It’s not just a job…


…Its an adventure

Many years ago that was the recruiting slogan for the US Navy.

However, it was said in a much more sarcastic way by sailors than in the recruiting commercials. I think all good slogans share such a thing in common. They have a catchy little ring to the innocent and a much sharper message to the insiders. I have a fond memory of a combative psych patient being restrained at a specific facility, and after being kicked, called names, threatened to be sued, and even spit on the officer just tightened the humanitarian restraint and with a sarcastic tone said “the way people should be treated…” which at the time was part of the institution’s slogan. (The full slogan left out as it names the agency, and in keeping with standards on libel and slander laws, no names are ever mentioned here.)

Today though, at a time when I have a lot of work to do, from preparing lectures for my new part-time teaching job, finishing up my conference presentation (which is more than ½ done so it feels like I have all the time in the world), and reviewing some information I have not used in a while for my new full-time clinical job that starts Monday, I spent a few days remising about both good jobs and bad ones I have had.

Those of you following along will understand that after my last job, which has now won the title of worst institution I have ever worked for in my life” overtaking an agency that I once worked for more than a decade ago that I thought could never be usurped from the number 1 spot, for such incidents like claiming I was driving too slow in the fog with zero visibility (so much for a culture of safety first!). What can I say, I am not always right…

Over the years as I have traveled far and worked in a variety of positions and have decided my employment is more like an adventure than a job. The more I think about it, the more I don’t like jobs. Jobs don’t really contribute much to a person. They seem to be something of a trade of time for money. “positions”, careers, consulting, on the other hand, seem more like an adventure. They provide both satisfaction as well as personal growth, and a pay cheque. (Americans please note the difference between a check and a cheque.)

Having spent time as both part of the rank and file as well as management and directional committees, I have read a fair few articles on what makes a great boss, a great place to work, why people quit jobs, and how to be a good manager. My own philosophy on being a good boss is similar to my philosophy on being a teacher. I simply remember all of the really bad ones I have had and make every effort not to be like that…

Here are a couple of articles I think have spoken a lot of wisdom over the years.

I think the worst bosses are ones who are narcissistic. In addition to constantly having to make sure you don’t inadvertently insult their egos, which are often far in excess of their knowledge, you have to always appear to know less than them and extoll their superiority. It makes for a lot of long days at work.
One of the most important distinctions I think people need to understand in both military as well as paramilitary organizations is the difference between a “superior” and a higher ranking one. Despite the idea they should be one in the same, I have discovered they are totally independent concepts. Achieving a higher rank is best done by checking off boxes and mastering a system. This is in contrast to a “superior” who is generally so good at what they do, that people are compelled to follow them and be a part of their team out of both respect for their ability and the desire to share a part of their success. All of the good leaders or “superiors” I have worked for never had to tell people they were in charge, higher rank, or senior. It has only been the bad ones who were constantly reminding everyone they were “senior” or “the boss.”


Another highly spoken of idea of good bosses is that they know they are not great at everything they are responsible for, so they surround themselves with great people and let them be good at what they do.

It has just occurred to me that 2 of the best bosses I ever had were named “John” and I am finding a strange amusement in thinking “I really like to work for Johns.”

But today I have 2 new bosses, neither of which are named “John”, but both of which have already demonstrated to espouse the characteristics of great bosses. When I am around them, their greatness is obvious, they do things like focus on where they want to go, not what they have already accomplished. They are measuring themselves based on perfection, not on what they did yesterday. This matches my personality very well. They also expressed that what will make me a great part of their team is my uniqueness, not my “conformity” and the point of my employ is to help them be the best.

As anyone can imagine, after the disaster that was my last job, that could basically be an instruction manual on how not to be a boss, treat employees, or run an organization, I was very apprehensive during the interview and onboarding processes. The new bosses actually sat down with me and discussed and planned how my new employment would move my goals forward, meet my expectations, actually plan out how we would go about it and made a realistic plan to make sure we would be mutually beneficial to each other. They even assigned people to me to make sure everything I had to do or needed would be done in a timely and efficient manner. That was the exact same thing my boss in Afghanistan, who was another one of my “best bosses in history” award winners, did. Although admittedly the new guys didn’t send a car for me or neglect to tell me I would be on the receiving end of rocket artillery every day.

