A humbling lesson on positionality, from my 10-year old daughter

This weekend I was humbled to my knees by a lesson in positionality and resiliency from my 10 year old daughter.

Both of my daughters are competitive Equestrians, riding Saddlebred horses in the Equitation style. LinkedIn isn't the place to describe how competitive and complicated this world is, but my best analogy is to think Dance Moms + The Bachelor, if the rose was a thousand-pound animal. Like gymnastics, the competitors start young, rise fast and are competing on a national circuit as young as 7.

This Saturday, for the first time in 8 years of riding, my older daughter fell off a horse. Not her big fancy show horse, but the barn lesson pony. It was clear immediately that her arm was broken. We rushed to the nearest hospital and, after xrays, we were transferred to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to see a specialist. In these moments, years of planning, preparing and dreaming for a 2019 run at the World Championship became blurred.

By about the 5th hour in the hospital, she was stable, we were becoming confident she wouldn't be heading into surgery immediately. The adrenaline began to wear off and my mind drifted to the questions that had been there from the first moment, but I hadn't allowed to rise to the top during the chaos - Could she compete this season? What about the World Championships? Judging from a new batch of tears, I could tell her mind had gone there too. She asked for my phone.

She had the calendar up, counting. "6 weeks until the Spring Premier, 8 weeks until I can ride again, 4 months until Junior League, 5 months until the World Championships." Suddenly she had a limiting factor we had never considered: Time. Yet, she smiled from ear to ear.

"I can still make it to the World Championships. I just have to be better, faster."

Better, Faster.

She was right. Starting late and missing a few shows meant she would have to ride for the blue ribbon every time. No time to ease into competing, no “off days”. She would have to ride her very best every time she was in the ring, adjust quickly when needed and continuously self-evaluate to become better, faster. She was able to swiftly assess her limiting factors and make a new plan to address and minimize them. She never thought to alter the goal, just the pathway to get there.

How many of us have faced a challenge and backed away, changing the goal to meet the new circumstances rather than the reverse?

Humbled. (And proud.)

By Monday morning I was back in my office thinking about her perspective and the clear alignment of her approach to the process of transitioning from the Military. For many service members starting to transition the goal sounds something like "To get a job, so I can earn money, so I can support my family, who has done so much to support me." This short term approach to what may be a 30 year future career fails to account for two important factors: Positionality and Career Pathway.

Chaunte Myers, CEO of Centurion Military Alliance says, "In determining your positionality you assess and evaluate your current educational attainment, vocational proficiency and financial literacy. Where the three spheres of influence intersect is where you find your current positionality, which is very different from your preparedness." CMA teaches a curriculum based on these three pillars in their Warrior Transition Workshops for Veterans, Service Members in Transition and their families.

"Once your positionality is determined you can then determine a true pathway to your future career goals."

Each of us have limiting factors to our career pathway to be minimized, eliminated or overcome. The key is to make an honest introspection of career expectations against those factors and make an authentic, planned, progressive outline of how to tackle each limiting factor with the end goal in mind.

For many Veterans the process of transition itself is perceived to be the mission rather than the act of understanding positionality and setting milestones to reach the greater goal.

CMA's objective is to have a new generation or transitioning Military Members who approach their career planning with an understanding of their educational limitations or strength, the financial requirements and goals, how their hard and soft skills fit into today's employment market and where those factors intersect to create a plan for their career path.

Importantly, these factors are always in motion. This assessment and reassessment is a continuous process. It is important to assess daily and ask questions of yourself:

  • How can I be more valuable today?

  • How can I adjust to overcome today's limiting factors?"

I've been there. This isn’t the first time broken bones have hit my family with an unexpected limiting factor.

My husband recently transitioned after 22 years in the Marine Corps as a Motor Transportation Maintenance Chief. Given my work the transition space, we had developed a solid plan. I was confident. We had a firm grasp on his skills and the roles and companies I knew were eager to hire someone with his skill set. I reached out to my network, leveraged connections, made introductions for him. He networked, attended a Transition Workshop, asked for informational interviews, and contacted Mike Quinn at HireMilitary for LinkedIn Profile expertise. He leveraged the Skillbridge program for Six Sigma training, and a PMP certification.

Man, were we doing it right!

And then, with about 8 weeks until the start of his terminal leave, he fell of the top of a Conex box and broke bones in his back and pelvis. Suddenly, we had a new limiting factor we had never thought to prepare for: Physical Limitation. Time to adapt and overcome. The first few weeks were rough, but we set about creating a new transition schedule around his prescribed time on crutches. We considered adjusting his approach to account for the very real potential that he would need a “bridge” job rather than moving directly into his target career path. But we didn’t. Six weeks later he had an in person interview request, following two phone interviews – at his target employer for his target role. He decided to push forward, on crutches - this was THE role that he was perfectly suited for, that could take him to his 5 year plan. To their immense credit the folks at United States Steel offered him the job, seeing past his short term limitation. It wasn't an easy choice to stay the course on his long term plan, but it was the right one.

Transition can be daunting and there is a truckload of information coming your way as you embark on the journey. My simple advice based on my own experience is:

  • The goal isn’t the act of transition, but the planned career pathway 1, 5, 10 years beyond transition.

  • Be prepared to adapt for unexpected limiting factors. Adjust the path but not the goal.

  • It isn't always the big challenges that get you, but the small ones that have lulled you into thinking there is nothing to fear. Continuously reassess your position and value, modifying as you progress.

  • Seek council in those who have come before you through the journey

Karin Childress Wiley

Karin has navigated a 20-year career in Talent Acquisition and Staffing with much of that time focused on Veteran and Military Spouse Employment. As founder of the Veteran Employment Program for Military.com (owned by Monster.com) and Head of Strategy for Fastport, a DOD/DOL/DOL VETS Contractors and Apprenticeship Intermediary, Ms. Childress-Wiley has worked to develop Veteran recruitment initiatives for numerous Fortune 500 Companies, VSOs, small businesses and supporting Organizations. Today, Karin continues her work at Fastport connecting partners and programs to Veterans and Service Members in transition, leading the Cyber Security Apprenticeship Program in partnership with Purdue Global as well as Partner Strategy. Karin is a Strategic Advisor and leader of Military Talent Group, a New York based Tech company with an OnDemand Learning and Advisory platform for Employers

Ms. Childress-Wiley also functions as the Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit organization Centurion Military Alliance (CMA), with a focus on developing, communicating, executing, and sustaining corporate strategic initiatives, audience expansion and digital tools for CMA’s sponsors and partners. 

Karin Childress-Wiley