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)

Caution: Trendy “Emotional Intelligence” Can Cause You to Fail Your People

I was born with an amazing gift: emotional intelligence. Empathy, intuition, and discernment have always come so naturally to me that, from some views, it borders on telepathy. I can see where a person is at in their life-journey, communicate with them in a way that makes them comfortable, and make them feel understood and enabled. Often, I will reach out to check on one of the few people in my inner circle at the exact point of a tragedy, which shocks my closest friends most of all because of the consistency at which it occurs over the course of a decade. 

I was also born with a terrible curse: the self-same trait. For the majority of my life, I have read peoples’ emotions so well – have been so connected to them – that I never wanted to disagree, say no, or let go of their problems. Instead of carrying the weight of my emotions exclusively, I’d stay up well into the night just trying to digest everything I’d perceived throughout the day…and throughout the months and years preceding it.

I carried pain not only from the people I’d met, but from the articles and books I’d read, from stories I’d heard, or even from strangers only seen from a distance. And I didn’t only carry their pain, I also carried their guilt. If a complete stranger didn’t act in a way that was “right,” I perceived it as a collective human failure – as my failure. I was also so concerned about peoples’ comfort level during communication that I developed an intense social anxiety by trying to read every conversational tone and interpret every subtle movement during interactions.

I’ve read dozens of articles of late – many with studies and science to back them – which say that emotional intelligence is more important than any other leadership attribute. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that many (often introverted) unrecognized leaders are being given the chance they deserve to grow into leadership roles. But unchecked – unbalanced – emotional intelligence can quickly lead to personal burnout while also preventing us from making our people undergo uncomfortable but necessary growth.

The key to being a great leader isn’t one definable trait, but a balance of many traits. It’s not about understanding and placating people – it’s about understanding where they are now, where they need to go next, and how to get them there in a way that is most impactful to the individual in question. Sometimes you have to confront hard truths. Sometimes you have to operate outside of your box. Then again, sometimes qualities are so engrained in people that it isn’t productive to try and force them to operate outside their nature.

A holistic approach to leadership is more effective than exulting a single quality. Emotional intelligence is profoundly important, but we also need to know how to develop future leaders who have that attribute as a defining strength. Teaching them self-care and delegation are a large part of that. Emotionally intelligent people are givers with no boundaries – but you can’t take care of your people unless you know how to take care of yourself first. In order to properly build a team, we have to consider every person on that team – which includes ourselves.

In short, Emotional Intelligence is an attribute that will largely contribute to the success of modern leaders. But unlike the trendy articles going viral of late, I don’t believe that it’s going to be the most valuable currency in the human landscape moving forward. Leaders still have to have grit, authority, and presence to balance their empathy, and they have to learn to funnel the emotions they perceive into focus in a way that does not overwhelm them.  

Defining The Problem

For nearly two years, my primary mission in life (aside from typical distractions like working, paying bills, and finding inner peace) has been to write and publish my memoir, which was initially entitled “Depravity.”

I’ve achieved a number of goals and breakthroughs concerning the memoir, not the least of which was breaking the book into two parts and changing the title to “Depravity and Defiance”. For around the past year though, I’ve been at a virtual standstill when it comes to actually writing the damned thing. After months of contemplation, discussion with friends and mentors, and having a few test audiences read along, I’ve learned a few things, which I intend to process for myself in this article.

My primary mistake was based on a concept from the East – that clinging to outcomes and having (generally unrealistic or unenforceable) expectations only leads to stagnation and pain. The purpose of the memoir is to help people who have experienced trauma (which is virtually everyone) on their paths to overcoming it. My mistake has been visualizing the achievement of that goal by yearning for things like mass publication, a Pulitzer prize, or landing on the New York Times Best Seller’s list. I’ve been so focused on the book being translated into dozens of languages, overcoming cultural biases, and winning prestigious intellectual awards, that I’ve amassed this incredible amount of pressure for myself, which has largely prevented me from putting words on paper.

