Lessons Learned from my Military Experience

Lessons Learned from my Military Experience

There is tremendous value and benefit to having military experience.  It has had a lasting impact on me and I am thankful for the experience. I learned a number of lessons and values which had a direct impact on my ability to be successful in later endeavors and throughout life.  Chief amongst them are:

Discipline – Discipline is the soul of your journey; it is one of the most important traits required for success in whatever you strive to accomplish.  Discipline gives you the will to take the necessary actions to improve yourself, the courage to face your fears, and the self-control to stick to a regimen or a plan.  A lack of discipline results in excuses and distracts you from doing what is necessary to complete the mission and be successful.  In the military, the consequences can literally be the difference between life and death as if you do not carry through you jeopardize your team or unit.  While the consequences are different, the same thing applies in the business world.  If you don’t have the discipline to push through and the self-control to do what is required of you to do as part of the bigger picture, those lapses will result in compromised performance.

Teamwork – All teams consist of groups of individuals.  While the individuals may be highly skilled and capable, team success is predicated on how the individual capabilities of the team can be harnessed so they function as a cohesive unit in the most effective and efficient manner possible. In the military, there is a lot of bonding that goes on through basic training exercises, drills, and maneuvers. Everyone has a specific role and each individual is held accountable for their work.  However, the focus is on unit performance versus individual performance, with everyone having a shared sense of commitment and duty since everyone is part of a greater cause.  This process and commitment results in an ethos with a set of core values and beliefs that promotes camaraderie and a sense of interdependence. Everyone has each other’s back with the character and integrity to maintain the highest standards possible in the interest of the greater good.  Just like the military, life is a team sport, and those same lessons carry over.

Planning – You spend a lot of time in the military training and planning.  First and foremost is clarity, or in other words, a clearly defined mission.  The goals and actions need to be aligned, everyone needs to understand what needs to be done, what their role is, and why it is important.  The why is important since a greater understanding yields a stronger belief which reinforces the commitment.  You spend a great deal of time reviewing and rehearsing the plan, while at the same time looking at three scenarios – what is the likely outcome, what is the worst case, and what is the best case.  You then develop contingency plans based on these projected outcomes since things do not always go as planned and there can likely be unintended consequences that you have to deal with.  Throughout this planning you are transparent and respect other people’s views and input, especially the critics, as it is only through them that you can improve.  As you train and the plan evolves everyone understands their role based on various scenarios, which is of critical importance since as things unfold and if the situation deteriorates you need to ensure everyone can quickly react and adapt as circumstances dictate.

Adversity – How someone deals with adversity could be viewed as the single biggest challenge in their life.  The true test of character is not how well someone behaves when things are going well, but how one responds when things don’t work out and problems occur.  These adverse circumstances are valuable life lessons as you learn from them and do not make the same mistakes again.  This also helps to build resiliency and develops your ability to maintain your resolve and determination through trying circumstances, adapt as required, and handle the associated stressors.  In the military one is continually faced with adverse circumstances such as extended deployments, a mission that may not be unfolding according to plan, not having access to resources that may be required, operating in a sleep deprived condition, and so forth. In the military you develop the ability to see things through. You are entrusted with a mission that is of signal importance. When faced with challenges or complex circumstances it is incumbent upon you to make it work since the cost of failure can have far reaching consequences.

Leadership – There is no better training grounds for leadership than military service. Leading a military unit is a complicated and rigorous process and one needs a range of tools to be effective. The kind of responsibility and accountability thrust upon you gives you the opportunity to learn to lead in a variety of arenas with a spectrum of individuals. Most of the people who join the military do so for intrinsic not extrinsic reasons, thus it is important to be proficient in those skills and areas that provide inspiration and motivation to the team. You learn to be disciplined, consistent, ethical and respectful while understanding that there is no one size fits all.  Consequently, you learn what I would characterize as adaptive leadership as you understand that not every person responds in the same way, every situation has its own distinct set of challenges, and you as their leader are center stage and held accountable. Understanding this, you also demonstrate the trust you have in your unit by empowering team members, ensuring you maximize unit performance by proper alignment since the entire team is only as strong as the weakest link.

