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One Military Tool for Happiness and Success

“You need to define what it means to you – Jacob Cashman – to be:  1) successful, and 2) happy.  Everyone I know claims that they want to be both successful and happy, but no one ever defines it.  If you pursue a goal, without properly defining it, then you can never attain it.  I have defined both for myself – but you need to figure out what both mean to you.” -Mark Cawthorn, Captain (Retired), United States Coast Guard

My professional career started as an intern for the Directorate of International Affairs and Foreign Policy for the United States Coast Guard. Based in a sparse, four-story government building on the water of Buzzard’s Point in Washington, D.C., I would learn all of the normal intern tasks– collating binders and reports, keeping track of minute details, setting up meetings, greeting international visitors– but nothing that came out of that internship ever affected me so thoroughly as those above words.

Buzzard's Point pic

(Now-retired) Captain Mark Cawthorn of the United States Coast Guard sent them to me at a time when I was reaching out to anyone and everyone for advice. I was considering leaving graduate school in Washington, D.C. I was considering starting my current career back home in Chicago, and I didn’t know where to turn.

As a 20-year-old, I had a great time working at the USCG Headquarters with Captain Cawthorn as my boss, and I think a lot of companies and non-profits can learn a lot from USCG. Many organizations can use military-style regimentation.

Further, many people can use military style regimentation. I don’t mean regimentation in the sense of boot camp and physical fitness.

No, what I mean is precisely contained in those above words that Captain Cawthorn sent to me when I needed them most.

Everyone wants to be successful and happy, but no one is willing to sit down and write what happiness or success is for them individually. Check out my list

Life Is Happy right is success

The type of regimentation that multitudes lack is the type contained in defining goals and ideas, especially when those ideas are as fluid as success and happiness.

Captain Cawthorn’s advice was even more valuable because it did not actually advise me down one path or another; it merely gave me a tool to figure out exactly what I wanted. And I did. My path forward has never been more clearly defined.

About a year ago, when I was contemplating moving from Washington, D.C., back home to Chicago, taking a huge risk in trying to land my current job, I had no idea what I wanted. By writing that list, I defined where success and happiness lie for me.

So I wrote the above list, and every single day since then, my life has gotten better, inch by inch.

This goal-oriented mindset is important at organizations such as the Coast Guard, but I have re-encountered it while reading many business best-practices books, such as “Good to Great” by Jim Collins or “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg.

The Power of Habit


Maybe this exercise worked just for me, but I find that hard to believe. I believe you need to give yourself the chance to recognize your own positive qualities, and you need some clear destination towards which to strive .

After all, if you keep chasing happiness, if you keep striving for success, but you don’t have a personalized definition of what it will look like or feel like when you get there, you won’t appreciate your own success. You will fail to start the processes that will lead to success, or you will speed past happiness at 100 miles per hour, never even noticing it disappearing into a speck in your rear view mirror.

So write your definitions. Depending on the most recent revision, I have between 12-18 specific bullet points that push me towards happiness and success. They are as simple as “Spend time with your family,” “Pay off your car,” or “Write for an hour a day”, and they all stay with me in my wallet.

I walk around with my keys to success and happiness clearly-defined in my hip pocket, and my life keeps getting better every day.

What does happiness mean to you? What does success mean to you? Can you fit both definitions on a single piece of paper? Can you carry around your keys to a meaningful life in your pocket, in your purse?

I bet you can, but you’ll have to show me.



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