Many of us are carrying a two-edged sword. We can either choose to fall on that sword and give up, or we can choose to wield the sword properly, both for offensive and defensive purposes. What the hell am I talking about, right? Just stick with me for a moment.
On one edge of the sword is being part of the “millennial” generation (born between 1977 and 1995). This generation is often perceived as unprepared, selfish, lazy, materialistic, feeling a sense of entitlement, unwilling to conform, and less willing to put in work. Some even say that we're way too concerned about “keeping it real,” and that we should worry more about how to craft an acceptable work persona instead.
On the other edge of the sword is our status as veterans of the military. Because of this, many people in the civilian world may view us as rigid, prideful, mentally instable, plagued by post-traumatic stress, unable to adjust to life outside of the uniform, lacking in creativity, and unable to think outside the box.
When I read negative perceptions like the examples above, all I can think is, “Man, that's messed up.” And it really is. Nothing could be further from the truth about us as a group overall. The proper perception is that we're extremely driven, opportunistic, and have a strong conviction that our efforts should come with a harvest. One perception I do believe is true though, is that in general, we will not readily conform to the status quo. That said, there is obviously no shield to protect us from negative perceptions and stereotypes. That means that we must wisely and skillfully wield the double-edged sword that we are all carrying, to defend our credibility and strike back with facts and truths of advantage. Here are some strategies, tactics and techniques.
We know that, in combat, defense is paramount. Many of you already have a strong base, or foundation for defense. Remain patient, and prepare to show your resilience. Get in tune with your environment, decreasing the likelihood that you’ll overlook a crucial opportunity. Take your time thinking and analyzing, but don’t hesitate when you need to take action. When networking and interviewing, try to listen a lot more than you speak. Know when to step forward, when to stand firm, and when to take a step back during negotiations. Study your targets, so that you can plan for every possible outcome. Always draw from your strengths. If a weakness happens to get exposed, then have a positively-framed rebuttal ready. Stay focused on your primary goals, and you will not get blindsided or tricked into shifting your vision. And lastly, don’t be afraid to get hit — in this context, don’t be scared to make a mistake. Fear will ruin you before you even get started.
On the offense, place and hold a firm grip on your morals, values, beliefs, and goals. With a firm grip, you will throw much more effective strikes. Know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Seek out and ask for opportunity, then go execute with precision. Emphasize your life experience in situations where you might not have the desired amount of industry experience. Be bold and take risks (something I believe that millennials and vets already specialize in).
For instance, if you read a job description that you don’t necessarily meet all the requirements for, but you really want the job and know that you have the wherewithal to perform it with excellence, then go and get it. Find ways to demonstrate your creativity and ability to think outside the box. You can start a blog, launch a podcast, host some sort of relevant event, or identify a problem within your organization and pitch a solution. Make sure you’re out networking when you’re able to. The more folks get to know you, the more they’ll speak and vouch for you when needed. Finally, ask for letters of recommendation and written critiques from time to time, even if not from a supervisor or manager above you. Peer reviews are awesome to collect as well. These periodic checkups will let you know how you’re being perceived, and provide a document trail for you to track your progression.
Being a millennial military veteran is a critical competitive advantage, but only if you communicate it as such. Let nothing misrepresent you personally, or us as millennial vets collectively. Let your unique value be known, while also latching on to key shared attributes of our community. Let’s wisely and skillfully wield our double-edged sword unanimously.