Category Archives: Scripture

How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

Employers Value What Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

Transitioning to civilian life can seem like walking in a barren wilderness. Few of the familiar touch-points of daily life exist. Nobody asks you to verify your identity to access your workplace or computer. You don’t hear the recording of the Star Spangled Banner each morning. Lack of a muster might even make you feel nostalgic. At least it seemed like someone cared if you showed up for work.

How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

How You Benefitted from Rootlessness

When I first left active duty, I found civilian life devoid of meaning. Part of it stemmed from my working from home and being alone much of my workday. In the military, you're never by yourself. There’s always someone to meet with or check on. Counterintuitively, the nomadic nature of military life builds roots. They aren’t place-based. They’re deeper, in the people and mission that require constant attention.

At 2.1 million active and reserve duty personnel, we’re similar in size to another famous, nomadic group. During their wanderings, summarized in parshas Mattos-Masei, the Israelites found meaning amidst upheaval:

“…and these were their journeys, according to their goings forth.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 33:2)

Events, at each location the Children of Israel visited, had meaning. In the Wilderness of Sinai, they learned G-d would fill their needs when He gave them manna from heaven. But most of the gifts they received were spiritual.

Kivros Hataavah is a case in point. There, many Israelites died because they gave into their craving for meat. Kivros refers to the word kever, a grave. Hataavah means desires. A person who gives into his desires gets rewarded with an early burial.

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The sum total of their wanderings was an enduring set of values. These would see them through their transition to a settled life in the Land of Israel.

Tweak Your Presentation to Be More Effective

While in the military you moved every two or three years. But each new duty station reinforced the values you learned in basic training. On time is late and ten minutes early is on time. Stand at attention no matter where you are when the National Anthem plays. Address superiors respectfully.

Rarely do you see these values in a civilian workplace. That we continue to hold them post-military is part of what makes us feel out of place. Yet private sector companies prize our punctuality, dedication to duty, and respectful treatment of others.

Learn to convey your work ethic and mission commitment in a way that engages civilians. Show up ten minutes early. But rather than waiting for latecomers, help the meeting organizer get set up. Don’t criticize millennials’ lack of commitment. Be the employee who helps them learn the value of mission. Speak with respect to every colleague. Leave off the sir and ma’am. It’s not too different from what you did in the military, is it?

The Israelites had to adapt from a nomadic to a settled life. Many faced culture shock. They had to give up longstanding practices, like bringing sacrifices on private altars. But their values remained steadfast. Only the way they expressed them changed.

The same plan will work for you. Alter your behavior a little. Learn to express your values in a way that doesn't shame your civilian colleagues. You’ll always feel a little uncomfortable. But that tension is your greatest asset. Use it to build a successful civilian life.

What makes you feel like you don't fit in?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Be More Influential with Civilians

Have You Transitioned from a Military to Civilian Communication Style?

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas – Numbers 25:10-30:1

Confronting a problem head-on seems to provide the fastest solution. In a military staff meeting, a candid airing of views appears to ensure the best ideas get presented. But as infantrymen know, a frontal assault often leads to defeat. Have you ever had the same thing happen outside of combat? You have the facts and logic on your side. You bang away, head-on. Yet in the end, you lose…

How to Be More Influential with Civilians

Style and Substance When Influencing People

We come from an environment where collar devices communicate the pecking order. But have you been at a command where the civilian secretary wields enormous authority by having been there so long? In the civilian world, you have titles. But they can be deceiving. Often you don't know who holds the power. Until you pinpoint the sources of authority, you’ll lose the argument.

As well, sometimes a meeting only formalizes decisions reach during the preceding days or weeks. To gain your objective, spend time socializing your ideas beforehand. Seek agreement on smaller points even if the person won't consent to advocate your idea. Do this a few times and you’ll figure out who has power.

