On Stress Addiction

There’s a real strength that comes from knowing your own limits (or, in some cases, seeming lack of limits). I’m writing specifically from the veteran’s viewpoint, but the concept applies to anyone who has consistently overcome obstacles they didn’t think they’d be able to overcome.

It’s easy enough to accomplish the impossible when the choice is taken from you.

In the instance of service, there is rarely ever a choice. Service-members are faced with terrifying obstacles from the time they join – from entering a tear gas chamber for the first time to entering a battle for the first time – and presumably anyone reading this who relates has survived those challenging obstacles and gained the confidence that comes along with it.

Something else comes along with it, too.

“Overcoming the odds” is an addictive accomplishment that can leave us feeling like we’re failing when life finally settles down. The feeling of “I can handle more than this” can often be replaced with “I SHOULD be handling more than this,” and we can easily become addicted to living on the edge of burnout – or worse, on the edge of life and death. There’s a healthy way to process that feeling, and a plethora of unhealthy ones.

I once wrote that “Duty is when idealism must be suppressed in favor of rationality,” but the idealist must eventually come to terms with their emotions once more, and eventually you WILL be presented with choices (for some, this prospect seems far into the future). As someone who is trained to handle the impossible, choosing not to add too much to your plate is sometimes difficult. So make sure the things you add are PROductive and not DEstructive.

Go to school. Buy a house. Get a hobby. Play music. Work two jobs and pay off debt. Help others! (Seriously, no matter how much you’re doing, you’ll eventually feel like there’s no point to any of it if it only benefits you). Get into art. Study. Read. Workout.

The other option is to become addicted to TRAUMA rather than STRESS. I’ve been there and done it, but sometimes it’s like we’re tempted to build a checklist of things that are stacked against us in order to validate (to ourselves or others) what we’ve overcome. It’s important to realize that the world isn’t set out to hurt you. You aren’t cursed to a life of pain. There are a lot of tools and resources out there for you to use your resilience in a positive way, but don’t get set on being in pain just so you can overcome it.

As survivors, we need to be aware of this phenomenon. All this said, I’ll be closing on a house at the end of the month (as many of you know), and have decided to return to school full time in addition to working. I’m very excited to see what I can learn from history, and to delve once more into the humanities.

Let others celebrate your victories with you, not just the trauma you’ve overcome.

More to follow, as always.

-TQV

The Provocation Generation

Despite the fact that I’ve been writing for over a decade and a half, I’m still relatively new to leveraging social media in the endeavor. Doing so involves understanding how to communicate with the human collective, rather than with a single person or small group like most of us are accustomed to. The good news is that, once I get people to the point of reading my articles, they have generally found them impactful or at least moderately entertaining. The bad news?

The bad news is what it takes to get them there.

My most successful article thus far (mind you that I’m still working on a relatively small scale) was entitled, “Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD.” Doesn’t that seem a bit…provocative? Well, that’s the crux of my position.

In our world of extremes, people expect to be offended (or to defend an idea that others would find offensive) before they are willing to engage in discourse.

It can be seen all around us, in every facet of life. An author can’t write about religion without either attacking it or accepting it wholeheartedly. You’re either defending atheism or attempting to prove that God absolutely exists. You can’t write about politics without incorporating images of dead fetuses (on the conservative side), or of young immigrants in tears (on the liberal side). In addressing generational gaps, it’s always either a “lazy millennial” or a “close-minded baby-boomer.”

What happened to the 80 percent of people in the middle – the ones capable of having a reasonable conversation without resorting to violent rhetoric and posturing? How have we let the outliers become our socially acceptable norm, and how to we return to a world of reason?

The challenge is this: authors make money when people read their work. They make more when people engage, comment, and share. Culturally, we now HAVE to use provocative language in order to coax complacent people to simply click the hyperlink.

So, how do we fix it?

As journalists, writers, and others who sort of “steer” human culture, we have to learn to use extreme language to coax people back toward reasonable thought. We have to provoke them toward acceptance, and anger them toward open-mindedness. It’s the ultimate challenge in persuasive writing.

“Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD” was really just an article about learning to accept the situation, culture, and beliefs of people who are different than we are, but the title stung enough to make a few people who didn’t give a shit about me feel the urge to click. And once they clicked, they were in my world. I could use powerful imagery and wordsmithing to coax them toward a thought they, perhaps, hadn’t considered before. I could weave a story that would lead them into considering the root of one of our world’s major problems.


