I found myself missing being in the Army last week. When Angela found out about it, she didn’t find herself missing us being in the Army, so a constructive and transformative conversation followed.
To explain what I was missing, though, I’ll have to give you some background. My last two positions in the Army were as a company commander and a staff officer whose primary responsibility was planning the events of the battalion. It was the command position that I missed.
I was never really enamored by the power of command. I had the distinct privilege of commanding the best transportation unit in the state, but that privilege came with a lot of responsibility. Because the unit had just redeployed when I took command, we had an incredibly challenging period ahead of us. I won’t bore you with the details, but we had to simultaneously reorganize after deployment while performing a high visibility mission that required a lot of resources and training to get done right. Commanding 219 troops under those conditions – as a First Lieutenant, no less – was demanding.
But I didn’t have to do it alone. I had a great crew of junior officers, an excellent warrant officer, a bulldog of a First Sergeant, and a crew of experienced senior sergeants in the company. Every experienced military servicemember knows that it’s the NCOs (sergeants) who actually know what they’re doing, so as long as you can lead them and get out of their way, you’re golden.
Though there were times I could pull my non-existent hair out in the beginning, by the time I left, they could operate without me. That was exactly the way it was supposed to be, as the work of the current commander is to set up the next commander for success. I haven’t followed up in a while, but I’m sure the unit’s doing fine as long as the next commander just commanded and let the team do their jobs.
We were given too much to do with too little time with too little resources. We didn’t get it all done, but we never had a mission-critical failure. We actually got reset before some units that redeployed years ahead of us, all while performing that demanding mission. As I said, I had a great team.
Settling Into The New Normal
I’ve been out a little over a year so it makes sense that I’d be starting to miss that. I’m settling into a new normal here in Portland without troops to lead. The journey that was transitioning out of academia and the Army and away from Nebraska is over and in the rear view.
Aside from the seasons passing, though, I found myself missing being the Army because I’d gotten used to working real-time with a team. There’s something amazing that happens when you have people committed to a common purpose just getting it done.
And, truth be told, I missed getting the job done being enough. In this new world, I have to market and sell stuff. You might think that I’d wrap that into “getting the job done” – and I do – but it’s also a lot different than just showing up, leading people, getting the job done, and preparing for the next mission. We’re getting close to marketing being synced up so well with our operations that we don’t feel so much mental separation, but we’re not there yet.
Nostalgia is Always Rosy
The total picture of my Army experience isn’t nearly as glamourous. The driving. The politics of officership. The mind-numbing meetings. Freezing my ass off in the rain. Army coffee. Sleeping with scores of other guys who snored, talked in their sleep, and smelled like a combination of foot and mint tobacco dip. Having to constantly cram 100 units of stuff into a 60 unit bag. The real and constant state of readiness we stayed in case of deployments or emergencies.
That was the parts of the work that no one loves, but you do it because the work is worth it. You’ll see a lot of parallels between what I say about that work and what I say about the work of building a business, because, though it’s a great marketing story to tell you otherwise, the life of business ain’t all rosy, either. It’s worth it, too.
I’m not going back to the Army life. That chapter is closed.
But I know human nature too well. If we don’t find outlets for the things that enable our flourishing, we’ll either start to die on the inside or end up with a red convertible when we finally overdue it. Or both.
A large part of the missing came from the shift from a full-contact team environment to the solopreneur space. I navigated that space well-enough, but I’m fortunate that this longing in my soul came up right as we were starting to bump up against the limits of the solopreneur mindset. If it came up earlier, I may have dismissed it, and if it came up later, it would have cost us much, much more.
Who’s This “We” You Keep Talking About?
You may have noticed that some of my communications and stories over the past few months have been awfully “we”-laden. You may have wondered who the “we” was, as many businesses use “we” language when it’s really just a “me” in the business.
Well, the “we” is Angela, Marissa, Megan, and Lisa – they’re the parts of Team PF that, for different reasons, haven’t been made as public as I’d like. Now you know, and you can read more about them on our revised About page.
