving, even though it will be one of the “jobs” you will be most proud of doing for the rest of your life. And don’t rely on the minimum standards to just get by while serving.

If you want the most out of your military career, you will need a level of maturity that allows you to listen more and talk less, to have a good attitude about hard work, and a lifestyle that allows you to know how to do the hard work that will allow you to be the best at what you do. You want to be the person people rely on when the job gets serious and there are lives on the line.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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