Commentary by Lt. Col. David Hanson
23rd Space Operations Squadron commander
NEW BOSTON AIR FORCE STATION, N.H. — The title of this commentary is very straight-forward, so this could be the end of my writing. It’s a pretty simple idea, so why do we need to talk about it? Because it’s a concept that we see all too often abused. I’m not sure why, but I speculate that in today’s highly competitive arenas, with shrinking resources, leaders will put everything before themselves to ensure they don’t fail the mission or their people. You can do both; take care of the mission/people and yourself and should strive for the right balance. When you fail to take care of yourself, you fail all those around you.
So what are some areas to consider?
First and foremost, don’t neglect your health; this is most important. If your health fails you, even if it’s only slowly deteriorating, you will be a less-effective leader and others will notice. For some, this equates to quitting smoking, controlling your weight, getting into or back into better physical shape. This means getting out from behind your computer and exercising. Even better, exercise with others at squadron or informal small group sessions. This also means taking care of potentially larger health issues. That nagging back pain typically won’t get better. How about that congenital health condition needing to be addressed? Don’t wait; see your doctor or health care professional. Here’s my real-life example: I was born with a heart valve condition and fortunately it did not affect me for years, until recently. Exercise became harder and I became uncharacteristically tired. Even though others around me may not have seen a difference, it was negatively affecting me. Sure, I could have probably dealt with this condition for many more years, but I did not want others to see me start to struggle. I did not want to get to the point where I could not do the same things or live the same lifestyle I was accustomed to. My family and I discussed it at length and I elected to have heart valve replacement surgery on Feb. 5 of this year. Now three months after surgery, I’m back to running further and faster than before surgery and I feel much better. My family and teammates here at 23rd Space Operations Squadron can see a difference. I took care of myself so I could take better care of them.
Your family can often become a neglected part of your life. Leaders spend a lot of time working to resolve their subordinate’s issues, vying for their next assignment or professional growth opportunity. It’s what we do; it’s the right thing to do. But, at the end of the day, many of leaders either run out of time, or simply burn out working other’s issues and they do not think about themselves or their families. They’re out of balance with their priorities. In my last article, I wrote about taking your kid to a ballgame on a weekday during work. Yes, take the day off and spend it with your family. Surprise them, make it special, individualize it. There is nothing worse than lost leave at the end of the year. You earn leave and you should use it all, and not over weekends during the last month of the year, a weak excuse for taking time off. The best, most effective leaders I have ever worked with were out of the office several days per month or took a long vacation each year. They were not in the office all the time.
Pursue your interests. This can be considered your time — time doing what you enjoy. Not necessarily family time and not what others want you to do, but time pursuing and participating in your interests. It’s not selfish. In fact, it’s a pretty healthy habit. It allows you to be well-rounded. Plan for and enjoy your interests since that time is precious and usually does not last long. Pursue your interests or discover what makes you smile. I personally struggle with this one. I used to spend time running, OK, I still do, scuba diving, parachuting, and doing things that interested me and over the years have gotten away from personal interests. I can vastly improve in this area by rediscovering what I enjoy doing. Maybe it’s a past hobby or a new interest. Regardless, plan and dedicate time toward it. The most interesting people I have known have amazing interests and hobbies, outside of work. I know a colonel who is a judge for an Olympic sport, a technical sergeant who visited more than 100 state and federal parks most weekends, a civilian who races stock cars and a retired lieutenant colonel who still coaches youth hockey even though his children are all grown. These are all real examples of real people doing what they love.
Simple, right? Now just go do it. Taking the requisite time and effort to care for yourself is not a novel concept. Planning for and executing your plan, that’s what takes the effort. Continue to take care of your family, friends and those who work with or for you but, also take the time to care for yourself. It will help you become a better person and motivate others around you to do the same.