Way back when I decided to leave active duty I took a friend, a fellow captain, to the informational meeting held by Cameron Brooks, the placement company that went on to help me land my first post-military civilian job. We had each been in the Air Force for about a decade, and I think he was just curious about what they had to say. We met up after the presentation and he was cool to the idea of making the move. I asked him why and his reply was so stark and simply stated that I remember it today: “I don’t know anything else.” (Any other life than the military, he meant.)
Now, since those days we’ve fallen out of touch so I’m not sure if his decision was the right one…only he can make that call anyway. Today I imagine he remained in the service, and now likely retired or is near it. What I do know is that my friend’s fear of doing something new kept him from jumping from active duty into a new civilian career…kept him from making a move based on analyzing an opportunity. Not to disparage his choice—ultimately perhaps he’s better off—but fear was his driving factor.
I was reminded of that story a few years later when I was on the phone with an old enlisted buddy. He’d been in the Army since Custer it seems, and his long career was finally coming to an end. Let me tell you, my friend has seen it all… I can’t go into all the struggles he’s had and mountains he’s climbed in his career, but he’s not had it easy. No sheltered life, this guy. What’s more, after all that, he’d earned his way; and then, at the end of his career, he’s been presented with a job opportunity that would pay him handsomely, employ him doing a job he loved, remove a lot of the day-to-day headaches he had to deal with at the time, and provide for him and his partner (which, when combined with the generous retirement package a 27-year vet receives from the military came out to a very good deal).
The ostensible purpose of our call was to seek my advice on how to maneuver the intricacies of the civilian employment/contractor world, but it seems that his next move had already been set up by the folks who wanted him to work for them. He really didn’t need any advice from me on the ins and outs of making the transition. It occurred to me during our talk that he was just looking for some encouragement that this incredibly fantastic and super-cool chapter of his life he was about to start was going to be just fine. And of course, it was—better than fine even. But it’s amazing to think that someone would need to be told that, considering the great position he’s in right now and the wonderful opportunity being laid at his feet. In the end, I said, “Dude, you’ve got something great here…Don’t worry, everything will be fine. Clear your head and make your decisions based on what’s right for you and your life and family.” Of course, he did.
In my current job as a coach and instructor, I encourage my partners and clients to embrace change and welcome new ways of viewing our situations and handling our problems. This is a pretty common theme within Customer Experience…we’re ‘agents of change’ and all that. Generally speaking, people are loath to do so. Some fear is understandable, even prudent. But when we’re afraid to make a move and base our decisions solely on that fear, we’re not analyzing very carefully. We could miss great opportunities, and yes, even miss some important warning signs when we’re making decisions based on an emotion…and the emotion of fear can be just as dangerous as unbridled gusto when it comes to making a wrong decision.
Change is inevitable. As a professor at the Air Force Academy, I’ve been honored to encounter and work with hundreds of at-the-time-soon-to-be officers. Just as with my friend’s, each of their careers is going to have to end one way or another. (Humbling, to think: soon some of them will be reaching retirement eligibility!) They can face that inevitability with fear, which may cloud their ability to make good choices; or they can go into it with the strength and aplomb I have known and seen in them. That strength to move beyond fear will help clear their minds to make sound decisions based on facts rather than emotional reactions leading to flailing and who knows what.
The same applies to all of us, military and civilian: Are you facing change with a clear mind? How is the fear of change affecting your ability to make the decisions that are vital to you, your organization, your family, and ultimately your life?