It’s funny how the life – and the military – can throw so many curveballs at you.

I joined the Marine Corps when I was 17-years-old.

When it was time for me to leave service, by choice, nearly 11 years later … excitement, hopefulness, and fear coursed through my mind at the cyclic rate. I was excited to see what was to come next for my family and me.

In the six months leading up to my EAS I had made several trips from Guantanamo Bay, my final station, back to the states to go through the selection process for a well-known fire department. I know I did well above average on all aspects of the process and was sure that I had my new journey and career lined up for a smooth transition.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

At the last minute the department cut slots for a new class and with it, my “sure thing” job.

I wasn’t only upset that I had been through all of that process with literally nothing to show, but terrified that I was soon to be unemployed with a wife and two young children.

The Lessons

Lesson one is an oldie by stands true: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I quickly began to apply for every job that I could find, I didn’t care what the pay was as long as there was some money coming into the house. Rejection after rejection, usually something along the lines of “we do not believe you are the correct fit” or “you are vastly over qualified for the position”.

I found myself becoming something I hated, the “disgruntled veteran”. After 11 years, 3 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and spending many years overseas in service of my country I felt tossed aside. This is the one thing I swore I would never become, entitled due to my service.

Thankfully I had a long-time mentor that I spoke with on a regular basis and he said something to me that turned me around. He told me, “don’t let being a veteran define you, instead let it drive you towards success”.

Lesson two, carry on with the humbleness and discipline instilled during service.

I realized that we either internally or through our veteran buddies enable the entitled feeling. Yes, we earned a few things through our service that we are owed like the G.I Bill, but what employers and coworkers want isn’t the “mightier than thou” veteran but instead a person who has been tested under extreme conditions both mentally and physically and continues to come out fighting.

We, in the veteran community need to continue to “light fires” in our peers to drive to success. In my mind, when we constantly play the veteran card in the civilian world it begins to diminish the worth.

Use the leadership traits that were instilled in you and be a quiet professional. Let your actions speak for themselves so when your coworkers finally realize you are a veteran it just becomes icing on the cake not the reason you are there.

Derrick Wyatt served 11 years as an Infantry Marine from 2005-2016 including two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He left service as an 0369 Infantry unit leader.

Derrick loves spending time with his wife of 10 years and his two daughters, ages 9 and 6.  He’s passionate about giving back to the veteran and civilian community that has supported him  over the years, and does so through community speaking events and mentoring military members he served with and or meets.

He is currently in his senior year of a Political Science degree and works as a DOS contractor overseas in pursuit of becoming a police officer in the near future.