Category Archives: Transitions

The Truth About Military Versus Civilian Life

Have you ever sought to communicate with someone who did not speak your language? If you sensed that there was little common ground did it make relating even harder? Something similar is impeding the effectiveness of people helping veterans transition to private life.

The Truth About Military vs. Civilian Life

A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with a friend who runs a program providing financial assistance to veterans. She admitted having trouble relating to her clients’ transition challenges. Never having served, her knowledge of the military came from movies and television, inaccurate at best. Likewise, when I speak with veterans I find some of their impressions of civilian life mistaken.

To create mutual understanding here are some key points to ponder:

  1. During World War II, approximately 9% of Americans served in the military and perhaps a similar percentage of civilians worked in support roles. Currently, active duty and reserve personnel make up about 1% of our population. Though about 8% of Americans are veterans, almost half are at least 65 years old. These statistics mean that seventy years ago around 75% of Americans had direct military experience or were closely related to someone who did. Today, The New York Times estimates only a third do.
  2. While being in the military requires discipline, life is very structured. Someone with moderate self-discipline will be successful. In general, civilians are less disciplined yet succeeding as a civilian requires greater self-discipline since it lacks the structure of military life.
  3. The military ritualizes paying respect. Typically, as long as customs are observed, a service member is acting courteously. In civilian life few if any such traditions exist any longer. With co-workers coming from such diverse backgrounds, it can be easy to inadvertently offend someone.
  4. The military does an excellent job of training civilians to be warriors. But it has neither the time nor the resources to train warriors to be civilians again. Though some skills learned in the military have value in civilian life, e.g. using computers and teamwork, much of warfare requires specialized expertise that does not easily translate. Whereas having been a flyer in World War II and Korea virtually guaranteed the option of being a commercial pilot, such is not the case today.

With the basis for mutual understanding decreasing as fewer Americans are or personally know veterans, their desire to help is hampered. Though stories of bold operations, such as the one in which Osama Bin Laden was killed, capture the public’s imagination, they shed no light on the experiences of rank and file service members.

If you are seeking to assist veterans, you need to speak to as many service members and veterans as possible to gain insight into our lives. We who have served need to help you by objectively relating our experiences of military life. Is this a Mars and Venice divide? Perhaps not, but maybe it is an Earth and Moon one.

Question – What areas of misunderstanding between service members and civilians have you found?

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The Key Step to Commitment: Make It Spiritual

I did not intend to take a three-week hiatus but my health chose otherwise. On the mend now, I am back to exercising, and soon my poor bashed in car will be repaired too. There is no time like the present to get back to work on spiritual fitness.

“And did Moses and Aaron like that commanded them G-d, so they did” (Shemos/Exodus 7:6)

G-d sent Moses and Aaron to be his emissaries to Pharaoh for freeing the Children of Israel.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Va’eira. It begins with G-d reassuring Moses that the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be fulfilled. Nonetheless, twice Moses tries to get G-d to release him from leading the Jewish people then he commits. The rest of the parshah describes the first seven plagues that G-d wrought on Egypt in pursuit of the redemption of the Children of Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote the seminal text of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, in the 16th century. This great sage comments that at the point the above verse appears in the Torah, Moses and Aaron had not done anything. Rather, we learn that they had sincerely accepted upon themselves the obligation to follow G-d’s command. So wholeheartedly had they done so that the Torah considered it as if they had actually completed their mission.

Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, the first step is too commit to doing the task or goal. Your resolution should be so deep that you feel joy in anticipation of bringing it to fruition. At that point you are pledged both mentally and spiritually. Once you are spiritually committed, the physical challenges can be overcome.

Question - What steps do you take to make your commitments spiritual?

Learn How to Love the Tasks You Hate

Life works the way you ate as a kid. The chicken was probably good but Brussel sprouts, are you kidding me? Yet you put up with them to get to dessert. Whatever you are doing: working, exercising, running a business, being married or in a relationship, earning a degree, you still want to rush through the meal to get to the ice cream. But your parents were right. The sugar high of the dessert cannot sustain you without the foundational elements of the meal: the soup, salad, and main course.

Learn How to Love the Tasks You Hate

I was struck by this idea while trying to expand the list of non-dessert foods my five-year-old daughter will eat. Currently, they can be listed on two hands and one foot. And she will only eat cucumbers if they are slathered in salad dressing. As I sat there frustrated she asked me what foods I hated when I was a boy. She had me nailed dead to rights.

There are three types of tasks you need to do to be successful: those you already know you like, those you already know you hate, and those you have not done because you are afraid to try. It is no problem getting motivated to do the tasks you like to do. But the other two categories are a challenge.

