My best friends from Korea and I spending leave in Vietnam!! We went on a tour with Ethnic Travels, an amazing agency that takes visitors off the beaten path in Vietnam and supports local business and families. Oh the places you’ll go when you take the opportunities to explore the world.
I love my Soldiers more than I love you.
My friends from BOLC sheepishly entered the Officer’s Club for “Right Arm Night,” an event tailored for lieutenants to gain insight from senior leaders stationed at Fort Sill.
After awkwardly mingling for a while and making a really off the wall comment to a Lieutenant Colonel about my friends’ plan to watch Sausage Party that weekend, I finally peeled myself away from obligatory socializing as I noticed a group gathered around our class mentor, a colonel I admired and respected for his obviously genuine care for Soldiers.
He allowed us to ask some questions to which my friend, Hannah, inquired:
“Sir, how do you balance your family and work life?”
For a split second, I noticed a micro-expression of discomfort wave over his usually optimistic and confident face as he bluntly replied,
“I don’t know.”
Well, I thought, guess there’s no hope for the rest of us.
“Once, my wife and I were discussing that I spent too much dedicated to my work and Soldiers, and I told her, ‘I love my Soldiers more than I love you.’”
This guy said WHAT.
“And it was the absolute truth. These Soldiers’ lives were in my hands. We would deploy together and I was responsible for their well-being, to make sure they accomplished the mission and made it home alive. I had to love them more than I loved myself or my family.”
This guy is crazy.
Fast forward to April 27th 2018, and I realize that I’m pretty crazy too.
I love my Soldiers. I care about my Soldiers’ welfare more than I care about my own. I care about their successful accomplishment of whatever mission we’re handed, but I also care that our higher leadership respects their time.
And all that care wrapped up with a beautiful bow of administrative responsibilities, deadlines and extra duty can take an extreme toll on your mental, emotional and physical well-being which in turn may hinder your ability to lead and problem solve.
So, detach yourself from your computer, do some yoga and TAKE A BREAK.
Ok…you don’t have to actually do yoga, but at least mindful meditation. Just for me?
BREATH and BALANCE
“I’ve never taken leave during my whole time in Korea.”
My mouth silently opened wide in disbelief as I sat down with the platoon leader I would soon replace. Is this what my life is going to be like?
His eyes glazed over in somber reflection. “I should’ve gone out more.”
This platoon leader cared for his Soldiers and his job. He was extremely well known for being one of the most competent lieutenants in the battalion…but also, one of the most cynical.
Let’s be honest here, the government really makes you earn your paycheck. The military is not afraid to work you to the bone, but you have to learn to say “no” for the sake of your well-being and perhaps more importantly, the well-being of your Soldiers.
In my short year and a half in the Army, I have not only witnessed the negative effects of junior leaders unable to pull themselves away from their work, but the effects of that on senior leaders as well. From midnight phone calls to answer questions that could easily be answered the next morning, to sleepless nights working on power points, and last-minute weekend deadlines, Army leaders are notorious for their…admirable work ethic.
When you overlabor yourself, whether you realize it or not, this will influence your ability to work effectively and coherently. These hindrances to your mental capacities then affect your attitude. Unfortunately, the platoon leader I replaced became so overworked and frustrated with the decision making of higher leadership that he became an extreme cynic…and did not hide this trait from his Soldiers. Although I respected his dedication and extreme competence, I observed that his Soldiers began to reflect his poor attitude. In turn, this attitude decreased morale within the platoon and reinforced lack of support for the chain of command.
Unfortunately, I believe this cynicism stemmed, in part, from his refusal to take breaks or leave. By constantly remaining at work and declining to remove himself from the office in order to mentally “restart,” he was at constant level of unnecessarily high stress. In turn, it became increasingly difficult for him to find some simple joy or optimism in the workplace. He did not allow himself to appreciate Korea to its fullest extent and soon, everything about working in Korea became draining.
Like I’ve said before, Soldier and leadership performance, for better or worse, is a reflection of your leadership. You can’t always control silly Soldier decisions, but you can shape the command climate within your platoon. When Soldiers observe you overworking yourself and hating the Army as a result of the constant work, they will subconsciously mimic this behavior. Worse, they may simply lose motivation to progress in their personal and professional lives. Do yourself and your Soldiers a favor and let them see that you have a life beyond the Army and that you know how to manage your work, emotional and social well-being.
Everything is an Emergency…until it’s not
When I had one of my rare, mini freak-outs, one of my trusted NCOs came up to me and said, “Ma’am. One day, I was running all over the place worrying about a ton of different things and trying to get everything done. And some great NCO said, ‘Calm down. Every day there’s a new emergency.’” The whirlwind in my mind suddenly halted and a light shined down on me as I grasped the wisdom in his words.
Many people, in and out of the Army will encounter this issue. We love to misuse the word “priority.” Paradoxically, everything becomes a priority.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
How can you prioritize tasks when every task is a priority?
Here’s the answer…
Are you ready?
Nothing is a priority until it becomes one.
Very likely, the work today will continue to exist tomorrow. The issue that arose today can likely become fixed tomorrow. Unless your task affects your unit’s mission capability or impacts your subordinates’ lives immediately, the memo, awards or brief that you need to finish can likely wait. When you take leave for even just a week, you can remove yourself from the stress and intensity of leadership. When you decide to leave work at 1700 instead of 2000, you can take time to invest in yourself to work out, cook dinner instead of eating at Popeyes, go to sleep early or splurge on a movie. Yes, you will encounter some late nights or extremely early mornings. Yes, Officers are always on duty. Taking a rest, however, does not equal quitting or letting anyone down. When you take a rest, you come back to work refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. You won’t be a shiny brand-new lieutenant unblemished from the dents and scrapes of late night convoys and weekend written OPORDS, but you’ll at least be freshly washed.
In places like Korea and jobs like the Army, sometimes freshly washed and vacuumed is the best you can get. All you have to do is look at the cars in Osan Air Base to know that!
I know I make all of this sound extremely easy. It’s not. Sometimes commanders will compel you to work beyond duty hours and sometimes you’ll compel yourself to work beyond the required time, but you must find the will power to tear yourself away and create daily rituals where you invest in personal care.
Take time for yourself. Take emergencies in stride, priorities at a slow jog and sprint to personal health. Breath, find a semblance of balance. Repeat.
And here are some more pictures of Vietnam because I loved this trip so much!