I genuinely believe that we all have gifts to share, and I want everyone to thrive. That means, as I prepared to become a veteran, I reflected on what I enjoyed doing the most, speaking, training, and writing, and decided to use those three gifts to help people reach their full potential.
Over time, I realized that my special interests in leadership, inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility and mentoring also lent themselves to coaching. Now I speak, train, write, coach and mentor. The speaking gigs I accept, the words I write and the training, coaching and mentoring I provide all serve the same purpose: to help people learn how to help themselves, their communities and organizations thrive.
In 2019, I attended my first ever retreat, called a Transition Lifeshop, delivered by another veteran Sandra Perron. It was 2 days and 2 nights for military affiliated women, that is women who are veterans, serving in the military or the spouse of someone who was serving in the military or a veteran. At the end of the weekend, as we were sharing what we learned, one of the women turned to me and said something along the lines of:
"When I saw you here the first night, I thought, aha, now I’m going to learn if this person is really who she says she is. I’ve heard you speak several times at the Second Career Assistance Network events and at an International Women’s Day event, and I’ve seen what you post on social media. I couldn’t believe that someone could be that honest about who they were. Well, you got me, everything you’ve said and done this weekend proved that you are who you tell people you are."
Being honest about who you are, especially to yourself, is critically important. Once you’re honest with yourself, about what truly motivates you, what brings you joy, which people uplift you, what activities and learning energize you, then you can start making choices that will help you lead a balanced, happy and successful life.
Each person should create their own definitions for balance, happy and successful. These definitions are most likely going to change over time. For years, I felt I was living a balanced life, working full time, studying part time, raising three young children with the help of my spouse and some amazing childcare providers, and volunteering. I even made time to be physically fit, most of the time!
I loved that life and felt happy. As my children grew, and the positions I was offered became what I’d originally used as my definition for a successful military career, I realized that my definition of balance, happiness and success had changed. As Dr Stephen R. Covey describes it, I realized I was climbing the wrong ladder.
The last position that the military offered me would have meant radical change for my family. As I pondered whether to accept the appointment or not, I realized that I wanted to be more present in my children’s and spouse’s lives, I wanted to volunteer more in my community, I wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world, to influence people more widely than I could as a senior officer. I also wanted to share my gifts of speaking, training and writing to help create a new more equitable world.
Becoming a veteran and launching my own business was a bit like jumping off a cliff and learning how to fly on the way down, as I had no prior business experience. My only paid work up until that time had been a handful of baby-sitting gigs as a teen, a summer job with the Air Cadets before my last year of high school, and my 28 years in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Now looking back over the past 9 years, I realize that the skills I learned in my military career, the knowledge I gained through education and continue to gain as an entrepreneur, my willingness to continue learning new things, to explore the unknown and embrace new opportunities are what set me up for success as an entrepreneur.
To stretch this metaphor even further, there is more than one path to success, sometimes you climb a ladder, only to realize that what you want to achieve is on the other side of the structure. This gives you choices, do you cross over, under or around what’s between you and your goal? Do you go down a slide and start again, climbing a new ladder that leads to your goal? Do you jump onto the monkey bars and cross an imaginary ocean full of sharks and monsters, while starting a new business?
When making career choices it’s important to be honest with yourself about what brings you joy, what kind of work environment you really want to be a part of, and which of your gifts you want to share with the world.
We all excel at different things. To me, the definition of a successful career, is finding or creating your own career, where you get to spend most of your time doing the things you love, and are good at, while being paid at least a living wage to do so.
Being honest with yourself about who you are and what is truly important to you can be world changing and terrifying at the same time. Particularly if you live and work in places that have narrow definitions of what is “acceptable” or that don’t care about what you want. It’s OK to keep some of your truth about what your career goals are to yourself until you find people, workplaces and communities that support you.
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