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Looking Toward the Future? Five Ways to Choose the Right Career Path

Looking Toward the Future? Five Ways to Choose the Right Career Path

Deciding what you want to do with your life and your career is not revolutionary – it is evolutionary. Since you will spend much of your life at work you owe it to yourself to understand what inspires you and motivates you, and match those beliefs with your personality, skill set, interests, and values. Only then will you be able to optimize your prospects for success, fulfillment, and happiness.

Deciding on a career is part art and part science. It is an art because it is personal. It is a science because it is a five-step process requiring assessment, investigation, alignment, career choice, and company choice.

Below are those five steps, which, if taken seriously, I believe will help you choose the career path that is right for you.

Assess

Conducting a self-assessment enhances your ability to identify your interests, skills, personality, and values.

Interests are what you enjoy doing. Skills are what you do best or what you can acquire. Personality is the set of characteristics that determines your behavior. Values are what is important to you.

Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing?  Where have I excelled?” Conversely, admitting what you do not enjoy strengthens and balances your assessment process.

Analyze your skills and how they fit your interests.

Understanding your personality and choosing a career that fits will improve your prospects for performance and job satisfaction.

A figure, viewed from behind, is look at doors in the clouds.

Investigate

Investigate and explore your specific areas of interest. Research sources include the web, books, journals, career fairs, and industry professionals. Take career-specific tests as a means to further identify targeted professions. Join various clubs, do volunteer work, or get a summer job.

While in college, research your degree. Look at the careers others have pursued, and talk with graduates to get the pros and cons of the profession. Internships can be valuable firsthand experience, as it is difficult to know if you are going to like something if you have never done it.

Keep an open mind, and don’t hesitate to consider opportunities to explore other options. As you go through this process, don’t be myopic. You may think one way and end up going another.

There are career choices that did not exist a year ago, so don’t be beholden to conventional choices either. Think outside the box and explore multiple options.

Align

Knowing yourself, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and aligning them with you career choice and work environment make for a win, both for you and the company. Studies have shown that matching a career with your interests and personality results in greater satisfaction and fulfillment. Individuals who are successful, fulfilled, and happy in their careers are motivated and energized when they go to work. They look at their job as a venue to apply their talent and skills and find more meaning and purpose, with less stress and better health.

Alignment also refers to balance. Lack of balance between your personal values and your work environment can lead to a lack of motivation. No matter how good the money, if your work is not meaningful and rewarding, you will lack the motivation and passion necessary to sustain yourself, day in and day out, throughout your career, to weather challenges and adversity, and to achieve great success.

Develop

Develop a career plan together with a communication and networking plan, including short- and long-term goals, with specific actions.

Do not underestimate the importance of the resume. It should differentiate you by conveying those traits that make you a unique candidate for their organization. If you require assistance with your resume, then engage the services of a professional.

Sending out dozens of unsolicited resumes each week via the Internet can give one a false sense of accomplishment; it is not the most effective way to find an opportunity. The most effective method is networking via established contacts, existing professional organizations, and forums for recruitment. LinkedIn is a good example: 87 percent of all employers use LinkedIn as a recruitment tool. Employment agencies are also an option for industry-specific opportunities.

Do not sit back and wait for something to happen. Take the initiative, and do not be afraid to cold call.

A room with seven doors, one of which is bright yellow, with the following text superimposted: Your dream career is just behond that door. All you have to do is have the courage to open the door and claim it.

Identify

A company’s culture reflects their values, practices, and beliefs. Research to determine if the culture of a company you are looking at is a good fit for you, starting with the company’s website. Look at the mission statement, the section that describes the company, and why it was founded. Review recent articles or press releases. Research social media for employee and customer comments. When looking at some of the comments by employees, former employees, or customers, bear in mind that not everything you read is true. Look at the leadership team, and read their biographies, noting in particular their education, work experience, and background. The leadership team determines the culture in mid-to smaller-size companies.

