Pausing My Military Mindset

Aristeas Tzovaras

Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves and Clay Hunt Fellow Aristeas Tzovaras reflects on learning to slow down and turn off his always on the go mindset.

I was chatting with my CHFP roommate Michael Lloyd during orientation week in LA after a particularly intense day of YouSchool introspection, and I was relaying to him how I just realized I was extremely stressed.

I was studying for the Bar exam which was in two weeks, I was waiting to hear about a life-changing job opportunity I’d been applying for over the past three years, dealing with the preparations for my change of command, and on an emotional rollercoaster in a relationship.

In the military, we’re taught to take on whatever challenges are thrown at us. To never accept defeat. Assess the situation, choose the best course of action, attack attack attack, seize the objective, prepare for follow on orders. Even in Team Rubicon, the standing order is to “Get shit done,” and it’s effective in creating order from chaos in disasters. But we’re never taught how to turn it off and breathe.

It’s such a simple concept that I think it’s just assumed that everyone knows how to do that, but between the constant training and the go go go, “Quit sitting on your ass, break out some hip pocket training,” “What’s this ‘downtime’ crap?” mentality that is instilled in the fighting force, the concept of self-care, relaxing, or even just taking a minute to recollect your thoughts in the moment is lost.

To be hyper vigilant is a survival tool that’s taught to us to stay aware, to never be caught off guard, to always be ready at every moment.

Aristeas spent time in the Khowst Region of Afghanistan coordinating with the local Afghan Army and civilian leaders to strengthen ties in the community.

When we finally see combat, or survive some kind of trauma, that vigilance is reinforced. Our bodies and minds determine that, “Hey, you’re still alive because you were prepared! Let’s make sure you’re always prepared for anything and everything at all times, because if it happened once it’s going to happen again.”

Which brought me to my realization, I was stressed out and had been for a long time. I’d been taking on every challenge that came my way, I’d been switched on and had been running my batteries dry, and I told him I honestly didn’t know how long I could keep it up. And it was at that point that he gave me the advice that was given to him when his Navy SEAL buddy saw he was stressed out too.

Aristeas spent time in Gabon, Africa training soldiers from four different African nations on peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic.

He took him to a coffee shop, told to bring a book, and instructed him to “just sit down, and shut up.” Just be. Just read. Just turn your phone off, and let yourself enjoy the freedom of even one hour of being away from the world, it’ll be there when you stand up and turn your phone back on. It’s ok to be selfish for a little bit because your body and mind need a break.

When Mike told me that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was so simple that I felt like an idiot when I realized I couldn’t remember a time I had just sat somewhere, without the world, just to do something for me. But either way, I had my new goal.

A few weeks after that conversation, the stars aligned. I took the Bar exam, finalized my change of command, and finally heard about the job, so I turned off my phone, grabbed a book (Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown) and went to my local park to just sit down and read. It was awesome.

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