I’m up early in anticipation of day 3 of this week’s class. For the past two days I’ve been teaching a workshop to nearly 40 military personnel transitioning out of the service to civilian life. During the 3-day curriculum, we go through the grueling process of trying to figure out how their experience as warriors can translate into skills and abilities that a civilian employer can understand, need and want.
Many of these men and women have never been asked to think about what they want to do. Many have never been encouraged to explore possibilities. Many have been made to feel that they have little value with their “superiors,” a sentiment that they thought they left behind with their dysfunctional upbringings.
And then they meet me.
I ask them to examine what they want from this next stage of life. What skills do they enjoy using? What are their preferences? Their values? What would it feel like to be happy doing what we call a “job” and get money doing it?
I push and prod and play devil’s advocate. I challenge them, and the very essence of what they have been doing for the last two, twelve, or twenty years, to think about their experiences from a perspective that is a complete turnaround from what they may be accustomed to doing. I ask them to see themselves as individuals rather than as a part of a collective.
And then I ask them to create a vision of themselves that will show their value and benefit to a potential employer, so that they can sell that vision on a resume, or at a job interview. And I try to do this all in less than three days. Most often I’m met with puzzled looks, blank stares, or obvious resistance. Some are even honest enough to tell me that they think I’m full of B.S.
I’m not unlike these folks. I have moments where I wonder why I have been put on this earth to do what I do (whatever that is). I question whether or not I have value. I question my ability to make a difference. I am surprised when others look to me for advice, coaching, or my opinion. I am nearly certain that I, too, give them puzzled looks and blank stares, though my resistance comes in the form of turning it inward as self-doubt.
It is so important to understand that none of us is exempt from moments where we question ourselves or the ability to shine. We go into an automatic thought process, so that we don’t have to take a risk…so that we can stay “safe” by doing or thinking in a way that is familiar to us.
But there will come a time when someone will hold a mirror up for us to take a look at ourselves honestly. It becomes the true test of developing a healthy self-image and emotional maturity. We are allowed to re-translate our skills and abilities to a language that we can understand as mature adults, rather than staying stuck in thought patterns taught to us by our parents, teachers, or other authority figures.
Being given the opportunity to encourage these military men and women to look beyond the perception of their skills, and the value those skills hold as they transition in their lives and careers, is the universe’s way of keeping me honest in my struggles. After all, I often say that I won’t ask them to do anything that I won’t do myself.
I wonder if they believe me.