Self sacrifice and the act of giving is almost the essence of many military veterans. Whether it’s one of the reasons we joined, or something that we learned through camaraderie — the constant effort of giving to those in need becomes a honorable habit. However, it’s because of this habitual giving, we as military veterans forget how to be on the receiving end. It’s a struggle, but learning that it’s OK to receive can become a huge gift in our lives. There is a unique emotional freedom in being able to receive and not have the obligation or the need to “return the favor”.
Recently I was coming home from military orders on a commercial flight. Most airlines at most airports will offer military members to be seated after their 1st class, VIPs, and priority members have boarded the plane. I find it as a small gesture of gratitude for airlines to show our military members. The first time I ever heard this call during boarding had me reluctant to take the offer. The words I said to myself was, “Why should I get to be seated early. I didn’t join the Marine Corps for personal perks.”
The reason why I joined the Marine Corps was mostly the sense of pride of being a United States Marine, being part of an elite fighting group, to be part of something great — so in turn I can call myself great. I wanted self validity. I wanted travel and adventure. And yes…maybe part of it (or a lot of it) was that I wanted to find love in someone’s eyes; finding worthiness to be in a romantic relationship cause of what I romantically represented: bravery, strength, courage. I wanted to be “good enough” to be loved.
Yet, how crazy is it? How contradictory my subconscious was with my conscious mind. Here I was — had earned the title of a United States Marine, with the pre-existing idea that I will finally be good enough to receive love. I finally could be seen with an external representation of greatness that I knew I had internally but felt I couldn’t show for it. However, after more experiences of guilt and shame; after more experiences of feeling like a failure for myself and others, the idea that a Marine was intrinsically not allowed to receive became truth to me. “I was just doing my job.” or “It’s my duty.” becomes the responsive excuse of not learning how to receive. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s uncomfortable because we don’t want to be viewed differently from the majority who have used those excuses. The ones who came before us didn’t receive so why should we? The ones who “have done more in their service”, the ones “who have sacrificed more” choose not to receive, so how can we? We want to keep our honor.
Before I boarded that plane in my most recent trip and heard that call for military members, I was the only one that stood up and walked over. Even after many times of taking that offer from previous flights, that uncomfortable feeling arose in me just as much as the first time. I heard one woman say, “Wow, they definitely get their perks.” This made me feel even more uncomfortable. But I had to remind myself that I know who I am. To receive takes just as much courage as to give. Maybe even more for some. And it’s actually an honorable thing to be open to receive such gifts and gratitude.
That’s all it is. People just want to show their gratitude to our service. It’s not that we deserve anything. It’s not that our military service demands anything. People simply just want to show their gratitude in a gift giving way. And it takes courage to do so because of the vulnerability there is in letting others see how easily we can accept such gifts. We put ourselves on the line by exposing ourselves to criticism. Regardless of what we do, how we act — someone will always be critical of our actions. There is no pleasing everyone around us. It’s just not possible.
You may not be a military veteran, but maybe your life has been in this constant cycle of giving but never receiving. Are you someone who feels the need to pay back someone who has given to you?How many times have you turned down opportunities of growth because you are not ready to receive? Do you turn down the gift of receiving because you don’t deem yourself worthy? What doors could be open if we can make a subtle shift in that type of mindset?
It’s a struggle, but like many things it just takes practice. If you are someone that struggles with the act of receiving, the next time someone offers to pay for a coffee or lunch — take it and give thanks. Don’t offer the “I got you next time.” The next time you find yourself in a “pay it forward” chain, take it and break the cycle of paying it forward. Who says you have to pay it forward? Embrace it. Love yourself. You ARE worthy of it. If you have an honorable character, I guarantee you won’t take advantage of the new embrace. In fact, you may just find yourself even more willing to give and you do it without the expectation of reciprocation. You give and you receive — because that’s just who you are. Not because of what you’ve done, your good deeds, or because of your service to this country and others.
The pieces I write and share is part of my vision of seeing others be able to live a purpose driven life by connecting with others. It’s through our relationships with others that give us a better understanding of ourselves. We were designed to live in communities. We were designed to have people by our side. We weren’t designed to be alone.
If you are someone in the Military Veteran community, whether you are a current service member, a Veteran, a spouse, a friend, a supervisor or someone who has a close relationship with a Veteran and you struggle with connecting with that Veteran or struggle connecting with others as a Veteran, I invite you to see more of my relationship building content by following me on Medium and visiting my website at www.EvolvingVeteran.com
Being trained in advanced communication techniques and performance based coaching, my passion is in people. Our deepest part of ourselves can be found in the eyes of another. And it all starts on how we communicate — first with ourselves and then with others.