What does it take to “grow where you are planted”?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Steve Johnson, Commander
  • Commander, 97th Operations Support Squadron
A good friend of mine's favorite bit of professional advice is always, "grow where you are planted." I heard him speak at a recent function and right on cue, there it was. On the surface, the meaning of the phrase seems very obvious - do well in whatever job you are put in. But as my mind wandered for the rest of his talk, I realized it is actually the perfect metaphor for what it takes for a successful career in our Air Force.

What do plants need to survive? The typical things required by most plants are soil, water, and sunlight. You could get into detailed agronomy of it, but those are the basics.
The soil provides the foundation for a plant. It is the medium for the roots to take hold and firmly anchor itself into the earth, much the same way our basic personal beliefs and Air Force core values provide the anchor for our personal and professional lives. Our soil even influences our personalities and attitudes which bleed over into how we perform our duties every day. It is the basis of who we are and how we view the world around us. If the soil is not the right basic composition then there is no chance the plant will thrive.

You will never get plants to grow unless you water them on a regular basis. While seeds may germinate and establish their roots with an initial heavy rain, if you don't continue to water them, they will wither and die. The need for regular watering is much like how we establish our skills through training and education. The requirement for extra water during the germination period is our initial technical training when we first came into the Air Force. However, it is the continuous honing of our skills that increases our effectiveness. The additional "watering" can be accomplished through venues such as: formal upgrade training, college courses and professional military education, just to name a few.

The last mandatory ingredient for a plant to grow is sunlight. It is needed for chemical reactions to take place within the plant to promote growth. What powers us through our daily activities and helps us achieve our goals? It really varies from person to person. For some people it may be the encouragement from their friends and families, while others may gain strength through spiritual expression or camaraderie with their coworkers. It can take numerous forms, but we all receive our power from some source and have to harness it to grow.

Then there are ingredients that may not be required for a plant to grow at a normal rate, but are needed for it take off quickly and win the blue ribbon at the state fair for being the best in class. Usually it is some type of fertilizer that is applied to the plant at just the right stage of growth, becoming the catalyst for this amazing transformation. Fertilizer can take numerous forms, many less savory than others, but most are beneficial. Just think of some of the opportunities that were given to you by a supervisor. At the time you may have not wanted the additional responsibility, or it may have seemed like an insurmountable task. In the end, what you gained was the benefit of experience and added confidence to take with you for the rest of your career and continue to build upon for further growth.

Another form of fertilizer that can cause amazing growth in an Air Force career is being a mentor to someone, or reaching out to a mentor. The advice and guidance a mentor can provide may be extremely valuable for helping someone survive harsh growing conditions that may challenge us either personally or professionally.

So grow wherever the Air Force plants you and use what fertilizer you are given. Don't just seek out the ingredients for basic survival, but search for those opportunities and gain experiences to grow into an outstanding Airman that is truly worthy of the blue ribbon at the state fair for being the best at what you do.