Quiet Professional: “Mission First”

R-Day at the Coast Guard Academy.

By Rob Shaul

“To be clear. It’s not about you. Accept, understand and embrace this. It’s liberating.”

Like wearing a limited wardrobe, adhering to a strict diet, and living far within your means financially, putting mission first can greatly simplify your day-to-day existence, and in a weird altruistic way …. be personally liberating.

A cheesy personal story …

Our first day at the Coast Guard Academy we went through the typical military intake process – hair cuts, uniform issue, learning to march, etc. Around 2100 we all got called to the hallway for a quick 30-minute hazing, and then had 10 minutes to shower before lights out.

It was a locker room-style group shower, which opened into a long row of sinks in front of a long mirror.

Coming out of the shower that first night, it took me a while to find myself in the mirror. Not only did I personally look different with my new buzz cut, but every other cadet had the same haircut. We all looked the same.

Many of my classmates bristled at the lack of individualism instituted with mandatory hair cuts and the same uniform. But I loved it.

At CGA we had dress uniforms, class uniforms, work out uniforms and study hour uniforms. Coming from high school where fashion was a big deal, I found not having to decide what color shirt (always blue), pants (always blue), shoes (always black), etc. I had to wear was incredibly liberating! Further, I didn’t have to decide what I ate, what classes to take, where to be, and when … all I had to do was study and train. Perfect for a grinder like me!

It’s easy to think that more choices = more freedom, but in practice, this is not the case.  Lots of choices can muddle things up, be emotionally draining, disperse attention and burn unnecessary energy.

Putting “mission first” for your unit, team, company, family, can have the same liberating and clarifying affect military uniformity can.

Opposite of “mission first” is putting yourself first. I won’t lecture on the morality of this. Rather, just consider the energy being a selfish douche bag takes.

We’ve all done it, myself included, so you know first hand, like I do.

Putting yourself first means scheming and manipulation, worry that you’re “not getting yours,” regret, wasting energy complaining how life is not fair, and on and on.

Few selfish, self-absorbed people are happy. It just takes too much energy.

Putting the mission first clears this all up. No longer must you worry about getting the credit, being recognized, getting your cut.

Scheming? Gone. Manipulation? Gone. Job roles don’t matter. If you see something that needs to be done, you do it. Easy.

Every decision begins with a simple, clarifying question: What is best for the mission/organization/team/company/family?

Rarely is the answer not obvious and the following action clear. This mental clarity is liberating!

Know that this type of service to the mission doesn’t seek attention.

Many serve for acknowledgment and ambition. These aren’t Quiet Professionals.

Putting mission first every day means doing the unglamorous, dirty “grunt” work others avoid. Quiet Professionals never say “it’s not my job” – if something needs done, from cleaning the toilet to changing organizational direction, a Quiet Professional steps in and gets it done without being asked or wanting recognition. 

Few are born this way. Most grow into this type of service to the mission.

We begin petty and selfish. Time and mistakes whittle away our self-absorption to reveal the clarity of service on the other side. 

This journey is frustrating: two steps forward, one step back. Slowly, painfully, we learn all that matters is the mission.

The more we learn, the better we serve.





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