Figuring out the best way to exert influence has bedeviled humanity for millennia. Contrast rebel Korach with Zelophehad’s daughters in Parshas Pinchas:

Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? (Numbers/Bamidbar 27:4)

Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah had no brother. As such, under the current laws of inheritance, they would not receive a portion of the Land of Israel. This seemed to fly in the face of what they knew about G-d: He loves men and women equally. Yet, they saw the failure of Korach’s frontal assault on Moses’s and Aaron’s leadership role. (See this post for more about Korach and his allies.)

Zelophehad’s daughters needed a more sophisticated approach to winning their point. They had clarity about their goal – inherit the land their father would have received if he had lived. But, they couldn't claim to be innocents. Their father had died because of a serious sin. They knew it could mean the forfeiture of rights to the land.

So, they began by acknowledging their father’s sin. Next, they noted he was not a conspirator along with Korach. Rather, he committed an individual sin. This implied that since everyone sins, his treatment shouldn’t differ. Then, they chose not to decry their fate. Instead, they asked a question that compelled Moses to realize the injustice of the current plan. They ended by making their appeal.

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How can you use this process in private sector organizations?

6 Steps to Greater Influence in Civilian Life

Let’s examine the six aspects of Zelophehad’s daughters’ process:

  1. Have a clear objective. Know what you want to accomplish and why.
  2. Uncover the merits and deficiencies of your case. The benefits may be clear. But people who oppose you will focus on the negatives. Better to figure them out in advance.
  3. Acknowledge the weak points. Disarm your opponents with preemptive action. No objective has only good points. You make a stronger case when you admit its weaknesses.
  4. Give a rationale for discounting them. Make the case for ignoring the weak points of your case. If you can’t dismiss them, at least diminish their impact.
  5. Use questions that guide people to agree with you. When you help people discover, on their own, the merits of your idea they're more likely to agree with you. Lead with questions that help them reach your conclusions.
  6. State your objective. Having laid the ground for agreement, disclose your goal. If the person rejects it, go back to steps 4 and 5. Work back through why they should ignore the cons and how they embraced the pros.

The blunt style of military decision-making won't fly in most private sector organizations. Use this process. It will help get your ideas excepted, giving you greater success in civilian life.

What prevents you from having work you’ll enjoy?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Enjoy Your Job-Hunt and Career

Do You Want Passion in a Career?

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Balak – Numbers 22:2-25:9

Most job-hunting tasks aren’t fun. And, many private sector careers don't provide the enjoyment that we found in the military. So when employment experts talk about finding your passion in a civilian career, I see lots of veterans’ eyes glaze over.

How to Enjoy Your Job-Hunt and Career

Many of our parents taught us to believe work has nothing to do with fun. For them, work meant survival. Enjoyment was beside the point. Today, we see two powerful forces colliding. Most of us still have to work to afford to live. In this respect, nothing has changed.

But the rapidity at which industries and jobs evolve has surged in the last decade. Keeping a job requires constant upgrading of your knowledge and skills. Maintaining your motivation to stay abreast of new developments presents a challenge. All the same, you’ll have to meet it or lose your income.

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Twenty years ago, people used time after work for leisure. Now, they use it to stay competitive in their jobs. If you don't like what you do, how will you stay motivated?

The Difference Between Passion and Lust

In his superb book, No Fears, No Excuses, Larry Smith makes an irresistible case for passion being an essential part of the work you choose to do. He doesn’t define what passion means, so let’s unpack it ourselves. No surprise, it has ancient roots.

Pharaoh had passion for Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Such lust seems to be the image that comes to mind at the word passion. But this type is too easily sated to have relevance to a lifelong career.

We see another kind of passion in the story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac. He rises early in the morning to saddle his donkey. Then he rouses Isaac and his two young men. The four leave on their fateful journey. This story counterpoints another tale of passion in this week’s parsha, Balak:

And Balaam arose early in the morning and saddled his she-donkey… (Numbers/Bamidbar 22:21)

Balaam was a great prophet. The Moabite king, Balak, wanted him to curse the Israelites so he could defeat them in battle. But G-d refused to let Balaam go. Finally, seeing Balaam’s yearning to help Balak, the Almighty relents. Balaam wants to get an early start. So he doesn't bother to call a servant to saddle his she-donkey.

