Advice – Take It With a Grain of Salt

I spent 1986-1996 in the Army Band. It was a great learning experience for me. I got to spend three of those years in Japan, serving my country as a saxophonist touring Japan.

After a while, I knew army life was not for me. I knew I needed a change. My wife and I discussed it a lot and were 90% sure that I would leave the army. I value the advice and input from others, so I asked a lot of people about their thoughts. I started with…

My 5 foot tall, round, Italian mama

Jeemy (she called me Jimmy but it came out sounding like Gee-me). Iffa you getta outa da Armee, you maka a bigga mistaka! You family, shes a gonna starva. You kids, dey gonna die-a. You willa never, never, never, never, never, never, succeed-a ina anything you do. I begga you, no maka dis mistaka!!!!!

A half dozen people who had gotten out of the Army after three years

James, I wish I had never gotten out of the army. Life has been one struggle after another. I have kept getting low paying jobs. If I had stayed in, at least I would have my pension now. If you get out of the army, you are making a big mistake. You will have a hard time succeeding. Your family will struggle. And think about the free health care. What if someone in your family gets sick? I implore you, don’t make the same mistake I made.

A half dozen people who had stayed for 20 years and were now drawing retirement pay

James, I wish I had gotten out of the army when I was young. Yes, I’m drawing a pension now, but I am so far behind others who started in their careers long before me. I strongly urge you to get out NOW and start your new career.

But there was one piece of advice that was completely different…

Kirk Wilcox, college professor, friend, and mentor

Like a true teacher, Kirk didn’t give me any answers directly. My question for everyone had been, “Should I stay in the army or get out.” Through thoughtful questions and targeted feedback, he got me to think for myself, to decide what the right decision was for me. He pointed out that all the others had ulterior motives – often informed by regrets they had in their own lives. With his guidance, I came to my own conclusion that I needed to get out of the army. And I learned a few things along the way…

Ask advice, but realize it may be biased. Ultimately, you have to come to your own conclusion. Parents, friends, and family members often will lean towards what’s “safe,” but safety is not the ultimate goal we should strive for.

Be careful about making decisions based on fear. Mom’s advice – and those who regretted getting out of the army, was very fear based. Fear will often cloud your thinking.

Don’t “follow your heart.” Your heart – which is your emotions expressed in a different way – can be one consideration, but it shouldn’t be everything. What if I followed my heart to be an NBA superstar? I stink at basketball – always have – and although practice would help me be better, it would never get me to NBA status.

It’s NOT “better to be safe than sorry.” The safe decision would have been to stay in the army. There is so much I would have missed had I done that! Have I ever regretted getting out? Almost never (I say almost because there were a few times when finances were tight and I thought I may have been better off.) But with 26 years hindsight, I can say I have no regrets about that decision.

I was younger then and knew less about seeking advice than I do today. Now I have more mentors that are like Kirk, mentors who make me think and dig deep. Surround yourself with great mentors and friends who will steer you in the best decision for you.

*** James Divine is an educator, public speaker, and course creator. Find out more about his speaking at and more about his music at