Reflections on a career

  • Published
  • By Col. Sharon Hunter
  • 97th Medical Group
 I didn't join the Air Force with the goal of becoming a colonel, a commander, or even making the Air Force a career. But somehow, by the grace of God, a little hard work and the support of many people, here I am, approaching retirement after 25 years in the Air Force. As a result, I find myself reflecting on what I did right and what I did wrong, and thought I'd share some advice with those who continue to serve.

Embrace the core values of our great organization as they're simple, but important rules of conduct that must direct our personal and professional behavior. Add the Golden Rule - treat others as you want to be treated - and you can't go wrong.

Understand the organization you've joined -- the AF, your wing, group and squadron; your career field. Learn the mission of your organization and know where you fit and how you contribute to the mission. Seek out experts in your field, seek out peers and develop a professional network.

You'll never get anywhere if you don't try. As the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. While a goal that may seem overwhelming and unachievable - a certain job, a promotion, or a project - when broken into small steps, is attainable. Those small successes also give you the confidence to take on even larger challenges later in your career.

Always be preparing for the next opportunity even if you don't know what it is. That doesn't mean that you focus on your next job instead of your current one. Focus on your current responsibilities and take away as much as you can from the experience. By seeking to improve yourself and your performance in your current position, greater opportunities will open up to you.

Don't focus on the "bullet." I don't know how many times I've heard people say they're doing something for an Officer Performance Report, Enlisted Performance Report, award package bullet, or I've heard people enticing their subordinates by promising them "a bullet" for taking on an additional duty. That's the absolute wrong reason to do anything. Do your job; do your job well, and get involved because it's the right thing to do.

Never turn down an opportunity to grow. Saying no to a challenge is often the easy way out. Stretching your personal and professional limits provides developmental opportunities that will prepare you for future responsibilities. Remember, you really can't grow professionally by staying in your comfort zone.

Never underestimate your ability to influence others. Make sure yours is a positive influence. Take the time to share your knowledge and experience. In his book Winning, Jack Welch says: "When you were made a leader you weren't given a crown, you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others." Give your subordinates what they need to be successful and always remember that as you rise in rank, your scope of responsibilities increases and your job gets harder, not easier.

Never stop learning. Don't think you know all there is to know, or even assume that you have to know everything. Keep an open mind and a sincere willingness to learn and improve. Realize you can learn from many different people in different levels of the organization and in many different settings.

Maintain the long view. It's understood that we work to improve things in the short term by the nature of our assignment cycles, but also remember to look to the future and work to make things better for those who follow you. Leave behind a work center that is better and more capable. That is the true meaning of success.

While these suggestions may not lead to the fulfillment of all of your professional goals, they will hopefully result in a stronger work center, a better unit, and a far more capable Air Force.