“Now that you are retired from the Navy, what do you do with all of your free time?” It’s a question I get regularly and a question that is not all that easy for me to answer. It’s not easy because retirement from the military happens at an age where fading away from the workforce isn’t really an option from a contributing to the world around me perspective. At the same time, there are some places where I could enjoy a modest life without income beyond my retirement check, but they aren’t necessarily places I’m ready to call home so retirement in its truest sense isn’t a possibility. Rather than answer the question, I am quick to reframe the question so that people understand that retiring from the military is very different than retiring from a successful exit from tech startup or after a string of vested jobs at various companies here in Silicon Valley. In fact, I resist using the word retirement in favor of transition. I have not retired from the Navy. Instead, I have transitioned to Career 2.0 after a heck of a lot of fun in the military.

So what is it that I do? In favor of talking about a job, I prefer to acknowledge that I am working on a few projects. By definition, a job is a paid position of regular employment, while a project is an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim. Yes, I do enjoy full-time employment and am grateful for the opportunity. But I don’t view the time I am spending with them as a job. It’s an opportunity to spend time on projects about which I am extremely passionate. Projects that involve providing solutions to the outside world, maturing the team of which I am a part, and developing myself as a human being and leader. It’s that approach that gave me reason to refuse the urge to put a job title on my newly minted business cards.

Project RELEVANCE: At the tail end of my first career, I was especially deliberate about ensuring I was delivering value as an individual. I did not want others to see value in merely my rank or positional authority. I wanted them to see value in my experience and competence. More than that, I wanted them to appreciate the energy I brought into the room, the way I made them feel, and the example I was providing. Many people see their relevance disappear when their positional authority is no longer. My ongoing project is to ensure I give people reason to include me. To invite me in to help them solve problems and deliver value. Project Relevance morphs daily along with the problems to be solved alongside new teammates that only know me as who I am today and not who I used to be in Career 1.0. No positional authority…just me, my laptop, and my backpack; finding ways to be relevant and contribute to the world around me. 

Project TEAMBUILD: I am proud to acknowledge that I have zero direct reports. For the first time in a long time, no one works “for” me and I don’t have the authority to direct anyone to do anything. Those who knew me in Career 1.0 know that I was deliberate in my prepositions by pointing out that no one ever worked for me and that we all worked with each other. At the same time, I was directive as a last resort. Project Teambuild is all about helping the team I am on mature as we find ways to scale up excellence, codify how we work together, and ensure that we remain focused on outcomes all the while. 

Project SELF: With 31 years of wearing a uniform behind me and living in the heart of Silicon Valley, I was compelled to join a team that felt I could help make better and that I felt would make me better. I wanted to “embrace the ambiguity” that defined life in the start-up world. I wanted to solve new problems, think about new subjects, and immerse myself with people very different than me. Project Self is ensuring that I do all of that and more. I am not saying that by the end of Career 1.0 I was no longer growing as a person, but the rate of growth sure was diminishing. Project Self is all about ensuring that when I ultimately close this chapter with this team, I am a very different person than I am now. A person who can navigate the Silicon Valley as well as the Department of Defense. A person who can lead within a largely amorphous organization as well as I did in a bureaucratic one. And a person who is known for having something of value to add to just about any team.  

The opportunity to spend time on these very projects is the very reason I chose this “job.” That said, each of these projects extends well beyond my “job.” Jobs are often constraining. We get focused on meeting our key performance indicators, executing our specified tasks, and demonstrating competence in our very defined roles and responsibilities. If we are doing our job well, we will outgrow it in short order. On the other hand, taking on a variety of projects helps us deliver value once unimaginable, helps us grow in new ways, and ensures we partner with a variety of people along the way.

  • Are you constrained by your job?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • How are you ensuring “the you of tomorrow” will be even more capable than you are today?