Any thoughts from other “Guides of the Human Terrain” would be most appreciated.

People are still reasonable. We just have to remind them how to communicate reasonably, and that’s a multi-generational endeavor.

-TQV



Frozen with Fear (And How Not To Be)

When I was 16 years old, I was selling cigarettes and t-shirts in my hometown bar, working at night and going to school during the day. I was even smaller then than I am now – maybe 130 pounds if I had a 10 pound barbell in each hand. It was an educational few years for me: I saw adults who were well respected in the community fight, vomit, and initiate affairs under the influence of alcohol. I learned how to deal with drunks, and how not to be, in a general sense.

It was during those years that I experienced my first ever “fight or flight” moment. A group on group bar fight broke out right in front of my little cubby hole of a store. It was too early in the night – the bouncers were scattered about, not expecting trouble. Still getting settled. My reaction was worse than either of the “fight or flight” options. I froze. I mean, I was a kid, right? What was I supposed to do? The guys fighting were all wearing “Tap-out” shirts and seemed like they were trying to make a name for their MMA school – MMA was just on the up and up in those years. By the time I snapped myself out of the frozen state, the bouncers had arrived. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to call for them. I just stood there, frozen in fear. Once the fight was over, I’d beaten myself up for it for half the night. I decided right then that I would never be frozen like that again because of another man’s actions.

The next time a bar fight broke out, I was ready for it. Two guys – again, way too beefy for me to take on – were pummeling each other furiously. In a lot of ways, the second fight was worse than the first. The group had mostly been throwing each other around, making a mess but not really doing any damage. These guys were throwing real blows. Blood had already been spilled by the time I heard the noise. Don’t freeze. DON’T FREEZE.

“HEY!” I yelled in the most boisterous voice I could muster. It gave them pause, but they went back to pummeling each other. I ran in. Grabbed one of the beefy guy’s arms. Put him in an arm bar (I’d taken a bit of martial arts myself, but the passive philosophical type). I held his arm with all my might, and managed to stop his punches. Then, I realized by mistake. The other man was still free. He carried on punching the one I was controlling, and I inadvertently turned the tide of the fight. Then the bouncers showed up and rescued my 16 year old self again.

I was proud, in some ways. I knew I’d messed up, but I’d learned that the fight or flight “instinct” can be controlled. I learned that action is better than inaction, and I learned the first rule of emergency management: Don’t get excited.

Years later, those skills became increasingly relevant in a military setting, but I had one more freeze-up incident.

It was in the Horn of Africa, where I was part of a “Force Protection Liaison Team.” I’d spent months building relationships with everyone from human traffickers to tribal elders in an effort to keep Americans in the region safe. You can’t fight a threat you don’t know about. Anyway, a hotel fire broke out in one of two hotels in the Northern half of the Djibouti. By the time my partner – a Marine Staff Sergeant – and I arrived, the place was in terror. There were electric explosions along with things like alcohol and fireworks in the building, so that added to the chaos. We were in the desert and had no water to fight the fire with. All around me there were children screaming and women crying, and worst of all – they said there was still a man inside.

I froze for what seemed like eternity – it was really just a few seconds before my earlier lessons kicked back in. Already this post is longer than my average, so I’ll summarize to a great extent, but after a night of fighting for our lives and the lives of others – seeing men pass out from smoke, and attempt to fight a raging fire with dirt and sand – we managed to at least make sure everyone was safe. Even one guy who thought the best way to fight the fire was to stand on the roof and beat it with a large stick. He thought that if the roof collapsed, it would be more effective to dump dirt on the fire from above it. I wondered why anyone would want to force the collapse of a roof they were standing on. I questioned whether I would give my life to save his – he, who had made a stupid choice that could’ve resulted in hellacious pain. The conclusion I came to is my own to bear, but what I learned that night is this:

The fight or flight response is largely dependent on experience and priorities. These days, I often find myself running toward chaos where I think I can lend assistance (it typically turns out to be nothing more than a scare of some kind). I don’t know that there’s much that would make me freeze these days – though I’m aware it’s still possible, for anyone. But if you think about the worst case scenario and know what you’re willing to die for, there’s no reason you can’t prevent yourself from ever being frozen in fear.

If folks like reading about these concepts, maybe I’ll explore them further?

