Monday, March 11, 2013

Shut the door, don't let it shut on you

Shut the door, don't let it shut on you.

Yes, I am a fan, so the picture is appropriate.

A few years ago, I was a (younger) submarine officer on my first shore duty. My detailer "hooked me up" with a great job: TLAM planner at Second Fleet. Great, I thought, some time to spend with my wife and relax. As it turned out, I had been hoodwinked and placed on sea duty, and found myself sitting in Bahrain (which before that time, I couldn't have placed on a map) planning missions. While there, I spent much of my time learning about all the pieces of the Navy that no one tells you about: your electronic record, joint qualification, and the fact that there is a lateral transfer process. I decided to apply for lateral transfer, and I received a phone call at my desk from the Officer Community Manager for Submarines.

He was NOT happy with my decision, and proceeded to tell me that my junior officer tour wasn't so bad (I was on the USS HAMPTON when CDR Michael Portland was fired) and that I was on shore duty (somehow the fact that I was deployed to Bahrain didn't cross his mind) and that I should be thankful to be a submarine officer. After that 30 minute conversation was over, my decision was settled: I shut the door on my submarine career and committed to a lateral transfer. A year later, I was an IW officer. I never looked back.

Shutting a door involves three things:

1. You put your hand on the handle.
2. You exert a force.
3. You make sure the door shuts.

Nobody can be everything in life. Just like the mythical perfect college applicant (the one that plays sports and the piano, has straight As, volunteers at five different organizations, and invented the flux capacitor), as you progress in life you will have to shut doors as you walk through other doors to advance your career in whatever path you choose.

The key is, too many people LET the door shut, rather than SHUTTING the door themselves. Those folks look back and always question whether they made the right decision, whether they could have been something different...and they waste valuable time and talent trying desperately to keep those doors open. The folks that shut doors have some key differences:

1. They get a handle on the situation. They do the research and find out all their options. I did lots of research on the different areas of the Navy while I was waiting for missions to compile on the computer. I learned everything I could about Information Warfare, Seabees, Engineering Duty Officers, and even more about Submarine Warfare. In the end, I felt like I really knew what every part of the Navy's Officer Corp was about.

2. They make a decision. They don't wait for the detailer, community manager, or life's circumstances to make the decision for them. They choose. Sometimes they choose from a lot of great options, or sometimes they choose from a lot of not-so-great options, but the point is that they choose and take ownership of their choice.

3. They embrace the choice. They know that picking one path will inevitably close other paths, and they are accepting of that. No one can be a SEAL-SWO-SUB-Acquisition-Joint Planner-Admiral, so you're better off picking the path that best aligns with your likes and strengths, and shutting the other doors and not looking back.

The best part of shutting your own doors is that you feel much more at peace, no matter where you are in your career. Rather than "The Navy put me here," it becomes "I put myself here, and I'm OK with that."

Right now I am, once again, negotiating with my detailer for orders. I have lots of great options open, mainly because I worked hard at my job as well as at helping others (the detailer knew me by name since I fixed a number of administrative issues with our division last year). I will close the door on some jobs and some opportunities based on what I pick. I am secure in that no matter what job I ask for, I will go there and do great things, whether it's a scholarship program, an Executive Officer tour, a Joint Tour, or a staff job. The most important part is that I will own the decision and make the most of it, rather than ponder longingly at what may have been.

Own your decisions. Shut the doors that need to be shut, and walk through the ones that take you to the next destination.