Veterans Can Learn to be Legendary

I really enjoy podcasts. In fact, I enjoy them so much, that when Eddie Lazzari and Bennett Tanton approached me to host a podcast show about veteran mental health, I jumped at the chance. I hesitated at first…I should be finding LESS to do, not MORE to do…but the thought wouldn’t get out of my head. Little did I know, that was one step on the path to becoming LEGENDARY.

I hear you saying it: “Woah, big guy. Legendary? That’s a bit much, don’t you think?” Of course it is. And it should be, because being legendary is about being very much in this world. It doesn’t mean I’m the best at what I do. I’m not the best writer, or speaker, or therapist, or father or any of the rest of it. It just means that I’m good at what I do, and I  am always trying to be better. Just because I’m legendary doesn’t mean that you can’t be, too. We can all be legendary within our own space, or create new space to be legendary in.

So what does all this have to do with podcasts? And veterans? And my ego, such as it is? It comes full circle. I love podcasts for the same reason I love books. They can be the lightning strike that causes you to think differently about what you’re doing. Books have the power to change lives, really good movies have the power to change lives, podcasts have the power to change lives. It’s not the medium, though, it’s the message. And here’s the message I want you to hear today, and tomorrow, and every time that you forget it: Veterans, you have the power to be LEGENDARY.

My love for podcasts drives a bunch of different types of shows in my subscription stream. One of them, me being a therapist and all, is a podcast called Practice of the Practice, hosted by Joseph Sanok. Joe is a mental health counselor, like me, but unlike me, he has reached legendary status within his chosen area of expertise. One of the definitions of legendary is, “remarkable enough to be well-known,” and he certainly is that in the space in which social media and mental health counseling converge.

So what, you veterans say? I barely listen to YOUR podcast about mental health, why should I listen to someone else’s podcast about an industry that I have no connection with?

That’s not what a legend would say. Joe recently released a three-episode series that has started me to think about my message in a totally different way. He was joined by entrepreneur Christopher Lochhead, creator and host of Legends and Losers, who has some ideas so intriguing that I’ve listened to these three episodes, repeatedly, and went out of my way to reserve and purchase his book because I didn’t want to wait to get it in the mail. These episodes are so great that I felt the urge to spread the message to my fellow veterans. No guarantees, but these three podcasts may change your life. Take some time to check them out here, and after that, come back and read the rest of this post. There are some points that Christopher and Joe talk about that I think are applicable specifically to those who have served in the military.

CHRISTOPHER LOCHHEAD WANTS YOU TO PLAY BIGGER | POP 243

CHRISTOPHER LOCHHEAD WANTS YOU TO STOP F-ING UP | POP 244

CHRISTOPHER LOCHHEAD WANTS YOU TO LEVEL UP YOUR PRACTICE | POP 245

So here are some thoughts on some stuff that Christopher and Joe talk about. It’s a long read, I’m warning you. Just like the podcasts, together, are well over an hour. It was actually going to be even longer…this only represents about half of the thoughts that these episodes sparked in me! A large number of people who click on this post and scroll to the bottom will say, “Man, that’s too much. I don’t have time to read all that” and click away. That’s not what Legends do. A small number of you will actually take the time to listen to the recordings. Again, not listening to the shows is not what Legends to. For those of you who do, however, I believe that you’re going to get something big out of this. So here is how I think that veterans can learn to be legendary:

Legends Learn by Doing, Seeking Coaches and Mentors, or Reading

Christopher says, “Position yourself, or be positioned. We accept the rules of the game as they are, rather than deliberately choosing not to do that.” One of the unique aspects of military service is that we get a different perspective on things. On discipline, on death, on just about everything. One thing we have a unique perspective on is mentorship…we saw it while we were in the military. Our squad leader mentored us (hopefully) into being a squad leader to replace them. Our commander mentored us into being a commander to replace them. If that worked so well when we were in the military, if self-improvement made us up our game then, why stop when we are out? If you’re a veteran, go sign up for Veterati. Find a mentor to talk to. It will make you legendary.

Legends Know that the Game in Business (and life) is not Being Better, but Being Different

We try to say that we’re better, or faster, or more skilled, than the next person. I don’t want to be better…I want to be different. This is a theme that Christopher hammers home, over and over again; don’t try to be better. That’s a race to the bottom, as he says. Instead, be different.

I’m a therapist. One of thousands. I’m also a veteran. One of millions. I happen to write; again, there will be thousands of blog posts written every day. I host a podcast, too. Not as widespread as blogging, but not insignificant, either. So none of those, in themselves, are unique; however, when I string them together, something weird happens. I become different. I am a therapist who is a combat veteran that writes and hosts a podcast. To my knowledge, there are very few who are doing what I do; that makes me different. How can you be different?

Legends Know That Together, We Are Stronger Than We Are Individually

Network technology, or networks in general, create abundance. The value of a network grows exponentially when new nodes enter the network. Veterans intuitively, or even explicitly, know this! The strength of the team is in the team, not in the individual; this is a concept that I’ve heard over and over. When like-hearted individuals team up and work together, more can be done collectively than that which is able to be done individually. Little Groups of Paratroopers made a difference in the days following D-Day, and small teams of dedicated individuals, working in concert with other small teams, can make an impact. How do you build a network, and more importantly, bring value to that network, rather than just using the network to get your needs met?

