The best career advice I ever received was from a coworker at a deployed location when I was contemplating how to prepare an evaluation on my performance.
It was 2014, and I was the first female pilot in this particular office. I felt like Veronica Corningstone from “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”. Guys were upset they had to professionalize their behavior and work around a woman. I was definitely the outsider and the unwelcomed one. Some things were sabotaged for me, other times I was blocked from information I needed. To be honest, the movie “Anchorman” does a great job of satirizing what is really not far from reality. The ‘bro network’ was real in that office and I worked hard to not only overcome it but to show my peers we could all still be fun and professional while getting the job done. The end of my tour was nearing, however, and it was time for my evaluation.
We aren’t really supposed to “draft” our own evaluations, but the reality is that no one knows or cares about our careers like we do (which feels icky to say but is reality of the hyper-competitive “up or out” construct of the DoD). I had been working on my own draft and reached the last line, the line that stratified me against my peers. I put my customary space block in the line “#X/XX officers” when my peer looked over at my computer and asked “Jenn, why are you putting a space holder there? Put ‘#1/12 Officers’ and make the colonel tell you why you AREN’T #1. You work your butt off here, why should you be anything less than #1?”
His advice was eye opening for me. I had been working my tail end off, feeling like I had to prove that I belonged and that I could do the hard work. I came in early every day and left late, I was a confidant to the deputy and always a voice of reason when things went sideways – and he recognized it! But I still could not accept that I was “worthy” or had worked hard enough to compete with the fighter pilots in the office (the same ones that had been sabotaging me and blocking me even). I realize now I was experiencing “Imposter Syndrome”- a perception of low self value despite high achievement. But as a woman in the military, I was experiencing what many of us do, that “there was more exected of me in order to gain acceptance and respect” General Ann Dunwoody (US Army, Ret.), A Higher Standard.
I took a big gulp and boldly put “#1/12 Officers” as my friend and colleague advised, saved the document, and sent it up through my chain of command. “There is no way he will keep this on as my strat”, I thought to myself, “not with all the guys I have to compete with and the ‘bro network’ that is so firmly established here.” I was selling myself short and really preparing myself for what I thought was inevitable disappointment.
Boy was a wrong and surprised. My evaluation came back as I had written it, and in my outbrief, the Colonel gave me credit and feedback on all kinds of things he had noticed me doing that he never had the opportunity to fully recognize me for.
I learned a valuable lesson from that deployment and from my friend. Be Bold and demand, if not expect, the recognition you deserve for what you have done. Too many of us shrink from recognition, or think we don’t deserve it. It’s okay to ask “why am I not the #1 person here?” as long as you are ready to hear the reasons why and put in the work to fix it. Have courage and confidence in yourself and your efforts. Even in the most challenging of jobs, you deserve to be there and to be recognized for what you do.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not of any institution.
#befierce #bethechange #womenincombat #womanpilot #AirForce #impostersyndrome #diversity #leadership