Being the ‘new guy’ — or woman — in any profession, on any team, or at a new school, can be a stressful undertaking. We all know it. We have all been there at least once in our lives. Take for example your trusty author, who grew up a Navy brat and attended five schools by the time he finished eighth grade.
That was a lot of time spent being the new kid, taking abuse, trying to fit in, and then moving on to start the cycle all over again. Along the way, I could not help but learn some lessons. Some I learned the easy way, by paying attention and taking note of my surroundings and the new culture into which I had just splashed down. Others I learned the hard way, requiring a more physical approach, because I was too stupid or oblivious to learn.
And sometimes people are just asshats and are determined to make life miserable for the new guy. I was a new guy at the CIA. I was a new guy in the fire service. I was the new guy on a basketball team in high school, and a track team.
Bar none, though, the most intimidating place I ever had to be a new guy was in the SEAL Teams. Just imagine, you are fresh out of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, thinking you have finished the toughest training in the world, and that you are pretty much Johnny Badass. Nothing can stop you now. You have faced hell, and you strode through it mostly unscathed and victorious — if not a bit beaten and battered.
Then you realize, “oh shit, I am about to show up to my first SEAL Team and everyone there went through BUD/S. Beyond that, they have all been SEALs, in the shit, for like, ever.” It is a sobering thought, and immediately sucks the air out of your over-inflated confidence balloon.
Instead of quitting, though, you put your head down, suck it up, and be the new guy. You make it through the ordeal, suffering your lumps and humiliations along the way. You finish a work-up and a deployment, and before you know it, you are no longer the new guy. That magical day arrives when some other poor sap arrives in the platoon to accept the mantle of ‘fresh meat.’ It is a blessed day.
In order to try to save you, the reader, unnecessary pain and harassment, I have compiled the below list of guidelines that you might want to follow to help ease your new guy suffering. No, I cannot save you from all of the pain, because it is going to happen here and there, but these techniques can at least smooth your way as you enter a new school, begin as a new firefighter, become the rookie on a pro baseball team, or find yourself as a brand new Navy SEAL.
Take note and learn.
1. Keep your mouth shut (most of the time)
This is easy for some people, and damn-near impossible for others. As the new guy, you have got to realize that no one wants to hear you speak very much. We do not give a shit about your stories (unless they make us laugh, preferably by poking fun at yourself), and we especially do not care how you think we ought to be doing things.
In fact, if you feel like you need to weigh in on some specific operational matter, you better damn-well do it in a way that acknowledges that you do not know shit and are raising the issue simply to learn and avoid making a mistake.
2. Realize that you know nothing (and everyone else knows it)
This leads us straight into number two. It is imperative that you realize that despite the fact that you have completed basic training, or have done things a certain way in your last job or at your last school, you have no idea how we do things here.
And here is the only place that matters now. Take it upon yourself to come to grips with the fact that you must learn every day, and absorb knowledge. Never question in a way that makes it seem like you are casting doubt on the way we do things. Only question to learn. That being said….
3. Don’t ask a thousand questions
This is a fine line here. You obviously need to ask questions to learn, or when you do not understand. However, no one likes that guy who asks a million questions a day, especially when half of them are dumb-ass questions. There may be no such thing as a dumb-ass question, but there sure-as-hell is such a thing as dumb-ass people. Do not be one.
Do not ask ass-tons of ridiculous questions. You will figure out the line between dumb and constructive at some point, so do not worry. Never hesitate to ask that non-dumb question, especially if it means not asking will lead to you making some dangerous or expensive mistake. That would be bad. Again, you will learn. Fall back on being the quiet sponge.
4. Be a sponge (soak up knowledge)
Going along with number three above, you need to open your mind and absorb knowledge. Take notes, write down important facts and procedures. Set reminders on your phone if there is some “rookie duty” for which you are responsible on a daily basis.
You should be thinking all the time how you can get smarter and learn more about your job. Do not become lazy and complacent. This is the time during which you will develop your reputation. Be hyper aware of that fact. Reputation can far outlast the dumb mistakes or bad attitude that led to it in the first place.
5. Don’t ever assume that you know more than anyone else
I might be beating a dead horse here, but I cannot stress this enough: never assume that you know more than those around you who have been around doing the job for far longer. It might occasionally even be true that you do actually know more about certain subjects (for instance, if you were a successful competitive shooter before you got to the SEAL Teams).
Even if that is the case, do not bring it up unless it is brought up by someone else first. Even then, be humble about it and talk about how you always have more to learn and whatnot, etcetera. Being humble goes a long way, and everyone expects you to be when you are the new guy.
6. Respect seniority
Seniority is a critical feature of any team or organization. The guys who have “been there and done that” carry a special burden of responsibility and a wealth of hard-earned knowledge. Part of that comes with a significant degree of respect that they are afforded for having done their time.
As a new guy, you need to acknowledge that seniority and respect it. Give the senior guys the first choice of gear, or seating on the bus, or space in the team room. Defer to them always in operational matters and see if they will take you under their wing. It will serve you well.
7. Respect traditions
Along with the role of seniority, tradition plays an important role in any team-centered organization, such as a SEAL Team or fire crew. Figure out what the spoken and unspoken traditions are, and adopt them immediately. It will show that you are making an effort to become one of the team/crew, and demonstrate your dedication to the unit. Unfortunately, though, one of those traditions probably involves some “indoctrination.” So…..
8. Be ready for good-natured ‘hazing’ (but don’t put up with ridiculous shit)
By ‘indoctrination,’ I of course mean hazing. Despite that being a taboo tradition nowadays, it remains in force nonetheless in most small units and teams. It is a fine line here, again. Show the others that you are not a sucker, but that you are willing to put up with the normal amount of harassment to pay your dues.
Stand your ground when you need to, and stand up for yourself when the situation calls for it. The others will respect you for standing up for yourself if you do it at the right time. You will know when that is. Hazing should not always be feared, and it is much tamer these days in most organizations, as compared to the past. You will be fine.
9. Do not make excuses
Once again, no one expects you to be seasoned, or expert, or even proficient at your new job. They all know you have lots to learn. They will cut you some slack for this reason, although it might never seem like they are, as they ride you every day. However, one thing they likely will not accept is if you refuse to accept responsibility for your mistakes, or for something you screw up.
Take the blame, apologize, say you don’t know what you were thinking, and state that it won’t happen again. You will instantly earn respect by acknowledging your mistakes and showing that you will learn from them. The opposite is also true: if you make excuses for a mistake or poor performance, it shows that you cannot accept responsibility and that you are not willing to admit and learn from your mistakes.
10. Volunteer to do shit jobs
Finally, in every unit, or on any team, there are always the shit jobs that no one else wants to do. Maybe it is carrying the heaviest load on a ruck march. Maybe it is cleaning the toilets at the fire station. Maybe it is getting down and dirty with a patient on scene who is covered in blood. Whichever of these you might face, be the first to jump in there and get dirty and do the hardest tasks.
You will earn the respect of the others and you will show them that you are respecting seniority. Because you better damn-well believe that the senior guys also did those shit jobs when they were the new guy. They paid their dues. You need to also.
Good luck out there and be a damn good new guy.
(Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).