Legends Teach The World How To Think About A Problem

We hear it when we are trying to get a job. “Find the problem that the company needs to fix, and then tell them how you will solve it.” We fall in love with how to solve a problem, rather than identifying the actual problem that needs to be solved. If my problem is that I need to pay my bills, then any job I get will do; but if my actual problem is that I want to find something meaningful to do with my life, then not any job will do. Same with employers; if their problem is that they need more people, then anyone they hire will do. If I find what their actual problem is, though, I can show them that not anyone they hire can solve that problem, only I can do that. Or only my company can do that. Or my product.

Teach others how to think about the problem, and show them that you have also come up with the solution. As Christopher says in the podcast, “When we hear someone articulate our problem better than anyone else, we assume they have the solution.

Legends Have The Ability to go from Nothing to Something

Veterans know this. Every Sergeant Major or Master Chief went through Basic Training. Every General started out as a Lieutenant. That’s the thing about the military; we know that there is a direct line from someone who has made it to the top of their game to starting at the bottom. We know this! So why do we forget that when we get out of the military? Starting out in the mail room, so to speak, gives us the opportunity to be the head of the company one day. And if not this company, then company, to be someone with Legendary status somewhere. We all have the ability to go from nothing to something…what’s holding us back?

Legends Don’t Compete, they Stand Alone

This is another point that Christopher hammers home, over and over again. Competition is about getting just a bit above someone who’s standing next to you. When I was a leader, I didn’t compete against the next team or squad or company or whatever; I competed against standards. As long as we were above the standard, we were above average. So, in our post-military lives, if we set the standard, then there is no comparison! Be disciplined. Be prompt. Stand alone, and you’ll stand out; if you stand out, in a good way, then you will reach legendary status. If you blend into the crowd, if you are simply angling to be slightly better than the next person or the next company? You’re not legendary, you’re average.

Legends Don’t Race to the Bottom by Selling How They’re Better, They Sell How They’re Different

Another point that Christopher and Joe keep coming back to is that adding more skills or more features doesn’t show how you’re different, you’re trying to show how you’re better. When we were in the military, we were one of a thousand, some better or worse than ever other truck driver / intel analyst / infantryman. But how you were different made you stand out. I knew guys who were my go-to dudes for commo in my platoon. They were different, not better. As a platoon sergeant, I wanted my driver to drive and my gunner to gun. Not that my driver wasn’t a good gunner, but she was great at getting us out of the tight spots. It was what made her different. 

You can do the same in your post-military life. Don’t keep adding on bells and whistles to your resume, or your product, or your service; be different.

Legends Don’t Undervalue Their Value

Joe talks about how mental health professionals tend to look at others in their field and say, “well, I’m not as good as them. I’m not legendary, they are, I’m just a…” I get it. I’ve done it myself. But understanding how you’re different…not better, just different…is extremely important, and in that difference lies value. That is a path to becoming legendary.

I had a leader in the 82nd Airborne Division that laid it out for us this way: “Take any 100 truck drivers in the Army. How many of them went to Airborne School? Maybe 60. Of those 60, how many went served an Airborne assignment? 30. In an airborne assignment in a leadership position? 20. Who are also Jumpmasters? 10. Simply by putting in the work, you have set yourself apart from 90% of the others in your occupational speciality.” Know what? He was right. In the mainstream Army, the number of truck drivers that I served with who were Jumpmasters? Exactly one. Uno. It didn’t make him better, although he is pretty awesome, but it made him different, and therefore valuable. 

If You Truly Believe You Do Legendary Work, then Your Work Deserves to Be In The World

The way that work gets into the world most powerfully is that you differentiate yourself around a unique problem that you are uniquely qualified to solve. If you really do believe that what you’re doing with your life after the military, whether it is Mental Health, entrepreneurship, sales, whatever…if you really think that it has value and worth, then it deserves to be in the world. The solution we have to the problem we describe is greater than we are ourselves. A colleague and mentor said this to me recently; the message that I am bringing is so important, that it would be a waste and a tragedy if it wasted away in some drawer somewhere. It’s not about me, it’s about the message, and that message is HUGELY important. That doesn’t make me important, but if I want to get the message out there, I HAVE to differentiate myself.

Same for you. Describe the problem, then describe how you solve the problem. Do that, and become legendary.

Legends are Really Clear about the Problem They Want To Solve, and How You Describe That Problem is Important

Words have power. What we call stuff changes stuff, as Christopher says (well, not exactly but I don’t curse. It doesn’t make me better, but it sure makes me different). But the words we use has an impact on our vision of the world. How we describe the world defines the world; if we’re not deliberate about how we describe the problem we’re uniquely qualified to solve, then we leave it up to others to define it for us. That’s not legendary, that’s being part of the crowd. Legends are not part of the crowd.

So there you have it. Veterans can learn to be Legendary. We have it in us; the epic backstory, the unique skillset, the unlimited potential. All we have to do is believe it, and we can do it. You have the ability, and the responsibility, to change the world.

The Head Space and Timing Blog is supported by the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of the CVHWA is to provide military culturally competent mental health counseling to veterans and their spouses, regardless of characterization of discharge, time of service, or era of service. Our vision is to assist veterans to identify and remove barriers to their mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral wellness. For questions or inquiries, contact us!

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