Balak knew of Balaam’s deep passion for wealth and honor. He catered to it by sending ever-higher officials to plead with Balaam. Though he pooh-poohed the huge sums of money offered him, Balaam’s desire for it almost leads him to his death. His passion for wealth and honor evinces lifelong self-interest.

Abraham also has a lifelong passion. His legendary hospitality to family, friends, and strangers shows he sought meaning from serving others. On this path, he never wavered. He lived for the next opportunity to take care of the Almighty’s children.

How to Find What You’ll Enjoy

Two men’s passions motivated them to rise early and saddle their donkeys. Both had many servants who could have done this work. Balaam had passion for self-aggrandizement. Abraham had passion for service.

Follow Abraham’s model. You’ve already started along this path in the military. You defended the Constitution, and hence your fellow citizens, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Build on this legacy in civilian life. Consider these questions:

  1. How can your leadership ability better help people meet life’s challenges?
  2. What team building skills do you have that can help an organization meet its mission?
  3. Where can you bring the unifying spirit of the military to bridge divides in our society?
  4. How can you use the idea of mission command to help a private sector company operate better?
  5. What organization can benefit from your ability to inculcate a sense of purpose in its people, the way your service branch did for you?

These represent a few ways to find passion in your civilian work. Too often, I see veterans grab at the first opportunity. Later, they regret it only to take other, passionless jobs. Not motivated to go the extra mile to develop themselves, their civilian prospects get dimmer each year.

Take the time to find a field of rich interest. Ponder the questions above. Come up with others that help you probe what you'll enjoy. Talk to veterans who found passion in their work. How did they do it? Make the investment in finding a field that captures your interest. It will pay huge dividends over the coming decades.

What prevents you from having work you’ll enjoy?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below

 

Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Rally Your Spirits When Job-Hunting

Will You Burn a Cow to Get a High-Paying Job?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Chukas – Numbers 19:1-22:1

Veteran reintegration mystifies people, even big supporters of the military. Last week, a civilian told me PTSD is the biggest reason we struggle to find a job. He didn’t know that PTSD affects 11% to 20% of OIF and OEF veterans each year. That’s double the rate for civilians. But it doesn't represent a majority of veterans who find transitioning difficult.

How to Rally Your Spirits When Job-Hunting

Another told me it’s a simple matter of setting up a website that matches a veteran’s skills to an employer’s needs. But such job boards have existed for years. If it were that easy, veteran unemployment would never have risen above the civilian rate.

The real problem is less obvious and more complex to solve. Not having engaged in a civilian job-hunt before, a lot of veterans don’t know what to do. TAP instructors say write a resume and network. But veterans don't know how.

Borrow a Page from the Military Playbook

Civilians also find the military’s culture of risk avoidance surprising. Many don't realize the penalties for mistakes can be huge. The military reduces the passivity this might create through training. No such process exists for veterans transitioning to civilian life. You have to learn to job-hunt by doing it.

Meet fear of making mistakes with faith that you will overcome obstacles. But how do you proceed with confidence when the process remains a mystery? The Israelites in Parshas Chukas faced the same dilemma:

The one who gathered the ash of the cow will immerse his clothing and remain spiritually contaminated until morning. (Numbers/Bamidbar 19:10)

A kohen (priest) burns a completely red calf with cedarwood, hyssop, and a crimson thread. The ash that remains will purify the spirit of someone who touches a human corpse. That being the case, why does the kohen who gathers the ash become spiritually impure? The parsha's name, Chukas, explains. A chuk is a rule beyond human comprehension. G-d wants the Israelites to follow the process despite not understanding how it works. He intends that it be mysterious.

The transition process shouldn't be mysterious. But the military doesn’t have the knowledge base to train civilian job-hunting skills. You have to handle the vagaries of civilian job-hunting on your own. Take two actions:

Action 1: Get training from somewhere other than the military. This will help. But you’ll still need to put it into practice

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Action 2: Use faith to move forward with your job-hunt.

