I spent this past Independence Day in Washington, D.C. celebrating our country's founding in our nation's capital as I have for almost a decade straight. However this time it was different, as I now am a uniformed officer of our nation's armed services - and with that came a fundamentally different feel for what this holiday meant holiday as well as reflections on our modern economy, work world, millennial life, and more.
It's now been almost a year since I abandoned my prior career track - working in DC for the pleasant and fulfilling world of government relations, as a media host and commentator interviewing the world's top business and political leaders, as well as my personal opinions and theories on philosophy, policy, economics/markets, and life reaching a viewership/readership of hundreds of thousands of people every single month (and sometimes the same on a particularly good week or even day) through television, print, online, and radio, both domestically and internationally.
I had been around the block of politics, federal and state government, media, and business/startups/technology for a while and this seemed the culmination of years of hard work. All of it was growing, expanding, and heading up - bringing in more money, fame, and power, the building blocks of Washington D.C. life and indeed seemingly our entire modern material world.
Yet something felt empty. Military service always seemed, particularly in our modern society, something extremely different - in daily activity as well as motivation and spirit. When the opportunity came, I jumped in - half-thinking and half-not - and now am settled in as a Captain in the United States Army.
Life in the United States Army took many assumptions we have about modern careers and turned them upside down. Money, climbing the ladder, and lateraling to more lucrative positions is the core incentive driver in our modern economy and particularly in professional and technical services.
However in the military there are no bonuses for stellar achievement nor promotions, outside of prescribed timelines, for extraordinary work. Everything is subservient to "the mission" and exceptional conduct is rewarded with the non-material, such as through medals or coins. Yet despite this we see people in the military exerting extraordinary effort and sacrifice - giving up sometimes even their body and life (but usually just their comfort and free time) - to serve and achieve.
Duty - to one's country, to one's community, to the people of each country - motivates one to not look to the material rewards that our modern economy relies upon. It still gives fulfillment - deep and lasting - which questions some of the foundations our modern career-advice narratives so rely on.
If and when I someday return to the civilian world undoubtedly these lessons will remain with me. As with many other aspects of the military it has taught me firsthand the thousand things that we take for granted each day as free citizens living in the 21st century in the United States and this interconnected world.
When I am on leave from military duty the things that bothered me in ordinary civilian life so much before all seem now like nothing and nonsense - because I know what it's like to have many of those things taken away in order to serve to protect the ability of others to enjoy those comforts.
And I think that's something, no matter our occupation, we should all take to heart - remembering in our daily lives:
This July 4th that is what I am reminded of. And when I return to duty I will continue to remember the same.
All views expressed are only those of the author and do not represent those of the Department of Defense.
Erich is a DC-based policy and public affairs strategist, entrepreneur, political/financial analyst, and columnist. He has spent well over a decade involved in the U.S political, business, government, legal, and non-profit sectors. He writes columns formedia outlets such as Fox News and The American Spectator and appears frequently on cable TV news.