Additionally, while I’ve had an intangible idea for what I want the book to accomplish, I’ve never written it down. As a writer, I should know how important that is, but I’ve long neglected it. By way of a remedy, here is the defined list of life-events that I want to address in my book, which is something of a “Thesis on Life.” Since the book is a memoir, these are largely chronological and are written as I experienced them in my own past.

  1. The over-arching theme of the book is that humanity is a universal condition, not one to be ashamed of, and not one that we must atone for. Our best efforts need to be viewed with compassion toward the self, and passionate expression in writing is not sinful.
  2. It’s important to realize that we are the way we are for reasons, and that reflection and meditation on each piece of our lives will lead to a greater understanding of the whole. It isn’t enough to shove hard emotions into a box that we never open. We have to examine and process the emotions we’ve shoved away in order to maximize our potential and achieve our goals.
  3. Written from my own viewpoint throughout different stages in my life, the book begins with a 10 year old’s attempt to process the following: coming from a divorced/broken home, negotiating a life of inconsistency, growing up with different (and opposing) influences, and overcoming an initial introduction to loss and grief. When I lost one of my best friends at age 11, death (the balance to life) became incredibly tangible to me, and has been so ever since.
  4. Religion has been a primary influence in my life: I grew up in Pentecostal Churches, have lived with a Muslim tribe in the Horn of Africa, traveled to Central America and witnessed the influence of the Mayans, Voodoo, etc. I’ve also explored Eastern Religion and Yogic lines of thought associated with energies and spirits. Additionally, I was heavily influenced by Greek religious concepts and philosophies during my college studies, and I hope to share the cultural lessons I’ve learned from each. I aspire to break down the stigma that differences must be met with violence, hate, and pain. I also share my experience in processing multiple religions (including the pressure of loving people who have opposing beliefs) in hopes that others will be able to relate to the process. Allegory and parables are used in my book, as they are in many of the influencing sources. In part two, I share my current perspectives, not to convert, but to explore and express.
  5. The writing progresses to my early teenage years, where I attempt to negotiate the effects of parental alcoholism and violence on a young mind. I address my experiences with misogyny and the self-hate associated with toxic, angry masculinity. Throughout the entirety of the book, I address the multi-generational and highly contagious effects of masculine guilt and insecurity.
  6. My grandfather was a profound mentor and influencer in my life. I address how impactful healthy relationships can be for young people, even when they aren’t obviously so. I also address the process (from a young person’s perspective) associated with the loss of such an influence to cancer.
  7. Nearing the middle of book one, I discuss the spiraling cycle and rut that a lifetime of impactful events can have on a child’s mind. I explore internalization and the loneliness associated with not having an avenue of expression. I reflect on how that suppression can lead to violent thought (and eventually, to violent action), which perpetuates guilt and causes a deeper rut to be formed.
  8. The book explores young love, the cultural and religious pressure that causes young marriages (and subsequent divorces). Family values can cause young people to project things that aren’t there in their ambition toward achieving “the American dream.” I learn about the journey my parents were experiencing during my youth, as I experience it for myself in adulthood.
  9. I reflect on the impact and journey of military enlistment and the (many) demons that can accompany military service. I write about PTSD, suicidal thoughts, and the overuse of medication in treating veterans and others.
  10. I traverse the intelligence community, discover a number of truths about politics, government, and international relationships. I write about my journey as a father, both to my own daughter and to foster children. I write about achieving the American Dream.
  11. I write about my father’s diagnosis and battle with cancer – my experience with separating from service in order to support the family. I cover giving up, breaking down, and the confidence of authenticity that comes from just not giving a damn anymore. I explore how to recover from not giving a damn. I break the American dream into pieces and explore what my own dreams might be.

Book two is about my perspective as an adult, and how I (attempt to) balance and learn from the events listed above. 

Below is a list of people who I want the book to influence and help:

  1. Humans, or anyone who might know one.

Since the book is a thesis on life, I decided to pursue a mentor to hold me accountable for its progress and content. A special thank you to my mentor in completing this project. Also, to my readers, collaborators, and life influences.