Much love,

Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)

The Cool Guy Club – A Leadership Failure

People love to talk about themselves. It’s an early lesson for many, particularly in intelligence, but also in politics, journalism, and a plethora of other careers. It’s a healthy attribute – it helps us to connect to one another, build our inner circle, and relate to other cultures – but when the ego becomes programmed to draw a constant comparison between our own experiences and the experiences of those around us, a culture of inadequacy and exaggeration is formed. Instead of an environment of growth and empowerment, we create one of stagnation which sucks the motivation out of a large percentage of the work force. We feel the need to “fluff” our resumes and stories, as if our actual life experience isn’t really enough, and we create a sort of “laundry list” of events that make us who we are. There’s no laundry list. The entirety of our journey makes us who we are, not just the catch-phrases that sound good to other people.

“Cool guy clubs” are particularly prominent in a military environment, and are a primary contributor to many psychological effects that follow military service. Particularly during their first decade, whatever experience a service member gains is never really enough. I remember reporting to my second command following a pretty intense tour which featured some of the toughest mental training a sailor can go through, followed by a deployment to the Horn of Africa and another to Central America. I’d been broken down and rebuilt a number of times, but the first question my new supervisor asked was, “So what ship were you on?” When I responded that I hadn’t served on a ship (other than to travel to various third-world countries), he responded, “Don’t worry – we’ll make a real sailor out of you.” I was a non-commissioned officer with multiple medals and warfare specialties, but evidently, I wasn’t a “real” sailor.

Even before then, during my first tour, you weren’t one of the “Cool guys” unless you were an expert marksman. Or an interrogator. Or unless you’d been through SERE, or been OC sprayed. There was an endless list of experiences that evidently mattered, but it was only comprised of things you hadn’t already done. I always thought that it was a phenomenon exclusive to the military, but as it turns out, it isn’t.

“Oh, you run a blog? Did you break a thousand followers yet?”

“Oh, you’re an author? How many books have you published?”

“Oh, you’re getting married? First time?”

“Welcome to the Company! Have your degree yet?”

Instead of contributing to the journey of others, we compare ourselves to them.

Instead of flaunting all the reasons that leaders are in a leadership position, (This is why I have authority over you. This is why I am cooler than you.) leaders should be validating not only the experience of their employees, but also the personality traits and organic strengths that they each contribute to the team.

Upon taking my current position, my boss handed me a drawing of a blank check. He said, “You know what that is? It’s empowerment. I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t trust your judgement. As long as you know you can deliver what you promise people, you don’t need to ask my permission first.”

So break down that “Cool guy” culture. It’s not about who is the most tactical, who has been shot at the most, or how cool your Oakley’s and five-eleven pants are. It’s about humble confidence, a proactive attitude, and enabling your people to achieve their truest potential (rather than trying to hold them under your thumb and keep them at a place that makes you comfortable).

Leadership isn’t comfortable. Train your replacement – hell, train your CEO’s replacement. Help your people to achieve their dreams, and in doing so, you’ll make endless progress toward achieving your own. And if you get good at that, make everyone you meet one of “your people.” Humanity is a group experience. If you find a passionate person out there who has managed to escape complacency, encourage their passion. Don’t rid them of it.

-A proud non-member of the Cool-Guy Club

On Neck-Ties and Leadership Roles

I’m a firm believer in “micro-to-macro” philosophy: that, if you pay attention to small lessons, they are nearly always applicable on a larger scale. That said, I recently heard a senior manager talking about one of the non-verbal ques he watches for during an interview – the interviewee’s comfort level with their necktie. He said he doesn’t just watch how someone dresses when he conducts an interview – he watches how comfortable they are with the manner of dress.

My initial thought was that it was a bit over the top and that someone’s comfort level with a necktie (which, let’s admit, is basically uncomfortable) doesn’t really affect their job performance or leadership ability.

But then I tied the concept to leadership ideology, which I’ve spelled out below.