For tasks you dislike, you have five choices:

  1. Do not do them and be content with the level of success you have already attained.
  2. Force yourself to do them, which means you probably will not muster up much enthusiasm to do them well.
  3. Farm them out. But you'll still need to know how to do them well enough that your can train and monitor the person handling them.
  4. Make them a part of some other task you like to do. For example, when I first started cold calling one of the things I did was listen carefully to try and detect an accent and then see if I could accurately identify where the person came from and learn about other places.
  5. Do them so often you learn to love them.

For tasks you are afraid to try, identify the source of your fear. Perhaps the activity stirs up memories of a particularly difficult event in the past. Remember, your taste buds matured as you got older and you now like a broader range of foods.  So too your ability to handle unfamiliar tasks is much greater than you think. Maybe the one you are afraid to try will become a favorite. And if not, you can always use option three or four above and slather it with something you love.

There is one difference between life and eating as a kid is unlike a meal.  Without learning to do all the tasks necessary for success, thoughts of wealth, fame, or whatever else you seek may make you salivate, but you will not achieve them. Without the foundational elements that nourish and sustain you, dessert will elude you.

Question – How do you motivate yourself to do the tasks you dislike or are afraid to try? Please respond below.

What Decisive People Know About Success that You Don’t

Which is better - drilling down to perfect your idea before execution or getting a solid plan outlined then acting on it? Just about everyone knows that a plan is essential for success, but as General George S. Patton, Jr. said, “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Since business, like battles, rarely goes according to plan, in a planning versus performance face-off, default to performance.What Decisive People Know About Success that You Don’t

Remember in grade school when the teacher asked a question and you were brimming with enthusiasm to answer, squirming in your chair until called on to speak? Now think about how bad you felt when that answer was wrong. Is it any wonder that after a few times getting crushed by giving an incorrect answer you became much more skittish about speaking up unless you were absolutely sure you were right? Unfortunately, that lesson works against your success in business.

Patrick Lencioni argues that clarity about your plan is more important than perfecting it. Especially when working with a team, success comes from each member being clear about his part. Tom Hopkins says you should “put a little GOYA into your daily routine.” What is GOYA? Get Off Your Backside (polite word for Anatomy.)

Even if it turns out you made the wrong decision or had a bad plan, the experience and information you will gain by executing it will help you make adjustments as you move forward. You can only get to your goal by taking action. In most cases, as long as the next two or three steps are reasonably clear, you do not need to see a well-defined path all the way to your objective to get there.

Get moving, encounter obstacles, push beyond them. After a while, look back. You will be amazed how far you have come.

Question – How do you know when a plan you have formed is ready for execution?

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Five Steps to Discovering Your Potential

Remember when you were a child? Did your parents, a teacher, or someone else in your life tell you about all the great things you could be: an astronaut, doctor, or Olympic athlete? We may not have understood it then, but this person was helping us unlock our potential. For too many of us, the reason we do not fly is that we persist in seeing ourselves as earthworms, not just tied to the ground, but destined to eat dirt for the rest of our lives.

candlelight

About eighteen months into my chaplain career, I was given the dubious honor of being made supply officer. Soon after I found that no one in the command had any idea of what or how much supplies we had on hand. Ever the practical one, I took an inventory at all the chapels and offices under our control. Among the many things I uncovered were over 40,000 candles. This may not seem so surprising but consider that we used only about 1000 to 1500 per year. We had at least a 26-year supply. Meanwhile, I kept getting requisitions for more candles.

Thinking about it earlier today, I was struck by how much light was lost through having these tens of thousands of candles sit idle. The intensity of light is measured in something called a footcandle, "the illuminance cast on a surface by a one-candela source one foot away." In a way, our ability to shine can be measured in footcandles, or maybe legcandles. How much legwork are we willing to devote to finding the things at which we are brilliant?

Here is a five-step plan for discovering your potential:

  1. Talk to friends and family. Ask them to tell you about the traits and skills they admire about you.
  2. Examine the lives of people you respect. What talents do you share in common? Which ones would you like to develop?
  3. Read several biographies of great people. The Penguin Lives series is a great set of short books. Highlight or list the abilities you share with them. Are there others that you can cultivate in yourself?
  4. Perform a skills assessment or meet with a vocational counselor who can do one. Be honest but not overly critical. List your accomplishments that support your evaluation.
  5. Take the lists and lay them side-by-side or make a spreadsheet with them. Which ones do people agree on? Which ones surprise you? These especially help you unlock latent talent.

Each of us has an internal luminance. Are we going to bury it in some unexamined storeroom? Or are we going to take inventory, uncover out hidden stock, and one by one light these candles until our brilliance shines through for all to see?

What did you uncover when you searched for your potential? How much still lays concealed? What is holding you back from taking stock?

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