Be who you ought to be

  • Published
  • By Col. Richard Palmieri
  • 8th Mission Support Group commander
This month, we celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., toward equal rights for all Americans. Dr. King was an amazing leader with a remarkable message that I simply cannot summarize in a short commentary. However, as I listened to our MLK Celebration guest speaker, he said something that really resonated -- "be who you ought to be."

Think about that for a moment -- an apparently simple phrase with some pretty deep ideas that can only be answered by ... you.

Many of us are a product of upbringing. I grew up in a large family where the lessons were abundant. There are plenty of fond memories and, yes, tough times where we had to be taught the hard way. Sharing your stuff and your space was probably the most repeated concept in our house, followed by patience and taking turns. As we grew older, my mom read from etiquette books nearly every Sunday, espousing respect and communication. I know that this is a large part of who I ought to be.

Remember when you became old enough to vote and the excitement of having that responsibility? For me, that is when my eyes really opened up to social issues and having an opinion about right and wrong. My political friends would talk about government programs and international relations, about equality or the influence of religion, and even tough ideas surrounding abortion and the death penalty. And I grew more into who I ought to be.

The influences of this Air Force profession have also written part of who I am. The core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All You Do resonate every day. It is not just because the Air Force chief of staff and our commanders say the words regularly. The words have meaning inside -- honesty, loyalty, dedication, leadership, perseverance, discipline, and more. I embraced the notion of good, hard, professional work in support of our great nation. I hold close the practice of leadership and followership. I feel great at the end of the day knowing that my contributions have made a difference. This is surely part of who I ought to be.

There is one last perspective I'd like to offer. A chief taught me something important years ago -- the idea of "balance." He told me that while we are expected to give our all to our profession, we are still expected to live our lives. Beyond the rank, skill, daily work and mission, we are social beings in a world full of possibilities.

He said to never forget to feed that part of you that is more than your work, such as family, reading, sports, touring, movies or whatever it is that interests you beyond your work. For instance, in a place like South Korea, one should experience the rich culture and build lasting memories. Be the good son, daughter, spouse or parent. Be the enthusiast for that sport you love. Be an explorer. Spend enough time on this part of you, and you are sure to never burn yourself out and never forget where you came from. Strive to live a balanced life.

In this time where we remember Dr. King, some self-reflection is important. As he once said, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

Remember where you came from, those experiences and influences that brought you to where you are today. Think about right and wrong, and how you act when given choices. Think about how it is that you achieve balance in your life. Finally, with all that in mind, consider who you are today and who you ought to be.