Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Brian Sale
50th Network Operations Group superintendent
It’s amazing how often I am asked by young enlisted members and officers, “What does it take to be successful in the Air Force?”, “What should I know?” or “What should I do?” Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, summed it up best, “There are no secrets to success: don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.” Although a simple perspective, after 20 years in our Air Force, I have to agree that the path to success isn’t any more complex. Now, this is not to discount the need for completing required training, improving our leadership and followership skills, planning for our future and committing ourselves to our core values; these are all incredibly important. The simple truth I’ve come to live by is that there is no one roadmap, there is no one playbook and there is no one single way to rise in the ranks. I generally offer a few simple thoughts that have helped me along the way.
First of all, always approach every challenge as an opportunity to grow. Whether it is a new task, a new position or a new assignment, approach these opportunities as a means to learn and develop as an Airman and a person. This may be a bit uncomfortable… it is for most of us. The simple fact is every one of us, either officer or enlisted, find ourselves in situations where we think we should know more than we do. Don’t let this stop you from learning. Learn from those around you and ask questions; ask lots of questions. You will have the opportunity to work with Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines, officers and enlisted, civilians and contractors, active duty and retirees; learn from them and learn from their experiences. These lessons will be invaluable, and will serve you well throughout your career.
Be willing to take risks and make mistakes. As the famous writer and playwright, Oscar Wilde, so eloquently stated, “Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes.” The greatest learning experiences come from struggling, falling short, getting up and trying again. None of us can expect to be perfect or to do everything right the first time. It is an unrealistic expectation and can be a stifling stressor that can limit our success. Be willing to make a mistake, encourage this in others and your opportunities to learn will grow exponentially.
Let your voice be heard. Wall flowers don’t solve problems and a good idea not shared is worthless. It doesn’t matter if you are the lowest ranking Airman or most junior officer in the room, if you have an idea for how we can improve a process or make a change, share it. None of us have a monopoly on good ideas. We all come from different walks of life and have the privilege of our unique experiences; let that be your platform for making a difference in your work center, your base and your community. There is many a change that has helped the Air Force and countless Airmen save time, effort and energy; your idea just might be the one to make a difference for one and all.
Remember, no one cares about your career more than you. You will find that you’ll have some great supervisors and some…not so much; there is much to learn from both. Don’t expect them to always know or keep track of your activities and accomplishments. There is a harsh and often unfair reality that some supervisors just aren’t cut out to lead, but don’t allow yourself to be a victim. Hold them accountable for feedbacks, direction and being in charge. However, you need to track every single achievement, accomplishment and on-and-off-duty activity. Have this information ready when it comes time for evaluations and recognition, and it will pay huge dividends to help you progress up the ranks.
Take care of yourself, your family and friends. It can’t be said enough, but a military life is hard on everyone, especially those we hold closest. Strive to find balance between them all; work hard, play hard and most importantly…have fun.
I can personally attest that the secret to success is no secret at all. Powell summed it up best; “It is not a magic formula or a path for the chosen few.” Capitalize on opportunities, take a risk, get involved, take responsibility and find balance in your life; having a successful Air Force career is just that simple.
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