An extra special thank you to anyone who accepts me for who I am and the mission that I have in the world rather than trying to change me into something else. Transmutation can be uncomfortable, particularly for the object being transmuted.

In a world of extremes, I hope to use difficult experiences and impactful language to snap people out of complacency and propel them forward in a journey toward balance and acknowledgment of the self.

More to come, for those crazy enough to read along. Much love. This one was written for me, really. Now, I’ve got some work to do.

-Dustin Stitt (Just a man who writes things, because that’s what he’s supposed to do.)

Terrorist Generosity Gave Me PTSD

People have to be held accountable for their actions. You put me on a post to protect American lives, and I’ll be the first to put a bullet in the head of a suicide bomber, regardless of whether it’s an apparently pregnant woman or a twelve year old child. And that’s not something that I just say – I’ve spent a thousand restless nights living out the scenario.

But that’s not the end of the story. If you haven’t unfriended me yet, or assumed that I’ve converted to radical Islam, maybe there’s a small chance that you can hear me out. If I’m not on a government watch-list as someone with anti-American tendencies, then just maybe we can use the perspective I gained during a complete cultural immersion to try and understand the root of the problem rather than simply perpetuating it. If not, that’s okay too. I’ve still gotta say my piece.

The problem is this: I’m so pissed off by the things I’ve seen in the world. I’m pissed off that people try so hard to fight problems without ever seeking to first understand the problem.

It’s 2012, and I’m a 19 year old “Force Protection Liaison Officer,” charged with making sure that I do what I can to ensure no American lives are lost in a shitty corner of the world. I’ve been through nearly two years of the most intense training that I personally have the capacity for. I’ve watched videos of terrorist atrocities and beheadings of American soldiers and journalists. I’ve been filled with hate by other people who began their indoctrination when they were younger than I was, but who never escaped it.

“Indoctrination: The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”

Pretty much sums it up.

“Muslims are terrorists.”

“The Middle East should be blown off of the face of the map.”

“Islam caused 9/11.”

“You’re a patriot if you kill towel-heads.”

Before my first deployment, I was convinced that I was going to meet the enemy. Something far worse happened to me though – I befriended them. I arrived set on disrupting some of the most evil actions I could imagine: in the Horn of Africa, I was to learn about human trafficking and tribal atrocities. I’d studied the area before hand, and learned about all the evil violence committed against Americans there. It’s a well accepted fact that human trafficking networks are often used to ship weapons into the hands that fire them at our nation’s heroes. I never learned anything to the contrary. Indeed, I only validated that fact in my own mind. But I learned so much more than that.

I learned that human traffickers are really just desperate men who are absolutely committed to ensuring their children can eat enough to survive until adulthood. I learned that a week of food turns into a month of food if instead of trafficking people you add a bundle of rifles to the mix. And what risks those men took for their children – at times, trucks packed full of people desiring escape would crash while traveling at too high a speed. Roadways would be littered with bodies and pieces of bodies whose owners just wanted their wives and mothers not to be hungry anymore. I learned that America’s enemies are indoctrinated from an even younger age than we are, but that they are indoctrinated in places where having clean water to drink means that you’re among the most blessed in your society. Desperation makes you look for a way out – it’s human nature. People are naturally inclined to rise up against their own fears, and events experienced by long-dead men grow with each telling of the tale. I also learned that, by and large, an overwhelming percentage of Americans validate that indoctrination in the minds of foreign youth by acting entirely without regard for the culture they’ve invaded.

I lived in an Islamic village intermittently for six months. My position demanded that I keep my prejudices hidden so that I could better understand the region, but the longer I kept them hidden the more they disappeared entirely. By showing some false respect, I gained actual respect. Among the poorest places in the world, I was consistently invited into peoples’ homes, where they shared the very best they had to offer with me. Once we’d established an initial respect despite our differences, we discussed religion, and politics, and war. We did so peacefully, with the intent of understanding one another. The most extreme Muslims were angry and full of hate for the same reasons that the American’s who had indoctrinated me were: because they’d lost loved ones at the hands of men who believed in a different God.

