I was tempted not to call it a confession but I wasn't sure exactly how to title this. I've been watching the back and forth on "Advice from a Midshipman" thread on USNA's area here and it touches on something I've seen before. I'm not sure the poster there has "owned" her mistakes and poor choices. I think it's easy to point fingers at everyone else for their involvement or influence. Leaving a service academy is almost always hard to explain. Either the reason you're leaving is "bad" or "not bad", but whichever reason it is, it will take plenty of explaining. Eventually those explanations morph into some kind of identity for the event. I worked with a civilian member of the Coast Guard who would have graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1995, had he not left. His first explanation was, he was a wild child and was going to go down for something, but resigned before he was going to be Masted. That's NOT a good reason for leaving. Eventually, as he explained to non-CGA folks, his reason for leaving was "the academy needed to cut numbers and offered to let him leave." Um...no. Others will leave because it's tough, and later you'll hear "I left because I didn't want to kill people." Fair enough, but I don't buy that all the time. Still others will have an excuse "the academy didn't like me" or "my grades were bad because I was hazed." So now for me.... LITS. I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2006. My first assignment was on a 210' ship. I got the "exciting" job of communications officer (aka I found myself in the radio/CIC space often). I was also the morale officer (and anyone who has been a morale officer knows morale officers have the lowest morale because of the frequent, but not always constructive feedback). I got through my first year on my 210', and things started to go downhill for me. My micromanaging Ops boss left and the new Ops boss was a "hands-off" kind of guy. I prefer "hands-off" but I didn't adapt and waited for his suggestions or orders (which is how you'd typically deal witha micromanager). I started to hate what I was doing and my work really suffered. I wasn't leading my guys the way I should have. I wasn't getting stuff done at the rate I should have. I hated my life on that ship, and I have no doubt it showed. And eventually that poor performance lead to a very poor "officer evaluation report" or OER (like a report card for officers). I tried to turn things around after the real wake-up call, but at that point I had probably lost too much ground. My next OER was much much better and my boss recognized it. I went to my next job, made my boss aware of the past poor OER. And then I excelled. I did really well. My OERs were great. I enjoyed what I was doing. My O-6 appreciate it, gave me great marks and did what he could to better my position. BUT..... JO OERs follow you, and eventually my promotion board came up, and good planner I was, the Coast Guard was starting to tighten its belt. I was passed over for promotion. That is the kiss-of-death for officer careers. Generally promotion boards at that level aren't blood-baths, but that year there were a higher number of "past-over" officers that had been alotted for. And then a year later, as usually happens, the second pass-over game, and at five years I left with an honorable discharge. Most JOs who aren't promoted got in trouble. A DUI, lost ammo, lost classified material, fraternization, etc. I wasn't passed over, because I did not do well in my first tour as a JO. Now, I'm not going to play dumb. I knew then that JO OERs stick with you for awhile. I knew that my bad OER might come back to haunt me. I know that it was in my power to do a better job. I knew that as miserable as I was, I could have worked through it. But I didn't, in 2007, and in 2010 that came back to bite me and in 2011 I left. I'm embarrassed by that. But it is a fact of life. After four years at an academy and five years as an officer, my life had to more in a different direction. I had other classmates who had to make the same choice. Some decided to join the reserves, but I figured, the Coast Guard was done with me, I would be done with it. But like cadets or midshipmen who leave their academies, it doesn't end there. The "why did you leave" or "why did you get out" questions come. Often I answer with "it was time." And then there were the "when are you going to make..." from fellow officers. I guess I find comfort in the fact that I didn't break rules or laws to leave. No, I didn't leave the way I wanted to, but it could have been worse. I could have been worse. Last year I ran into my old CO who signed my bad OER. He told me he regretted the way he handled it, and wished he had done things differently. To some degree that helps, but I told him that I had a major part in that OER and that I could have dug deeper to do better there. The realization that that Coast Guard career would end, whether I wanted it to or not, in less than 20 years, motivated me (as did a commander from my office) to apply to and attend grad school. And now, two years (nearing three years) later, I'm happier where I am, I make a good paycheck and I have more control over things. I'm not sure if that would have been the case had I remained, but unfortunately that wasn't a choice I had to make. I have used that experience, my failure, my poor judgement and, for awhile, my poor leadership, as learning experiences for the second half of the Coast Guard career and on the outside. It's true there are things my command could have done to "guide me" better. But that doesn't change the fact that I didn't "own" my career, and that I felt it better to tread water and drown than swim to win the race. It's hard to admit when something didn't go the way you wanted it to. It's difficult to admit you've failed. It's hard to take ownership that you own a part of that failure. But it's harder to let that go. This may catch some by surprise. It may hurt my credibility. There may be people on SAF who think "ah, makes sense... that's why I didn't like LITS," but this is the truth. I have made mistakes, and I haven't always owned my future. I have tried to learn from those mistakes, and have used those lessons for my future. And I have become much more successful now than I would have been because I have owned it and I have grown.