Basic Training: Lessons for Student Life

Hi there!

This is my good friend Conor. We met at Trinity College Orientation Week 2014 and have been buddies since. Among other things, Conor and I share a passion for physical activity and education, and we share teaching responsibilities for a Bootcamp class at UofT.

My buddy Conor is one of the most intelligent and honest people I know, and he is always able to provide the best advice!

This week I sat down with Conor to discuss the four pillars of the HealthyU mandate (MoveU, SafeU, HappyU and FuelU). I am always eager to hear Conor’s perspective on important issues, because his life experiences include being a full-time student, a fitness instructor, and Military Maritime Surface Officer with the Royal Canadian Navy.

Mostly, I was interested to know how Conor applies some of the techniques and teachings he has received from the military in his life as a student. I learned a bunch of new military jargon; concepts that have considerable applicability to student life too. Here I’ve pieced together our conversation:

First things first, let’s talk about fitness:

Fitness is holistic. It’s relative. It’s different for everyone. Fitness is all about operational-ability.  This is the ability to physically complete an operation. Some people want to be body-builders and others want to be mothers who can pick up their children. It’s all about being able to accomplish your role.

Basic training for the army demonstrated how important it is to be fit—when you don’t have to worry about physical fitness training becomes just a bit easier. Life is easier when you’re fit, too. It’s important to get up, move around. Keep the blood flowing in the body.

**As we were having this conversation a man was taking a study break beside us to do some squats. Clearly words to live by.
**As we were having this conversation a man was taking a study break beside us to do some squats. Clearly words to live by.

What about sexual safety?

The Military is undergoing “Operation Honour”, which is all about changing the culture of sexual assault. Culture changes through the structure of the Chain of Command, encouraging people to act in ways that are safe for everyone. Accountability is key too. We want to live in a nation where sexual assault is not an issue, so we need accountability from everyone. We all need to act as leaders whenever we can.

What about stress… how can we be stressed-less?

In the Canadian Forces, there is a lot of stress that comes from being in a high-stress position. Everyone has someone else relying on them. We see PTSD, alcoholism, clinical depression, drug abuse. People are pushed to the extremes in combat positions, and this weighs on the human psyche.

The thing to remember here is Prioritization. When you are given a mission you are first given the Commander’s Intent. The reason is because if there is a break in communication or chain of command or things go awry, individuals need to know the greater purpose of the operation in order to continue working toward it.

We need to think about our own Commander’s Intent in the long run in our lives. Why are we at university? To get good grades, to get a degree? What about bettering ourselves as people, and to achieve some level of happiness and to contribute meaningfully to society?

Goals are difficult to accomplish when we have damaged our body over things that are not contributing to this greater picture. Prioritization means remembering that whatever we do is contributing to our Commander’s Intent.

The point of university is not to be detrimental to your life in the long run. If you are causing yourself stress that might manifest in negative ways then you are totally missing the point.

Last but not least, how do we Fuel?

Eat healthy, be ready to go. Again, it’s all about operation-ability. In Basic Training, when you’re given your rations, the point is to give you enough calories to get through the day. You need energy to carry 50-pound sacks and rifles. When you’re living a normal life, you want a diet to match your needs as well one that is going to keep you going.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Sleeping is a source of fuel too. Prioritize it! A good night’s rest is always a better choice than staying up all night cramming. I can attest to that because the longest period of time that I went without sleep is my week in Basic Training. It is really hard on the body– you start dropping things, you can’t communicate anymore, you make mistakes, you start hallucinating. After having pushed myself to that extreme, I value sleep so much more. And I would avoid sacrificing sleep as much as possible.

So, this is topical because exam season is around the corner…

Cramming happens. I understand, I’m a student. So the last thing to keep in mind is adaptability. Your mission might be constantly changing. You have to be able to put yourself in a position where you can be open to new opportunities too.


It comes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Cramming to reach enlightenment is probably the least important thing going on in our life right now. What is important is making sure we sleep in a safe place, that we eat properly, that we move our bodies. We take these for granted, but these things keep us alive. Without them, none of the other things are possible.

The essay that you’re writing at university is meant to make you better, not something to be put ahead of your personal wellbeing.

Conor and I attending a semi-formal event together in our first year!
Conor and I attending a semi-formal event together in our first year!

Thank you Conor, for these wise words!!


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