  1. A leader that does not make adjustments is not a leader.
    • If you put your tie on in the morning, feel like it looks great, and then get to your interview location and it looks awful, you’d be remiss not to quickly adjust before you walked in for the interview. Similarly, if you see your organization is on the wrong path, a decisive adjustment is exactly what the doctor wrote.
  2. Ideally, you should make that adjustment in private.
    • Once you realized your tie was on incorrectly, you’d preferably adjust it in the bathroom or in your own office. Particularly where people are concerned, it’s important to criticize privately and praise publicly.
    • Adjustment to your personal policies or outlooks should also be made in private so that you can keep your people focused and motivated. First, make the adjustment, and then redirect the course.
    • The key word here is ideally. Occasionally, a situation warrants public adjustment – whether it’s one employee disrespecting another, or your own idea that needs to be re-examined. It’s important to own your mistakes and, at times, to make sure other people own theirs.
  3. Adjustments need to be decisive and efficient.
    • What the manager I referred to in the beginning of this article is really paying attention to is fidgeting, not adjusting. Nobody wants a leader who implements knee-jerk reactions and extreme disciplinary measures. Don’t let your company’s culture degrade to the point that you cannot execute a simple, decisive directive to get them back on track. Reach up, adjust your collar, and carry on smartly. Have an efficient and executable plan, and stick to it. Failing to do so will quickly lose you the confidence you’ve worked so hard to earn from your people.
  4. Lastly – if you’re going to wear a tie, prove that you deserve to.
    • It doesn’t do any good to wear a tie if your posture and presence is that of a depressed teenager undergoing puberty. If your management (or indeed, your subordinates) trusts you enough to put you into a leadership position, you should constantly seek to pay it forward by putting your people and company before yourself. Be the leader that seeks to enable and better your team, not a surface level alpha-type who never sees past the cover of the book.

Finally, a brief lesson from another observation. During a recent departmental audit, my boss shook hands with our auditor and led him into our conference room. We all took our seats, and then he said, “Bill, you’ve seen that I cared enough to wear a tie, right?”

The auditor laughed, said that he had, and then my boss removed his tie and threw it on the next chair over, inviting Bill to do the same.

When you can, do things the comfortable way, not the uncomfortable one, and be aware enough not to judge a prospective employee based on how they interact with their necktie.

For more exploration of leadership, culture, and philosophy, be sure to click follow and join us next time. Humanity constantly provides opportunities to learn about the whole by examining one of its many parts.

-Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)

Our Band-Aid Society

It used to be that when something was broken, people would endeavor to fix it. We used to solve problems, not just postpone and perpetuate them. That was then, though. These days, we’d rather throw a band-aid on the problem and call it a solution. We’d rather medicate, distract, or otherwise preoccupy the minds that should be steering humanity toward our next “greatest milestone.” And if that distracted “fix” doesn’t solve the dilemma, then we simply ignore it.

The problem is that people are too averse to being uncomfortable. Take me, for instance…if I had to use one word to describe myself, there’s no doubt in my mind as to what it would be.

Author.

Writing is the one consistency I’ve always had in my life, and it makes me uncomfortable that I haven’t yet figured out how to leverage that passion into a career that allows me to pursue the craft fulltime. That discomfort is what’s going to help me solve the problem. The people who read my work find it impactful. That sounds like a win, but really it’s a frustration – it proves that my dreams are obtainable in a way that is tangible to me, and yet…

Eventually that “And yet,” will frustrate us to the point of finding a complete solution rather than just the beginning of one, but only if we allow ourselves to feel it. To embrace it.

A soldier knows his life could be better if he could overcome his PTSD.

Society throws him paroxetine and a disability check to prevent the life or death choice of what comes next.

A company doesn’t understand why its culture isn’t attractive to millennials.

Maybe if we install a fountain soda machine and decorate the office with beanbags.

A father struggles with the rift that his alcoholism has caused between him and his son.

A glass of whiskey should take the edge right off that…

Stop taking the edge off. Stop accepting failure on the first attempt.

If the soldier would embrace the discomforts of the things he’d seen, he could use it to shape his own recovery and the recovery of others. He could unpack everything he’d compartmentalized and learn lessons that most people could never dream of.

If the company would realize that the problem isn’t the building they’re in, but their modus operandi, they could integrate the powerful passion of the younger generation and tap into what is soon to be the largest portion of our world economy.

If the father would embrace his inner conflict and guilt, he could transmute it into hatred for the substance that caused the separation in the first place. He could use it as motivation for self-betterment, and set an example for his son that mistakes can be overcome.

