Last month, the Information Warfare Community, to which I have been a proud member for 25 years and counting, convened a board to screen officers for their next career milestone. As is true with the posting of the results after each board, there were people who were excited to read their name on the list of selected individuals and there were people disappointed to see their name omitted. I spoke with teammates from both camps soon after they were released. Fortunately for me and my family, my name has beed included on the list of selected individuals at every opportunity thus far in my career. That was true until the last two boards where I would have been considered amongst my peers for what we now consider the post-Major Command milestone, Information Warfare Commander (IWC) for a Carrier Strike Group. Some would argue that it is the pinnacle of a career Information Warfare Officer. I’d like to re-enforce the words considered and would.

Considered: As I hope for everyone, I am part of an amazing team with an extremely talented and committed peer group. All one can hope for is to be considered for opportunity among such an esteemed group. As the selection rate for career milestones continues to be extremely small, there is a huge element of good fortune and luck associated with each name on the list. That is not to say that being among the selected minority is not something we earn, but to acknowledge that there are other extremely capable teammates  who are left off the list that are equally equipped and eager for the same opportunity. An opportunity rightfully constrained in number; a number far exceeded by the number of qualified candidates. Not being selected does not make anyone lesser, but it most certainly changes the trajectory of a career. All we can do is contribute in ways that position us for worthy consideration when our record is being reviewed and afford us the opportunity to seize any good fortune that might come our way. I, along with many others, have done that,

Would: The would is where I get a bit conflicted. You see, I was not considered because I asked not to be. That was a decision I chose to make the last two years. It was not an easy decision. After all, we are conditioned to want to be among the best of the fully qualified (the selected) and we most certainly have a strong desire to serve in the most significant ways possible. Our board model does a great job incentivizing such behavior and enabling opportunity for those ready by all definitions. Like every other board, I wanted the validation that came with being among the selected. Unlike every other board, I felt there were other more significant ways in which I could serve. I am not saying that I am above being the IWC in a Carrier Strike Group and I don’t know that I would be particularly good at it. But after thoughtful reflection, I knew that many of my peers were equally, if not better, equipped to succeed in that role. I also knew that most of them were more eager for the opportunity than I was. And quite frankly, there was one job that I knew I could do better than any of them and I didn’t want selection to stand in the way of the opportunity I am enjoying right now. Asking to not be considered enhanced the odds that one of my more eager, equally/more ready teammates saw his/her name on the list and will ultimately serve in this important capacity. At the same time, it allowed me the opportunity to serve in a role that I truly believe to be the most significant way in which I can serve at this point in my career. Maybe not the most significant way to serve, but definitely the most significant way I could serve.

The day the list came out, I was pleased to see the names of many great teammates. And I will freely admit that not seeing my name among these longtime friends and colleagues made my stomach sink. They remained on due course from a career progression standpoint, where I chose to veer off in the eyes of some. That night with that sinking stomach feeling still present, I picked my son up from swim practice and he was more excited than normal. Uncharacteristic of him, he asked me to stop the car so he could make eye contact with me. With a big smile, he looked me in the eye and said, “Dad, I am so happy here. Thank you so much for taking these orders.” The next day I went to work with my new amazing team and was once again reminded I am exactly where I need to be. And when one of my teammates fortunate enough to be selected for IWC formally joins their new team, I am confident they will be able to say the same.

Seeing our name on a list is validating. But sometimes the best thing we can do for the team and the larger organization to which we belong (not to mention our family), is to ensure our name is not on that list.

  • How are you readying yourself for consideration and success for the next career milestone?
  • Is there a scenario in which you are willing to veer off course?
  • How did you feel the last time you were not selected for something?