That’s the problem with a religious war. You can’t kill a God, you can only punish his servants. If the atrocities on both sides had been committed by a man instead of a deity, we’d simply execute the tyrant and end the violence. But Gods live as long as men worship them, and without people who are willing to boldly stand up for the fact that God desires peace and love and acceptance, the wars will never end. How can anybody seek to truly understand God when they are so preoccupied with hating each other?

It’s fear that drives it. Fear, and the need for revenge. The task of translating my experiences into a language that people can grasp is an impossible one. I can’t adequately describe how the vast majority of Christians and the vast majority of Muslims aren’t driven by violence. And I can’t do anything to make people experience it first hand.

I can’t take back the fact that thousands of Americans have been blown up by improvised explosives, or that an even greater number of more poorly equipped men have been blown up by our own larger bombs.

The world doesn’t have time for discussions anymore. I met so many young people during my time in the military who would tell you out-right, “I joined for the college benefits. I joined because my parents kicked me out. I joined because I needed to escape.”

How much more would you seek to join an organization you were told was honorable – an organization that fought to keep your culture alive against the hands of men who want to control and eradicate it – when you’re joining for food instead of college credits? How much more, when you don’t have any options for work, and your day regularly consists of following a shadow as it travels around the trunk of a tree?

And once you’ve joined, you become the one who perpetuates what our world has become. And the people who learn that lesson aren’t allowed to talk about it because to do so is to betray the world they left behind.

How does this end? How do I carry out the responsibility of making people love one another as I do? As God does.

These are the issues life should be focused on, not on mortgages and child support and car payments. When I look at the world, I see so much needless pain. Regardless of what it means for my own reputation, I have to take bold steps to become involved in progress.

Thank you for reading along. There’s so much more to come.

An American Patriot, and a human who understands that people are the way they are for reasons. Most importantly, that love reciprocates.

Assalamu alaikum.

-Dustin Stitt, April 2019

Radical Authenticity Can Change the World

At my worst, I was fighting a hotel fire with a marine who was a lot more prepared for it than I was at 19. I imagined a Djiboutian man burning alive because of his own mistake, and wondered whether I would risk leaving my own family alone to save his from the same fate. He had been chewing an opiate leaf when the fire began, and all I could see was my future daughter’s face. Decisions like that are made in the slowest seconds imaginable, and it takes decades to process them afterward. The answers I came to in moments like that are my own burden to bare, but some of my brothers and sisters were there with me as I learned to live with them.

At my best, I learned pieces of foreign languages and to truly LOVE people who were different than me. I did everything I could to get clean water, toys, and food, to children who couldn’t possibly grow accustomed to that lifestyle. I often wonder if I did it for their sake, or for my own conscience.

It’s time for veterans (and others) to stop thinking that their “demons” are something to hide from. Your perspective on the world is something that the world itself needs. It isn’t fake. It isn’t a joke. It doesn’t matter one BIT if you went through more or less than what others did. Your story can help people. You are dynamic and whole. You have dark memories and you deal with them. Some moments are worse than others, but you have more to contribute to the world than you can possibly imagine. Fierce authenticity is the only way to share those lessons with the next generation. Your pain is what gives true life to your compassion.

Here’s a song to take you back. It gets me every single time. And you know what? I’m not sorry for sending you to that place. Stop compartmentalizing. Stop running from it. Use the emotion it provokes to change the world. If your employers, friends and family don’t see your holistic value, they don’t deserve it.

It’s a dark humility that comes from having your world shattered time and again. From thinking that you can’t over and over, and always managing because that’s the one choice you’re presented with.

Just send it, man.

If you want something more lighthearted, take a look at my previous blog post about hiking and mountains, which (along with writing) are the only medicines I’ll ever accept to numb what some people call “pain” (It’s really just perspective).

What you think is your greatest weakness is actually your greatest strength. Know your worth.