Veterans, it’s about what we learned
Today, I’m working at our office in the heart of Seattle’s gentrified Ballard neighborhood. The temperature of the room is carefully calibrated, and the weather today won’t affect me. From my standing desk, I can see across the street to Trader Joe’s where young professionals, local hipsters, and those just finishing yoga class purchase organic produce. I have grown accustomed to this life.
While working through the challenges and opportunities of the day, I am alerted to the receipt of a text message. The message is from an old friend and one of my fellow Marines. We haven’t communicated for months or seen each other for years. His greeting contains its share of expletives, utterly incongruous with the atmosphere around me. Memories of my time in the Marine Corps begin to wash away the natural buildup of stress. Thoughts of good times, battles, casualties and victories take the edge off my to-do list. It’s the 241st Marine Corps Birthday.
On November 10, 1775, the United States Marine Corps was born. 233 years later, I was commissioned a second lieutenant, after leaving a cushy engineering job in Silicon Valley. I served two tours as an infantry officer in Afghanistan before leaving to rejoin the private sector. In the Marine Corps, I met and worked alongside some of the most amazing and capable people I have ever known. The bond I have with these brothers is the most valuable aspect of my time in the Marine Corps, but today I want to discuss something more tangible.
I have come to realize that our value to the world comes not from our experiences but from our ability to learn from those experiences. As veterans, we have a certain set of experiences, but we can only use them to our advantage if we are able to learn from them and apply that knowledge to future endeavors. The person who spends ten years in the Marine Corps is infinitely more valuable than the person who serves one year ten times. Being a veteran only gives you this unique experience and the opportunity to learn from it; it doesn’t force you to learn from it. If you are veteran and believe you are entitled to a job after leaving active duty simply because you served, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s up to us veterans not just to prove we were enlisted or commissioned, but to learn from our experience and apply this knowledge to benefit the team we join next.
In 2013, I transitioned off of active duty and rediscovered that employers in the hiring process play to our sense of entitlement. Hiring managers are generally focused on certifications that only prove a minimal set of requirements. Whether it be a college degree or a DD-214, these slips of paper say next to nothing about the candidate. That is one reason employers make bad hires, and people with Ivy League degrees and veterans often think they are entitled to a job. There are great people with those qualifications, and there are great people without them. A Marine able to learn from his or her experiences is going to be far more valuable to an organization than a Stanford graduate who went through the motions. I suspect employers understand this in principle, but adapting requires one to unlearn hundreds of years of corporate doctrine.
Leaders in the business world would benefit from changing their hiring or screening processes to look for candidates who were able learn from their experiences. As veterans, we will benefit from ensuring we understand that what matters are not the experiences themselves but what we learned from them. If veterans and employers fail in this, we will have weaker companies and difficulty employing those who served.