None of them are my assistants in the same way that none of my military team-members were my assistants. They are creative and talented professionals who are each responsible for different parts of the business. They show up with initiative and get results. And I’m as proud of them individually as I am to work with them.
I left the Army as a Captain and find myself in the role of captain again. It’s both familiar and foreign, and I’m excited to share the team and the journey with you. Yes, I’m worried about how well I’ll do this time around, but that never stopped me from getting it done before.
They’re a great team. Prepare to be rocked.
Lisa Wood says
It’s rare to find a great team that doesn’t have an equally great leader. #justsayin
Barak Rosenbloom says
Nicely said, Charlie.
This morning I was reading “The Happiness Advantage” by Shaun Achor (if you haven’t read it, it’s amazing). The last of his seven principles revolves around our needs as social animals, and how the number and depth of positive interactions and relations very much affects happiness, productivity, success, health, longevity . . .
I went into a short funk, now that I work at home and, althought I have people I work with, mostly am connecting by phone or email. I’m now getting curious about how to have more rich interactions with more and more people, both to be happier and as a way to supercharge my productivity.
I’m excited to see what comes next from you and your team–and I’m very glad you’re pulling the curtain back on them!
Have a great day.
Archan Mehta says
It’s great to know, Charlie, that the behind-the-scenes operators have finally entered the open arena of the business world.
I have always wondered about your business. Surely, Charlie could not be a solo operator?
Surely, Charlie had people to help him. Well, now we know and thanks for the information. I read your About Page and it was nice to know about the background of your people.
The fact is, we cannot go it alone. We need a support system. In the big, bad world of business, this is crucial. Sometimes, you may have to surround yourself with people who have different capabilities than you; or who are just smarter than you. The most intelligent people do not necessarily make the best entrepreneurs. You drive this message home.
I appreciate you for writing this post, as usual, and thanks for sharing your ideas. Cheers.
Daniel M. Wood says
Being in a leader role is always challenging and fun. You learn so much about yourself when coaching others.
I am sure you will get used to your new reality and enjoy it just as much as you did in the army. Being a part of something, something bigger, makes most things worth while.
Ali Luke says
Really fascinating piece, Charlie. I’m glad you still get to be a Captain and use those skills and that passion — and it was really great to see the updated About page.
I’d be really interested to see you write more about leadership and working in teams. I’ve always been a solo type of person and, while I’ve done a few JV projects, I find them tough compared with being in charge of everything myself 😉 I’m not sure whether this is a limitation, or just how I roll…
Marta DeGraw says
Thanks for such an inspiring post about leadership, Charlie. I agree with Ali, I’d love to read more from you about leadership and working in teams since you have strong and varied experiences in those areas.
Your comment, “If we don’t find outlets for the things that enable our flourishing, we’ll either start to die on the inside or end up with a red convertible” really hit home with me as well. I love project management work–the doing, leading, and commanding that you referred to–but as an independent introvert, I find myself in a constant balancing act to feel that I’m truly flourishing in my work.
Thank you for reminding me that there’s no silver bullet or single way to achieve this. Hopefully I won’t end up with that red convertible at some point in the future. And now I have a great visual to help keep me motivated, too!
Congrats on your “new” team–what a great combination of talent working together!
All the Best,
Russ Henneberry says
Awesome post Charlie. Working as a solopreneur can be challenging in that way. I often find myself longing for team members as well. Glad to hear you are feeling good about the direction you are headed.
I really enjoy reading your blog!
Michael Van Osch says
Charlie – your point of “If we don’t find outlets for the things that enable our flourishing, we’ll either start to die on the inside…”, I find especially relevant and a problem for many men these days who’ve been laid off or struggling with corporate boredom. At the deepest level men are accomplishment-oriented and need to be on a personal mission. So for men, our only job in life is to find that mission (and then flourish) just like you did Charlie.