I got to spend two energizing days with the Mission Continues at the Women Veterans Leadership Summit in New Orleans, LA from April 1st to the 3rd. The intended purpose was to empower women veterans for successful transition to civilian life.
And the message I heard loud and clear was the importance of finding authentic purpose and investing intentionally in yourself and others.
We also heard about the importance of being adaptable.
Something I teach my coaching clients at Semper Sarah is that if we’re too rigid we break (that’s a tweetable :)). This is a lesson that’s important for all of us – veteran or not, male or female, entrepreneur or employee.
Moreover, instead of being a trauma-focused weekend, during the summit – through a mix of outdoor service and indoor leadership talks and panels – people were sharing ideas, offering resources and encouragement, and there was a real sense of excitement. The hope was almost tangible.
I spoke on the Entrepreneurship Panel. We talked about the value of mentors, as well as the value of accountability to your community and clients. We talked about the value of building flexible frameworks and being able to adapt like we did in the military.
There’s also tremendous power in building out a strong social network and community that understands and supports your vision, and that does not always have to be other military veterans.
The other two panelists were civilians, and each of us represented three distinct types of business: service, training, and products. We were all different, and yet we had very common challenges. We may feel our challenges our unique, but when we come together we realize they’re shared, and we’re able to move forward from this realization with strength and solidarity.
So, now answer this multiple choice question for me:
Veterans are 42 times more likely to…
- Drop out of college than civilian students
- Have shorter hair than non-veterans
- Own a business than to be homeless
Returning veterans have unique challenges, and also unique strengths.
The answer is C! See, the work I do, and the work the Mission Continues does, is all about figuring out how to optimize for their strengths and capabilities. We want to equip women veterans to make sustained, positive impacts as they reintegrate. A story that isn’t often told is just how successful veterans tend to be when they return home. The Mission Continues is one organization that helps to tell that story!
We know that veterans are 42 times more likely to own a business than to be homeless.
We know that veterans are twice as likely to succeed at building a business as their civilian counterparts.
One of the challenges that women veterans face, along with their male counterparts, is the potential loss of identity or purpose when they leave military service. By helping them find their authentic purpose as civilians, we’re able to unleash their tremendous capacity for success.
I was an intelligence officer in the Marine Corps. My challenge was a struggle for authenticity, and almost all of the women at the summit mentioned something like that. That figuring out who their authentic self was in the military was a challenge regardless of how success they were, and that it’s something they’re still struggling with. It’s a challenge for everyone, and especially for women veterans as they reintegrate.
The good news is that we know that when you’re able to find your authentic purpose, it’s not only your life that benefits, but also the people you love and care about.
Look, we have all faced battles in our lifetime. Certainly, more battles lie ahead, too. Thankfully, that’s not the whole story, though.
A much-loved general in the Marine Corps, General Jim Mattis, talks a lot about post-traumatic growth (PTG). PTG is the idea that we can come out on the other side of trauma and challenges even stronger. Although Military Sexual Trauma (MST), for instance, receives a lot of attention in military circles, and it is something both men and women face in the military, it doesn’t mean that their capacity for service or purpose is diminished. MST is a real problem with real consequences and legislative reform is still needed.
But as someone who has survived MST, my message to other survivors is that your life can still have meaning, purpose, and capacity for happiness. Healing is possible.
Ok, what else? How can civilians help?
Women veteran owned businesses have increased 295% since 2007. There are so many returning women veterans who are engineers, communications experts, IT specialists, and more. Whether they’re looking to help build your business or create their own, I would love to see civilians make themselves available for collaboration – working together to build strong businesses, strong connections, and strong lives.
So, whether you are a civilian or veteran, a business owner or employee, student or not, parent or not, man or woman, you can reach out. The community building and sense of purpose provided by The Mission Continues fellowship and service platoons bridge gaps in women veterans’ reintegration experience not currently met by other veteran service providers. The Mission Continues is expanding the dialogue around the unique challenges facing female veterans and identifying solutions to ensure all female veterans are able to reintegrate successfully.
Whoever you are, I urge you – be a part of the solution, not the problem.
* Updated 4/25 – Should you be interested in reading a feature article in the Denver Post about this weekend in New Orleans titled Valuing Women Veterans, please visit the site HERE