Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pace Matters

Two weeks ago, I enjoyed a nice telephone conversation with a colleague where I pitched him on how we (OUR Command) were going to create additional value for our existing customers and at the same time posture ourselves to significantly grow our customer base. He and I had a constructive exchange and his feedback helped me to tighten up the proposal. At the end of the discussion, we spoke about various side projects I have been championing that admittedly are outside of what many perceive to be the traditional Commanding Officer job description (I'm not one to constrain myself by the expectations of others). Knowing I am one who appreciates constructive feedback from a 360 degree array, he felt comfortable enough to remind me of the importance of engaging the support of others before taking such bold and deliberate action (i.e. inadvertently fracturing relationships in the name of facilitating progress). I appreciated the thought. He also proceeded to remind me that our journey was a marathon and that as much as I would like to see immediate progress, I needed to slow down, pace myself and strengthen alliances with other stakeholders.

As a person who grew up on the soccer, baseball and football fields playing team sports, and as an adult who has completed many endurance events, he was speaking my language. In fact, his points were the very ones I have been known to make to others in the past. I say in the past because as I grow older and acknowledge that there is as little as 20 months left in my Navy career (hopefully more), I realize that as true as the marathon analogy is, the pace of progress matters more and more. Truth is that time will run out on us at some point during the marathon that is life, a tour of duty or any meaningful project.

It should come as no surprise that I refuse to execute my professional duties at what is my literal slow and steady marathon pace. Instead, I sprint when needed, walk when I have to and take advantage of every aid station. As the so-called finish line becomes increasingly visible, I can't help but run faster. Not because I am anxious to be done, but because I know the privilege of serving will not last forever and I can't help but do my part to help us make as much progress as possible before our time is up. Like any other team player, I prefer running with the pack at a mutually acceptable pace. That said, it is evident we are each running at a pace in which we are comfortable (some faster than others), towards our personally defined finish line, yet fail to realize that our "race" is nearing its end (a military career flies by). When my time is up in the Navy, I want it to be clear to everyone, but mainly myself, that I ran as fast as I could for as long as I wanted and was not pacing myself in hopes of seizing an opportunity that never came along.

I very much appreciate the reminder from my valued colleague and ask that we all acknowledge that there comes a time to sprint to the finish line and for those of us entering the home stretch that time is now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Finish Strong

During a recent command physical training session, I had the pleasure of running with one of our many talented young Sailors. As I grow older my definition of young changes and in this case I mean 19 years old (he has since turned 20). We conversed as he pulled me along “The Chip Trail” at Corry Station. The conversation was enjoyable and as we neared the home stretch he began to challenge me by picking up the pace. As our speed increased, he shared with me his personal philosophy, which he simply called “Finish Strong.”

What started simply as a mutual desire to physically challenge ourselves, quickly evolved into much more. He shared with me how over the course of his life he has migrated toward a mantra of “Finish Strong”, how those two words now drive him in every way, and how he has started many things in life too slowly and therefore realizing less success than he would like.

Given the age of this young man, I was blown away by the message, as well as the passionate and articulate way in which he communicated it. We challenged ourselves and though we did “Finish Strong”, we were both well aware that we hadn’t finished anything. We were merely off to tackle the next evolution in life with the same sense of urgency, level of effort and commitment to excellence we demonstrated during our run.

I believe most of us go through life without a personal philosophy and I know I did not truly identify and commit to mine until I was roughly 30. Those who know me might say that my actions demonstrated a commitment to a personal philosophy long before that, but I must admit any correlation was merely coincidence. The fact that this 19 year old had already turned the corner impressed me tremendously.

Since that run, each time our paths cross I greet this Sailor with a simple “Finish Strong” to which he replies “Always do, Sir.” The first thing this young man feels as though he has deliberately started with all his might is his service in the U.S. Navy. Given the pace with which his Navy journey began, I look forward to seeing how he finishes and I welcome the opportunity to sweep and block for him along the way.

Last weekend as I reached the back-stretch of the Pensacola Half Marathon, I replayed the very run I shared with this young man and that memory demanded that I did in fact “Finish Strong.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Means is the End

Like so many others, I have spent too much time in my life chasing what I interpreted to be the end goal. It might have been a sports trophy, a diploma or a specific qualification. No matter what it was, my eyes were fixated on the prize and view along the path to the objective was all too often a blur. Using the prize as the metric, I have been fortunate enough to have had more successes than failures. However, as time goes on I realize the flaws of that. Three years ago, I became a big fan of the late Jim Rohn and his mantra: "It's not what you get but what you become." I've uttered that quote more than many people like to hear, but it is a personal philosophy that I wish I would have adopted earlier in my life.

Over the past few weeks at work, we have asked various portions of the team to endure self evaluation processes each culminating in a brief that had questionable value in their mind (in all honesty, mine too). Tomorrow, we will conduct an oral qualification board for a junior officer that will result in the minting of our newest qualified Information Warfare Officer. In each case, it's not about the brief nor the board, it's about the work that led to that culminating point. It was the study and mentorship that prepared the young officer for the board, and it was the introspective conversations the self evaluation forced. This weekend I will participate in a distance running event (Note I have trouble with the term "race," given my pace.) I have no doubt that I will finish, just as I have no doubt the Ensign will pass his oral board. I say that not because I see the future but because the parties involved focused on the journey and made preparation the priority.

When we look back at the things we have accomplished over the course of our lives, I hope that we make the time to focus on the journey that prepared us for any given event. For in most cases, the journey is not the means to an end, but the test itself. I have no regrets and am pleased with both my current station in life and my planned trajectory. That said, I am making deliberate efforts to help my son, and anyone else interested in listening, see that our life's journey is more than a scavenger hunt collecting accolades that hardly represent who we are, and likely misrepresent who we think we have become.