The military life is not for everyone. It’s nomadic. It’s filled with separation from loved ones. It requires sacrifice by all involved. That is the case for many professions, but these characteristics are shared by all who wear the uniform (and the people who love them) to varying degrees. And per the calendar, it’s once again time for my little family to pack up, leave friends behind, and begin all over. It’s a life that I signed up for, my wife encouraged me to continue (I resigned in 1997, but she helped me to change my mind…thank goodness!), and my son does his best to deal with. If he had his way, we’d be done moving and he could continue living the life he loves here in Maryland. Though, he has felt the same way about each place he has lived.

One of the great things about the life of a military family is that it allows us to accumulate experiences others can’t fathom; it forces us to grow in ways we wouldn’t otherwise; it enables us to make friends across an extremely diverse set of amazing people. Though I enjoyed an amazing childhood growing up with the same group of friends and living in the same house throughout, I could not imagine staying there. Not because Pleasanton, California wasn’t an ideal place to grow up (I believe it was), but because I would have never become the person I am today if I had stayed. I am not implying that I am better than the town or the people fortunate to call it home, but I feel a life lived in the same pond day in and day out lacks newness, is deficient in challenge, and limits the opportunity for meaningful growth as an adult. Two weeks after high school graduation I left home for the Navy and, other than my four years on the Severn at the U.S. Naval Academy, I have moved every two to three years. Each duty station has brought the opportunity to call an amazing place home, to experience life in new and exciting ways, and to develop friendships across an extremely varied group of people. It continues to be an amazing adventure.

The most difficult part of closing one of life’s chapters is saying goodbye. It is something that military families deal with more than most, but despite the number of times I have done it over the years, it is not something that I have become good at or particularly enjoy. What seems to work for me are two things. First, I think of Dr. Seuss’ saying “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” And second, I focus on the excitement that accompanies the unknown of “What’s Next” and the anticipation of who I will become as a result. In every instance, I have left as a different person than I was when I arrived, and I am grateful for each and every personal and professional growth opportunity contained within a tour of duty.

I am not one to focus on hard metrics to asses value because I believe the most important things in life are not measurable. But I am one who likes to assess meaning and purpose through reflection. In the past, I’ve shared a game I play with myself where I see how many times I can give others reason to say “Thank You” in a given day, and I have challenged others to see how many times they might be given reason to say “You’re welcome” throughout a given period of time. In the spirit of that philosophy, I have thought about meaningful ways to say goodbye. In the Navy, we have a tradition of wishing people “Fair winds and following seas” when they leave for their next adventure or we leave on ours. It’s our way of wishing others good fortune. Wishing others luck can be meaningful, but any phrase that becomes our default diminishes in meaning over time. For instance, many exchange “Good Mornings” or “How are you doings?” without caring enough to listen for the response or responding in a truly authentic way. It’s what is expected; it’s better than not acknowledging the presence of another, but it isn’t meaningful.

As we begin to say our goodbyes, there continue to be many exchanges of “Good luck”, “It’s been fun”, and “Thank you”. There is nothing wrong with any of those, as we all communicate in slightly different ways and our relationships are at varied depths across our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. As far as levels of goodbyes, the most meaningful have been the heartfelt, “I’m going to miss you.” Human beings are meant to live lives of connection. We are meant to interact with each other, to help each other, and to experience life together. We are meant to create a space in the life of another. The bigger or more valued the space we create and allow others to create, the greater the void when they/we are no longer there.  Whether or not we are willing to admit it, we want to be missed. As I leave, I know there are many people I will miss and it is my hope that I have given people reason to miss me. Miss me not because of the work I have done (by design, we are all easily replaceable in the military), but for how I have gone about doing the work and the person they have gotten to know in the process. A life worth living is a life that gives others a reason to notice when you are not present. It’s less about making your presence known, and all about adding so much value over time that your absence is noteworthy.

  • Who will you miss when they leave? Who will miss you when you move on?
  • How will you let them know?
  • Does HOW you engage with others separate you from the masses?