Looking forward on my Alive Day

I have crossed bridges before. On this day thirteen years ago, April 9, 2004, I was fighting for my life on a bridge in Al Kut, Iraq. In October of 2015, I crossed a different bridge. I transitioned from the Army and started my civilian life. Some people think Veterans are heroes. Others that Veterans are victims. I am a Veteran and a Thriver! Let me explain.

Today, on the anniversary of my “Alive Day,” I am thinking of my journey across both bridges. On that fateful morning, I led my platoon under the cover of darkness on a fight to seize Bridge 3 on the Tigris River. I launched my attack from the west side of the bridge. I realize now that is where my old self still resides.

The bridge was the transition.

My new self was born on the east side under a hail of enemy machine gun and RPG fire. In the fight that unfolded, I became both a battle-tested warrior and a wounded warrior. A new self was formed, a stronger, more resilient version of my old self. I became the $300,000 man.

Eighteen months ago, I crossed the bridge from the Army to civilian life. I can look back today and say it was the right decision. I am thriving in my current position, teaching others how to be stronger leaders. As much as I loved the Army and the people and experiences I had, I knew it was time to get out. And like many other veterans, I wasn’t sure what civilian life was going to entail. But then something clicked inside me. I realized that no one was going to transition for me. I realized it had to start with me. And so I designed my transition.

Applying design thinking concepts, I examined the peaks and valleys of my career and focused on the times I thrived. I then zeroed in on why I had thrived and why I had not. What was it? Me? The environment? The people I was serving with?

While in the Army, I found my work meaningful, but it wasn’t until I applied design thinking that I realized what really made me thrive was the people I was leading and serving with. I understood that my purpose was to lead, and to inspire and develop others to lead. Having that understanding, gaining empathy, and being compassionate with myself, led me to generate ideas about what would be a good and meaningful “next” professional life.

I then put together those ideas into a prototype job description to focus my efforts and then tested that prototype in my search for meaningful employment. I am currently the Executive Director of Leader Development at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and am thriving in that position. I am living my purpose, helping develop the next generation of healthcare leaders. There’s no reason why we all can’t find the same.

For military service members and Veterans going through transition, consider designing your experience and take charge of creating what could be next.

Life will throw challenges at you — chances are you have overcome many already. I was a wounded warrior who became stronger at the broken places.

And now, through my transition, I see what I’ve always been — a Thriver.