What can I say, I like the feeling of being treated like somebody capable and valuable, and I am excited to be treated that way again…

Over the weekend as I was pondering this, I happened across an article that I think summed up my view on working, jobs, and careers very well. Often I can identify concepts, but don’t put it to words very well. So when I see things that say exactly what I think very well, I really appreciate them.

Take a few minutes to read “The Olympic mentality”

I can trace my induction to this mindset to the first day of my “work/career”, I will keep him anonymous, but the first thing he said to me was “you can have anything you want as long as you work for it…” Over the 4 or so years I worked with him, he said this to me ad nauseum, particularly when things were not going my way or I suffered a major setback. The lesson learned was simple, no matter what happens, keep working towards the goal. On many days, his reminding me of this did not improve my mood, but I have become real good at the practice, and have come to see the wisdom in it.

Another early mentor of mine, whose skill at everything he did is legendary, particularly in card games, board games, and ping pong, would often temper my celebration of coming close to beating him in constant friendly competitions that made us both better, “Shmert (his name for me), finish this phrase: If you didn’t win, then you…” The answer of which is “Lost…” There is no second place.

About the same time, in fear for my life from the constant harassment and bullying I received at school, which was if not directly supported but “overlooked” by the school authorities I enrolled in martial arts training. In order to avoid controversy or invite combat challenges, the name of the art is unimportant, but suffice to say its emphasis was being the last man standing. While beneficial, the sparing practice could sometimes be overwhelming. Full contact, simulated weapons, opponents of superior skill, multiple opponents at once, and a few occasions where I woke up with people standing in a circle around me and the sensei, a true master, telling me I was not hurt and to get right back up and try again. This physical training was coupled with martial philosophy of all types, from “The art of war”, “On War”, “The Five Rings”, and a host of other titles.

Life at school was a constant maneuvering of trying to avoid physical altercations with people much larger and physically capable than me, while expecting absolutely no help or support from the school staff. In fact, I could always expect them to not only support the aggressor, but I could expect to be the one punished for resisting.

Between the the constant pushing for excellence at work, the physical and philosophical training, and every day practical application of it all, my last physical altercation of my high school life was won decisively on all fronts. Not only was I physically the last man standing, or even capable of standing, as the obvious defender as witnessed by bystanders, it was up to me to decide whether or not to press legal charges on the aggressor. Even the School authorities had no case with which to punish me after, though they did make multiple attempts with various “charges” all of which were gross misuse of established rules, they were ultimately found without merit.

I make mention of this, not to boast about winning a fight more than 20 years ago, but to illustrate how the culmination of lessons learned in my early career and about martial arts support each other in developing a winning or “Olympic” mentality in a non-competitive athletic endeavor . The Art of War is not just a military philosophy, it is a philosophy for all of life.

All of this is related to me currently in that as described in the Olympic mentality, I like to be treated as a champion. I think it is a weakness, but as described, it is true. As I have said, calling somebody “doctor” does not confer respect, titles are largely hollow. It is the recognition of capability, dedication to excellence, and hard work that confers respect. Without respect, no team, corporation, or medical department can be world class or even mediocre.

Another thing that came across my page recently that reaffirmed to me how greatness comes about came from another of my martial arts senseis. It has to do with what it takes to be great that I have recognized during my recent orientations missing in poor employers, the idea that anything is possible. Here is the quote from a man whose humility greatly hides his ability:

“The “beginner’s mind” (Shoshin, 初心) of Zen. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Once you believe that you are an ‘expert’, you stop learning, and this small-mindedness is contrary and counterproductive to the immenseness of Nihon Budō (Japan’s Martial Way).”

I am excited to start working in agencies that have demonstrated they share a similar mentality and commitment to excellence and being the best. I like the idea of being around people who do not simply claim greatness, but actually live it. I like the idea of working in a place that is not just a job, but an adventure. I like the default assumption of my team to be respect and inclusion. I like the recognition that diversity is more valuable than conformity.

Speaking of which, I think my next post will be on diversity. But this is the madness going through my mind today. For now I must go and face the challenge of supervising toddlers playing after school.