Earlier this year, my wife and I had the opportunity to see Taya Kyle (widow of the late Chris Kyle whose story is told in the recent “American Sniper” movie).
Seeing the movie was intense, but it was nothing compared to what Taya shared that evening. She began by saying this was one of the few times she’s spoken in public about her “darkest day,” and it was evident by not only the tears that followed, but also, how she prolonged the preface of her story to the point of catching herself and openly admitting that she was, “simply delaying the bad part of the story.” Her love of Chris was evident in the way she spoke of him, and by the time she got to discussing the day she lost her husband, the entire audience was in tears or nearly there.
But her message wasn’t about sadness. For those of you that have taken time out of your busy lives to see “American Sniper,” you know this film is not only about the lasting impression of war on the soldier, but also, the effect it has on the family back home. Taya’s message was very simple and very clear as she oft repeated the saying, “Just show up.” The importance of “showing up” was a common theme as she spoke about her marriage, the experience of her losing her husband and how people should treat veterans and their families.
Another message that resonated with me when she was asked how her marriage was able to survive four long deployments and over 1,000 days overseas. Her response was again, beautiful in its simplicity, as she stated, “I took the long view.” Too often in the gotta-have-it-now world we live in, we forget that sometimes the road has ups and downs, and that you can’t abandon ship the second you hit a bump. Of course I view this in the context of employment, where new veterans sometimes have the short term view of getting a job versus taking the long term view of starting a career and also companies that want the impact employee of today compared to the better choice for tomorrow.
Those looking for work need to take a lesson from Taya Kyle and their previous military experience, and anticipate that there will be challenges on the road ahead. It’s a rare occurrence that someone exits the military and simply walks into their next role. The difference is that when you hike up a hill, you can see the top, you know how long a 20 mile hike is going to be. The unknown is what we in the military thrive on, but only with regards to enemy situation, food and sleep depravity. When it comes to the civilian world though, the unknown can be unnerving and result in an almost frozen feeling – not knowing where to start in pursuit of a post-military career.
This is where I think Taya’s message of just showing up is especially important. Just show up to those military job fairs, just show up to the interviews of veterans, just show up when you have opportunities to learn more. Until you make the conscientious effort to take on a different project, then you’ll invariably fail at the task.
And it’s not just the veterans who can use this guidance. Each group that plays a role in the veterans unemployment equation needs to show up equally:
The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Assistance Act (VEVRAA), a new government contractor mandate that I previously wrote about, is a good start in the process. To summarize, VEVRAA requires organizations with government contracts (i.e., most companies) to identify if they have a need to hire more veterans, then create an action plan to get there. I really love the fact that the government is finally putting the onus back on the private sector. Here is a goal, but we want to see how you are going to get to that goal, and if you don’t there might be consequences. Again, they’re simply saying to “show up.”
From a corporate perspective, I wish I could say that hiring veterans will be the easiest decision you’ve ever made, it won’t. Or that it’s the panacea to all your hiring problems, it isn’t. Or that you alone can solve the veteran transition issue, you won’t. But what I can say is that what you’ll do will matter to those veterans seeking to gain access to the civilian workforce, and to your company. I have said this before, and I will say it again – veterans bring a host of valuable skills to the corporate workforce.
I get calls all the time from veterans saying the same thing, “Can you get me a job?” And my response is the same, “Only you can get yourself a job.” People who served our country deserve our effort. If they put in the effort by showing up, shouldn’t we do the same in return?