Don Shomette

People are the Prize

Learning From the Marines How to Raise Self-esteem

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Twenty eight years ago this week I joined the United States Marine Corps. I was just 17 years old when I shipped out for boot camp. Ultimately, my career in the Marines would span twelve years, travel across no fewer than 15 countries, and fight in one war.

This week I’m going to write everyday about one lesson I learned (sometimes the hard way) in the US Marines.


Day 1:
We Didn’t Promise You a Rose Garden:

Day 2:
Learning From the Marines How to Raise Self-esteem

There is a false image perpetrated by Hollywood that Marine Corps drill instructors are mean people. It’s not true. Marine drill instructors are very kind, patient, fun loving guys who never yell and always give you the benefit of the doubt. It is not uncommon to see a drill instructor rubbing the back of a recruit and telling him he’s a good boy even though he didn’t do exactly as he was asked (drill instructors never demand).

When there’s competition, which the drill instructors prefer to call group play, everyone receives a reward and no one is ever signaled out individually when they didn’t do as well as the others. After all, in the Marine Corps everyone is a winner.

One can literally see and feel the love in the faces of drill instructors.


Okay, we all know that’s not true.

My drill instructors hated my guts. I’m convinced that had they been able to get away with it, they would have killed me. Certainly they voiced their desire to do so on many occasions as they hit me and cussed and accused me and my family of contaminating the world.

They are not nice guys…

But here’s a question. If we all know this to be a fact, that drill instructors treat new recruits harshly, unkindly, never tell them they are loved or that they’ve done a good job—why upon graduating boot camp do men and women leave with such high self-esteem?

High self-esteem is not the right word. At a recent training, I had a prior woman Marine put it more accurately. She said when she graduated boot camp she had “Crazy high” self-esteem.

Okay, so here it is again.

Why do men and women when they graduate boot camp (for any service) have such crazy high self-esteem even though they have been treated so terribly?

It’s because they have accomplished so much in a very short period of time.

To raise a person’s self-esteem, kind words are not required. They are the icing on the cake and should be spread on generously, but they are not necessary for self-esteem. People have it all wrong. They think kind words first. Instead, think accomplishment first and kind words a very close second, especially when we think of kids. Give your kids (students) many, many, many tasks that they can accomplish and you will by default raise their self-esteem.

These tasks do not have to be difficult, just anything that requires effort. Of course the greater the effort the greater the self-esteem. If the task requires an extreme effort the greater the person’s self-worth (highest and most permanent form of self-esteem).

If you focus on giving your kids tasks that they can accomplish then like Marines, even if someone is not always nice to them they will still feel good about themselves because they have accomplished something that no unkind word can ever take away.

They’ve done it and they know it and no one can ever change that. It’s why when a person accomplishes the extreme task of becoming a Marine, they are a Marine for life.


Author: Don Shomette

Don Shomette is a trainer, speaker, consultant, and owner of People are the Prize, a violence prevention company that helps people to prevent and survive a school attack. He has spent a lifetime working with police officers and principals and is consistently evaluated by those who attend his trainings as one of the best instructors ever. Don challenges, entertains, and helps school personnel to think of preventing violence in a new and positive way.

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