[July 6, 2018] Occasionally most of us reflect back in time to the decisions we’ve made and have seen the biggest regrets we made. Perhaps it was that we wish we had married that rich girl from the other side of town. Or that we quit the military. Our military members have regrets too and I surveyed them recently and I’m now, finally publishing the results.
I put out a survey of over 100 military members and received 73 responses.1 The results had a few surprises. In a paper entitled “The Ideal Road Not Taken,” some Cornell psychologists did the same thing in a scientific study. Mine was not scientific but there are similarities.
“In the end … we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”2 –, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, English writer and better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll
In the U.S. military, we are told to follow the rules and we will be successful, happy, and fulfilled. Their answers fell into two large categories: 1) things they regret doing and 2) things they regret they should have done. The majority fell into the second category. Here are the results:
12 Things U.S. military members regret doing or not doing:
- Not having a combat tour of duty.
- Not accomplishing more and doing more things in their military occupational skill.
- Working too much and consequently spending too little time with the family.
- Allowing their emotions to interfere with.
- Not taking a difficult job that would later propel them to faster promotions.
- Staying in better physical shape by doing more and proper exercises.
- Not understanding or appreciating the multitude of opportunities.
- Not mentoring others.
- Not taking advantage of military or civilian schools.
- Not being sufficiently assertive.
- Failing to prioritize correctly.
- Allowing key military relationships to go unattended.
These dozen things were not all surprising to me. The first one, however, took me back to the time I was a junior officer. None of us wanted war but if there was one, we wanted to be part of it. That was the whole point of being in the military – to be prepared for war – and so it seemed only logical that most of us would want to be there with our buddies and for the United States.
- The questions asked was: “What is your single biggest regret in life as a member of the U.S. military Armed Forces?”