Lastly, is the company large or small, established or a start-up? There are pros and cons to each one. It comes down to your personality, goals, and what you are looking for in a company. If you are a structured individual, want to focus on a specific area, and value a fairly predictable career path with stability, a large company may be a better match. If you are entrepreneurial and adventurous, consider a smaller company or even a start-up, especially if there is an opportunity for ownership.

It will take a lot of work and research to go through these five steps. But by putting that work in now, you will set yourself up for a happier, more successful and more fulfilling career.

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Stress During COVID-19

Stress During COVID-19

These are very uncertain times as we are faced with a host of issues which we have never encountered. Terms such as quarantine, containment, and social distancing which were not in our daily lexicon are now commonly discussed. This is unfamiliar territory, which combined with a drastic change in how we are used to living has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress.  Each day, the increase in cases and the barrage of information has the potential to bring with it a feeling of despair, as the narrative continues.  With these circumstances, and myriad events beyond your control continuing to spiral, it is understandable that your general anxiety and stress levels will rise, and if left unchecked, could manifest itself in a host of problems and have adverse effects on you and those around you as you struggle to cope in these trying times.

However, there are absolutely some steps you can take to help alleviate this anxiety, reduce your stress levels, and keep your health – both mentally and physically – in check.  Here is a list of actions, that if implemented, will assuredly help you and others you encourage to take these steps, get through this crisis.

1. Mind-set – The first thing to do is to get your mind right. Towards this end, it is a matter of acceptance, awareness, and action. You have to accept the situation for what it is, be aware of what is going on, and take action. Instead of emotion-based actions, be pro-active and commit to taking the necessary steps to help deal with the myriad issues and concerns you face. If you are committed to doing so go to number two below and continue down the list.

2. Perspective – It is important to keep things in perspective, in spite of much of the doom and gloom you read about and her about. This current crisis, while a wake call, is not Armageddon.  Humankind is resilient.  We will get through this just as we have with other events. We have the best and brightest minds in the world working on solutions to help mitigate the current crisis. Even though our resources are being stretched thin, by working together and accepting personal responsibility, the measures we are taking will ultimately yield results.  We will emerge from this crisis with lessons learned and be more pro-active in the future as there is no other choice.

3. Unplug – You want to be aware of what is transpiring and be informed. However, a constant barrage of news reports throughout the day, some of them rife with outlandish or sensational statements, is a source of stress. Limit your time with the news and online reporting as constant monitoring of these reports and obsessing over them can become compulsive and is counterproductive.  You can periodically check for updates but stay with trustworthy sources such as the CDC, WHO, State and local sources.  At the same time, if there is someone in your life who has such a negative outlook that it affects you, limit or avoid this source of stress as well.

4. Take Control – We are all creatures of habit. We have our routine which provides a sense of structure and order in our lives.  With many of you, this is now not the case, as your schedule has been altered, in some cases, drastically altered.  Rather than waiting for something to happen, make something happen.  Establish a routine and a schedule for yourself, focusing on those things you can control.  Put aside times for tasks that need to be completed, projects which need to be finished, or items on that to-do list.  Be diligent, practice appropriate measures to keep you safe such as physical distancing, washing your hands, and wearing a mask when advisable.  If exercise is a part of your daily routine stick with it and exercise at those times you normally would do so, helping you get back into your rhythm.  Taking these steps will provide you with a sense of control, providing a sense of normalcy, while keep your mind occupied, and your attention elsewhere.

