Career Advice I Wish I Had Got

Alumni Red & White Match 2018, Royal Military College of Canada

I attended the Royal Military College of Canada’s Ex-Cadet weekend this year, not because my graduating year was celebrating, but to mark the 25th year of having a Women’s Varsity Soccer Team. It was a wonderful weekend, and as I looked around the room during the Meet and Greet with the team, I couldn’t help but be amazed and proud seeing the other lady ex-cadets. And being around the young Officer Cadets made me think back to not only my initial career choice, but even subsequent choices I made within my career. I don’t like to look back and say I wish I had done something different because it implies I am not grateful for the life I have now, or that the the path to get to where I am has been an unhappy one. It isn’t with regret necessarily, but more so a musing on what would have happened, how would I have enjoyed a different path. 

There has been a fair amount of introspection since last weekend, enough that it has inspired me to write again. The catalyst in this case was when I found myself answering a question one of the players asked about posting choices. I realized mid-answer that I was giving her the Major Jen Causey answer, I wasn’t giving her the Jen Causey answer. It wasn’t fair. It was presumptuous and short sighted. To give you context, she had mentioned where she wanted to go for her first posting. My initial response was to give her the perspective on the pros and cons to each, purely from the vantage of an artillery officer. I then went on to say that I too had the same posting preferences initially, but had changed my mind after I met my husband. I said something along the lines of choosing a posting based purely on geography without consideration to my career implications might not have been the best approach, even if it had worked out. I then stopped and had to rewind. That was terrible advice! I backtracked and told her that whatever career choices one makes are theirs to make. Whether it is for family, for personal job satisfaction, for education options, other personal interests, do what is right for you with at least an understanding of the career implications of either of those decisions. I wish someone had told me that. I wonder how things would have turned out otherwise.

I enjoyed last weekend. I liked being around those young officer cadets. Had I not gone into the military, I’m fairly confident I would have ended up as a teacher. I enjoy coaching sports teams. I refereed high school soccer this past spring and really enjoyed being in that environment and seeing the interaction between the teachers and kids. In my military career, I had wanted to be an Instructor in Gunnery, but that career choice would not have worked well with my husband’s profession so I went down a different path, one that took me to the city of Toronto, to a Headquarters. Not long after I had received my posting message, I received a call from the Recruiting Group. They were wondering if I would have considered going to a Recruiting Center instead of the Headquarters. I said no, even though I had an interest in recruiting, because I was told it wasn’t good for my career. I like to be around young people who are eager to get a start in life. I wish I had the courage to follow that interest rather than be concerned about the implications to my career. I wish I knew then what I know now. I thought I was supposed to have the career the military was telling me I should want, and that swayed me.

I have 24 years of life/career experience. I enrolled in the military at 17, left home, had a career, got married, had kids; I’ve had a life. While my career and my profession are aspects of who I am, it is only a portion of who I am. It is not the sole definer of my identity. So when doling out career advice, why not remember that, and frame that advice into the larger context of what one is looking for in life? I have seen the toll that a military career can put on an individual or a family. I think it is important to acknowledge that, and to give young people a license to seek some sort of balance between personal and professional, and not naively assume that they are lopsided in one direction. I realized that while I cannot benefit from hindsight, perhaps someone else can. I now find myself saying things a little differently. These are the snippets of “wisdom” according to Jen Causey:

  • If you think you want to have a full and long military career, then pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Understand the pros and cons of different career choices…but…recognize that the pros and cons presented to you by someone more senior are always biased by the path they took. Get differing points of view.
  • Know what it is that will fulfill you in life, not just in uniform, but also outside of uniform. Both matter.
  • Know what it is you are prepared to sacrifice, but more importantly, know what you are not prepared to sacrifice for your career.
  • Stay true to who you are, and what you want out of life. You are the one that needs to live with your career, not your supervisor.

None of those snippets are intended to suggest that the mantra of “service before self” does not apply, but rather, demonstrate that it need not equate to “sacrifice self for service” either.

As I mentioned, things worked out for me. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to command soldiers and do things I would not have been able to had I walked a different road. I don’t have regrets, but being around these Officer Cadets, coaching, refereeing, they all have made me think “I wish” about a few things. I wish I could have acted on the opportunity to have gone on my Instructor in Gunnery Course. I wish I had an opportunity to be a Squadron Commander at the Royal Military College. I wonder how things would have gone had I become a teacher instead of joining the military. Who knows. Talking to that young Officer Cadet was like looking back 20 years at a version of myself, and I realized that I was her once. It hit me, and I realized that she’s listening to what I am saying, and she’s probably putting a great deal of stock into what I’m saying. That’s kind of scary. It’s powerful. And it shouldn’t be taken lightly. They are owed honesty, devoid of as much bias as possible. People are our greatest resource, but if we treat them as a resource and not a person, we fail.

So, thank you to the Women’s Varsity Soccer Team from the Royal Military College. You reminded me that though I may not have become a teacher, I can still “teach” in the form of honest dialogue. I can share my experience and you can take from it what you will, or take nothing at all from it, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity nevertheless. I wish this group of ladies success in their upcoming soccer season and future military careers.