Inaction Is Riskier than Initiative

Like military training, quality civilian job-hunting training will give you procedures to follow. You’ll gain the tools to create contingencies for when your plan goes awry. Having drilled in these new skills, you can proceed with confidence.

No matter how good the training, you’ll suffer setbacks. Some hiring managers are jerks. A few may dislike veterans. Even so, they can’t stop you from getting a high-paying job doing meaningful work. But you can. Let your faith slip and you’ll stop taking action. Once you give up your hunt, the game’s over.

So keep trying new methods. If one tactic doesn't work, figure out another. Try it. If that one bombs too, go on to the next one. No matter what, don't do what most job-hunters do: hunt for an hour a day and watch television the rest of the time.

If you feel your faith start to waiver, try something outlandish. What have you got to loose? Cleanse your spirit with the ashes of a cow burnt with some fragrant wood, herbs, and red string. (Metaphorically of course) Who cares that there’s no logical reason it will work? Use it to replenish your faith. Then move forward once more.

Have you lost faith that you’ll find a high-paying job doing meaningful work?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Identify the Source of Your Struggles

Who Are Your Strong Allies for a Smooth Transition?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

Unlike the military, the civilian world does not have one culture. Each service branch has distinctions. But, they're more similar than different. Many subcultures make up American society. They diverge, even clash. None of them match the military. Sometimes transitioning feels like living in a foreign country. If the stakes weren’t so high, you could be forgiven for throwing your hands up and declaring the situation hopeless. And it’s not just finding a job.

How to Identify the Source of Your Struggles

The Many Faces of Reintegration

After getting a job, the challenges keep mounting. You have to adapt to a new workplace culture. Then your marriage and family need to adjust to different dynamics. Compound that with daily strife and divisiveness. In the military, we build cohesion to grapple with the enemy. Sometimes the civilian world seems to thrive on alienation.

Not long ago, a veteran disputed my assertion that civilians face challenges as difficult for them as military life is for us. He went through a long list of troubles he faced. All related to something civilians had done to him. Anger and resentment seeped from every word.

Among his complaints, he cited potential employers who assumed he had psychological issues. Sad to say, such ranting might cause a company to draw such a conclusion. Nothing I could do would change his perspective.

Of course, people make false connections all the time. The story following the rebellion in Parshas Korach comes to mind:

Moses said to Aaron, take your fire-pan and place on it fire from the Altar and put on it incense. (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:11)

The ground swallows Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, the three primary conspirators against Moses and Aaron. Still, the other 250 insurgents won’t stand down. So G-d commands Moses to have them bring an incense offering. When they comply, fire consumes them.

All the Israelites had heard the law saying only a Kohen may bring an incense offering. Korach and his followers were Levites. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the rebels died. Even so, the people complained that Moses and Aaron killed them. The Almighty brings a plague to punish Israelites for their wanton misperception.

Aaron brings an incense offering to stop the plague. He shows the Israelites the false connection between incense and death. You might think at this point the people would re-examine their conclusions. But later events show they continue to make false connections.

How Civilians are Like Incense

My complaining commenter behaved like the Israelites. He connected his troubles to civilians. Yet, they are the ones who can help him change his situation.

Civilians do the hiring. Unless he intends to make no new friends, they’ll be his social circle. If he doesn't have access to a military base, they’ll provide his health care. Civilians will sell him his food, clothing, and everything else.

The Israelites falsely connected incense with death. In reality, it sustained life. Death came from taking the wrong actions. Any of the insurgents could have refused to bring the incense offering and been spared.

Civilians are the solution, not the enemy. But you have to be careful how you deal with them. If you mistreat them, they’ll burn you. Would we veterans act differently? By taking personal responsibility for all the challenges of reintegration, you’ll join forces with civilians in creating an outstanding life for you and your family.

How do you view civilians?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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