5. Exercise – Exercise is medicine, with both mental and physical benefits. Any type of exercise can help rid the body of stress.  Depending upon your circumstances you have a range of options such as walking, running, aerobics, cycling, yoga, swimming, or strength training. If you are stuck at home, look for exercise videos and online exercise programs. Adapt your routine to the prevailing conditions and schedule the time to do this.  Maintaining or adding this routine will keep your mind occupied, help you maintain your rhythm, enhance your mood, and help break the cycle of negative thinking.

6. Diet – What you eat has an impact on your health and your ability to handle stress. Be mindful of what you eat and how much you eat. Try to avoid convenience food, watch your intake of carbohydrates, limit your sugar intake, and be moderate with caffeine and alcohol. By eating a more nutritious, well-balanced diet your will feel better, be more relaxed, and sleep better.

7. Sleep – When you sleep your body and mind recharges itself. Depriving yourself of sleep is a stress inducer as it raises stress hormone levels.  Being tired and sleep deprived also inhibits your ability to pay attention, increases your irritability, and erodes your self-control.

8. Relax – Take the time to do the things you enjoy. Reading a book, watching a movie or series, or playing a board game are just a few of the things you can do.  Whatever is done, it should be something you enjoy which helps you take your worries off things and enhances your ability to stay calm.

9. Avoid Unsocial Distancing – While the intended effect of social distancing is to keep our physical presence to one another limited, it is having the unintended effect of many feeling isolated and alone. We are social creatures; thus, isolation and loneliness can add to our stress and depression.  While you may not be able to be physically present, there are a host of venues to stay connected.  Make the time to connect with people you haven’t talked to in a while and stay in touch with your friends via telephone, Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, etc. to counteract these feelings.  If also gives you a chance to communicate with others and express your feelings, which can lift your mood, and is a form of therapy.

10. Have Faith – The axiom “You can’t have a positive life with a negative outlook” applies here.  Avoid dwelling on potential negative consequences or looking for the downside of every situation.  Look at this as a challenge which you will get through, take the lessons learned, build on them, and move forward with self-confidence and resolve.

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Five Steps to Deal with Failure

Five Steps to Deal with Failure

The mettle of an organization and an individual’s character are revealed in how they deal with failure.  Avoidance is not a winning strategy.  You have to face failure head-on.  When you do find yourself in this predicament, adhere to these basic steps for your recovery:

1. Mind-set – The first and most important thing to do is to get your mind right. Do not dwell on it, indulge in self-pity, or feel sorry for yourself. It will not change what happened.  You failed because you had the courage to try something and it did not work out, but you have a choice.  That choice is how you react and how you deal with it.  Look at this as a learning lesson on the path to success.  Have faith in yourself and be determined and motivated to find a way or make one.  Maintain your composure, stay focused, and stay positive with the firm belief and commitment in what you are doing providing you with the courage and wherewithal to keep moving forward.

2. Accurate Date and Feedback – You need to find out what went wrong, what the consequences are, and what potential options exist. Basing your recovery and actions on inaccurate or misleading information compounds things, possibly turning a failure into a tragedy. It is imperative to get an accurate assessment, which requires candor and honesty, with an environment conducive to this type of exchange of information.

3. Be Objective and Rational – Exercise self-control, and resist actions you will later regret. Keep your head in the game as decisions made in an emotional or angry manner are almost always bad decisions, laden with negative consequences.

4. Learn, Plan, and Adapt – There are two lessons to be learned here. The first is what caused the failure. The second is taking heed of the events causing the failure in order to prevent future recurrences.  Break it down into the essential components, understanding that oftentimes it is not one thing, but a series of events which caused it to happen.  Whatever the cause, get to the root of it, and take action.

5. Be Realistic and Resilient – Emerging from failure is a process, fraught with ups and downs, and takes time.  The factors that will determine what you can do or what you can’t do are usually resource-or time-related.  Be prepared to make tough decisions, paying heed not only to what went wrong, but also what went right.  Perseverance and determination are critical to seeing things through. You must have the character and strength of will to get through it.  Take care of your people; there are others around you who may not be as resilient as you are and may not fare as well.

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