Not all solutions are easy. Sometimes radical mindsets are necessary to make the greatest progress. If we want to just live out our years perpetuating problems, it’s easy enough to do that: after all, we only have one life, and it’s a relatively short one. If you’re like me though, and you want to dedicate that life to having an impact and making the world a better place for our children and grandchildren, try to maintain awareness of the things you’re putting band-aids on. Focus on real solutions by considering the root of the problem, and remember to embrace the “And yet.”

All Millennials Need Nannies

Oh, good! I got you here.

That’s how this blogging thing works, right? You use a provocative title to get peoples’ attention, and then you woo them back to reasonable thought with the words that follow. I didn’t make the title up based on nothing, though.

During my last job interview, my (now) boss told me, “I’m here to coach you and be a mentor. I’ll give you guidance and I’ll teach you, but I’m not your nanny.” I swallowed back the urge to ask him what he thought qualified him to assume I needed a nanny.

The thing about my boss is that he’s one of the best I’ve ever had. In fact, if you look through my articles on leadership, you’ll see that more often than not I use his actions as an example of HOW to treat your people. He’s one of the few leaders I’ve met that primarily thinks about people and their holistic development, rather than just the work they’re assigned to complete.

Another common theme in my writing is that people are the way they are for REASONS, and instead of feeling immediately put-off by how they interact with you, you should first question why they interact in that manner.

He told me he wasn’t my nanny because, by and large, today’s young people are uncomfortable with ownership and defensive toward character development. Millennials often feel that their employers should utilize their strengths and understand their weaknesses. That line of thought isn’t wrong, per se, but as with all things, balance is the critical element.

Throughout the interview that followed, I gave up a few parts of my story, not for validation, but because every good boss deserves to know who they have on their team. I told him about multiple deployments to poor, war-ridden countries, that I’d been through a divorce, and about several mistakes I’d made throughout my life both professionally and personally. I told him that I was in the process of selling my third house so I could buy my fourth, and that I’d been in charge of anywhere from four to eighty people throughout my career. That I’d experienced what it’s like to be the senior person in a state, making calls that would have far reaching implications to the company as whole. I told him about fostering abused children, and about my dream of becoming an author – about how I’d largely failed thus far in achieving it.

It wasn’t about boasting – it was about being forward regarding where I was at in my journey, so that he could decide if he was able to help me progress. It was one leader interviewing another – him to see if I knew how to follow, and me, to see if he was WORTH following. In the military, leadership isn’t linear. I’d gone from being in charge of force protection for half of a country, and then the next day I was asking permission to vacuum the sunflower seeds that a man had accidentally spit on the floor instead of in the trash can. Since I already spilled the beans about the results of my interview, you know that we both saw each other fit for the job, knowing fully that “fit” didn’t necessarily mean “perfect”. Good leaders aren’t always easy to follow, and I did struggle somewhat with going from being the man in charge of dozens of folks to being (once again) the lowest section of a short totem pole.

The comment about not being a nanny was a social misstep – to assume my ability based on my age, and it evidently put such a bad taste in my mouth that I’m using as a blog title nearly 5 months later. I’ve continued to earn my credibility at work and to try to correct the common misconception (generalization) about my peer group, but I also feel like it’s my responsibility AS a millennial to address the issue WITH my generation. We’re getting to the point in our lives where many of us are stepping into leadership positions, or even SENIOR leadership positions, and it’s important to explore the concept of first impressions. Yeah, it’s okay that you’re an introvert, but you still have to calm the butterflies in your stomach and look people in the eye when you speak to them. It’s okay that phone calls make you anxious and you communicate more clearly in writing, but you better also learn to march up to someone’s office and confront them about not performing. It’s not enough just to be nice all the time. My article about the downside of emotional intelligence explores how leaders still need to have grit and presence, not just empathy.

I forgave the misstep, knowing that my boss didn’t know me at the time, but I’ve learned since then that many leaders and even companies as a whole don’t really know how best to utilize or integrate their millennial workforce. Their uncertainty makes young people feel less empowered, and thus, perpetuates the problem.

What it boils down to is this: if you’re not confident in the young person you hired, that’s your error, not theirs. If you’ve got enough faith in someone to put an offer on the table, you should damn-well have enough faith enough to let them exceed your expectations. But don’t do so by telling them what you’re not – do so by letting them tell you what they are, and what they want to become.

Thanks for reading a long – for more insights into the millennial mindset, leadership, and culture, click follow or shoot me a message. I’d be honored to learn something from your perspective in the process.

-Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)