• Jeff Powell

To be somebody or to do something…

In Robert Coram’s excellent biography of the United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd, Coram references Boyd’s commitment to being an agent of change. Boyd spent his career challenging the status quo within the Air Force and built a close-knit group of acolytes who were willing to make career-changing sacrifices that changed the mindset of air-to-air fighter tactics, aircraft design, and the military approach the Art of War.

Whenever his team was challenged and had to make personal sacrifices, Boyd would pose the following question to them.

“To be somebody or to do something. In life, there is often a final roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

This is a great question to ask yourself after serving in the military or any profession for more than five years.

Are you more worried about “being somebody,” or are you going to “do something” and be a part of a team that solves problems and provides for the greater good of those around you?

I struggled with this as I prepared to exit the Army. I started my transition planning two years before my retirement date. In my mind, I focused on “being somebody.” I believed that I could step out of uniform and into a suit and take on any C-Suite level job. THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. There are many reasons for that failure, but the greatest was assessing my experience and how it equated to the civilian sector. That level of position also was not in my nature. For the most significant part of my career in the military, I have been a problem solver, planner, trainer, coach, and mentor. I have “been somebody” once in my career, and even then, I worked hard to take care of my organization over my ambitions. I challenged the status quo, questioned the orders and methods we were directed to execute, and focused on my Troopers (Soldiers for you non-Cav types).

I had an epiphany last year that I was going down the wrong path over a year after my retirement. In a life that had never been about me, I felt like I was being selfish, which threw me into a downward spiral. I spent the summer searching for something. I started doing manual labor…yeah…something I had not done since high school. My daughter and I built a creek bed behind our house to control the Pacific Northwest winter rains. She listened to the same stories she had been listening to for the last four years. But at some point, she said to me; you should find a way to volunteer and help people. She also said that I should be a schoolteacher. Without knowing it, she told me that I was focused on being someone…instead of doing something.

I decided to focus on teaching people the things I know, Leadership, Organizational Development, and Change Management. I also decided to start sharing my own failed transition story. I am not one of the 45,000 Veteran Service Organizations you find in a Google search; I am the person you might meet in an airport, at a sporting event, or your local VFW or American Legion. My advice is free…because I want to DO SOMETHING…help fellow Veterans and future veterans solve the Rubik’s cube of transition.

My transition from the military was a horrible failure, and it was entirely my fault. It was so bad that I decided to provide free advice sessions to any service member or veteran willing to listen to my tale of woe and heed my warnings. The sessions follow three topics; 1) DO NOT pay for personnel advisory services like executive placement, resume writing, or interview preparation. 2) Discuss a list of available programs that TAP does not universally discuss – it all depends on the location, the instructor's experience, and their willingness to go beyond the Congressionally-mandated curriculum. 3) Develop a timeline that fits your transition.

If I were to tell you how I failed at transitioning out of the military, you would be reading for an hour…so that is for another post.

Right now…I am focusing on “doing something” for the greater good. So, ask yourself, are you looking for a career where you can “be somebody” or “do something?”

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