The Dangling Carrot

I was on a recent recruiting trip meeting with candidates in our program and interviewing potential new candidates.  During the course of several conversations, I asked the candidate where they were in their decision process to transition from the military and I’d get a plethora of answers to include being on the fence, leaning towards getting out, etc. When I would ask what factors would be driving their decision to stay in or transition, a very common response would be something to the effect of “I want to see what my next potential assignment will be.”

This brought back memories of my own transition.  I was stationed at Fort Lewis, WA and getting close to finishing my company command time.  I was at a cross-roads as I knew my next decision may very well dictate my career for many years.  As I was contemplating whether to transition or stay-in, my branch manager offered me the opportunity to teach at West Point.   My initial thought was what an assignment!   I could earn my masters degree and teach at USMA for three years and it would be a great family assignment.  Then reality set in and I started to do the math.  By the time I would complete that assignment and fulfill my obligation for the Army paying for my graduate school, I would be at roughly 13 years on active duty; a mere 7 more years until I could retire.  I wasn’t exactly enthralled with what those last seven years might look like opportunity wise.  This prompted my wife and I to sit down and really discuss our short and long term goals.  Where did we see ourselves as a family in 5 years?  10 years?  Where did I see myself professionally in the next 5 years?  10 Years?  What 3-5 things were most important to me in my career? After much discussion and forward thinking, we both decided that although it would be a great
assignment, I would most likely be making a decision that would keep me in the Army until retirement; and that was a decision that ultimately did not align with our goals.

My point in all of this is the military does a pretty good job of dangling that next great assignment, or “carrot”, in front of you, especially when you reach natural decision points in your career.  The challenge with this is that assignment is just that, an assignment.   It’s a finite period of time and then the rest of your potential career remains.  As a recruiter at Cameron-Brooks and as a former military officer myself, I have seen many an officer be persuaded by that carrot without real regard to what lies ahead after that assignment/opportunity is completed.  They manage their careers one assignment at a time without thinking long term and big picture and before they know it, they are at a position or timeline in their military career where transitioning out is no longer an option or at least a less viable one.

Some of you reading this blog may find yourselves at that juncture in your military career right now, or if not, in the near future.  I encourage you to think about your goals both short and long term, and if your goals align with staying in the military, by all means stay and serve for as long as you are able and willing.  However, if your goals begin to diverge with the path of staying in the military, it may just be time to consider other options.  So even if that “carrot” presents itself, maybe, just maybe, the stick is waiting on the other side.

Rob Davis