Willing to do Anything to Overcome Obstacles? Three Questions to Ask Yourself To Be Sure.

Soldiers make their way through an obstacle course U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski
Soldiers make their way through an obstacle course U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski

I have some questions for transitioning veterans. Are you a driven and successful professional? Will you do anything to overcome obstacles on the path to success? When I was in the military, I had a leader who said that his motto was, “Accomplish the mission by any means necessary.” I mentioned to him, of course, that he meant “by any legal, moral, and ethical means necessary,” and he rolled his eyes. But I knew what he meant. Barring anything unethical and illegal, though, you would not stop at anything to reach your goal, right?

This is something veterans know about. We may not know interviewing, KSAs, or be familiar with networking, but if there’s one thing we DO know, it’s getting stuff done. Early morning, late night, weekends if necessary, our ability to put up with immense amounts of stress in order to get the job completed is often a point of pride.

So if we are willing to do literally anything to succeed in our mission of transitioning out of the military and find a meaningful and fulfilling life, why are we letting little things get in our way? Those habits that we have, the mindset that we bring to the table, are often the biggest obstacles to our success. Here are three questions that may be counterintuitive to action figures, but may be more effective than bashing our heads against a brick wall.

1. Are you willing to focus on the needs of others instead of your own? I’ve heard a number of variations on this theme. “Show them how you are the solution to their problem” and “Identify a potential employer’s pain then explain how you can solve it.” That’s great…but it starts with listening to them, or doing research about what challenges they have. More importantly, it is about listening to another person, as a person and not as their role. Not the HR guy, or the owner of the small business, or anything else. Figuring out what challenges that they have…that’s it. It’s not like you’re a cat sitting outside of a mouse hole, and the minute you find something that you do well that you then pounce on it and say, “Aha! I can help you there!” This is about resisting the natural inclination to satisfy your own needs, and instead focus on the needs of others. This approach…serving, instead of being served…can bring about the results you desire. It’s not manipulating, it’s not being disingenuous, it’s about truly caring about what that other person’s needs are. Shining the spotlight on them well and they may eventually say, “man, you sure handle that spotlight well. What can I do for you?” Even if they don’t do that immediately, never underestimate the personal satisfaction value of doing good service to others.

2. Are you willing to let go of your hangups in order to see the bigger picture? You found a job description that is perfect for you. The only thing missing from it is your name. The research is done, you’ve networked, you’ve tailored your resume, you’ve done everything you could and have been taught to do in order to get your foot in the door. You submit your resume, send followup emails and even call a couple times…and nothing. You’re waiting for the phone to ring. A natural inclination is to allow frustration to take over, possibly even anger. Frustration and anger often have a target, and the target can be that company. Or that hiring manager. You start talking to your friends and family: “man, you won’t believe this. They haven’t called me back! How can they not know that I’m perfect for this job?” Your friends and family, caring about you as they do, jump right on board with you and help move the train down the tracks. “I know, right? They don’t know what they’re missing, they’d be stupid not to hire you!” they say. “They are stupid, aren’t they? They’re a bunch of….” At this point, though, I’m making it about me. I have no clue what’s going on inside the company. And how many other opportunities have I overlooked, fixating on this one “perfect” opportunity? This is just one possible path to your ultimate destination, success and a satisfying life. Standing there waiting for a gate to open doesn’t get you any further down the path.

3. Are you willing to stop focusing on what should be instead of what is? Sometimes, it’s the imperatives that get in our way. Things should be a certain way, they must happen a certain way, they have to be how I think they should be and I must do all that I can to make it happen. How often do we let the shoulds and musts get in the way of reality? There is an argument about a sense of entitlement, but it’s there with some veterans. “I’m a veteran, I fought for this country, that should count for something!” Maybe it does to some people, maybe it doesn’t to others. Thinking that it should count for something does not change the fact that it might not count for something. Denying reality is a great way to fill your mind, and your day, with frustration. Once we start accepting the reality as it is instead of rejecting the reality in favor of what we think it should be, we can be much more flexible in our approach to our goal.

There are certainly obstacles to us obtaining our goal. Any goal worthy of effort will have obstacles, and some may argue that it is the struggle that makes the goal worthy. There are many ways to overcome obstacles, however, and not all of them are through direct action. Perhaps some obstacles are overcome by avoiding them, or by stepping away from them. If you’re spending your time trying to shove a stubborn mule out of your path, the only thing that may happen is that you get tired shoulders and a pissed off mule. Neither of you are better off for your efforts. If you are willing to do anything to succeed, is that entirely true? Does that anything include stepping outside of your comfort zone and focusing on others for a while? Taking the time to focus on others, letting go of your hangups, and accepting reality will make for a much more pleasant journey, and you’r reach your goal before you know it.

Just in case you thought you were alone in this, these are challenges I experience myself! It took a great conversation with the amazing Tamara Suttle to help me bring this stuff into focus. A bonus question: are you willing to seek the advice and mentorship of others in order to enlist their help in overcoming obstacles? Life is a team sport!

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Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.