As I started writing this I was 39,000 feet over the Black Sea (I couldn’t see it of course, Europe being covered in clouds), having just flown from Amsterdam, to Germany, over Hungary, and Romania, among others. The flight path was over the far edge of Turkey and then down the Iraq/Iran border but on the Iran side! That’s weird, but necessary because of the things happening in Syria that are one of the concerns facing our military as they wait for governments to decide how to respond.
I was on my way to teach transitioning service members about entrepreneurship and business ownership. About taking ideas and making them into viable businesses, about networks, and teams, and more. I taught with a colleague I’d never met, and who was as focused as I am on providing the resources and knowledge, the motivation and confidence, and the connections, who can help make their aspirations achievable.
The last time I was over Europe was to go to Israel to work with government and NGOs on how to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities into their society, into careers or jobs, into communities. I flew over Ankara, Turkey, a place other Air Force colleagues I earlier served with lived and worked. Landed in Abu Dhabi, then on to Bahrain – places I never dreamt of going when I was growing up in Iowa, but where we have military members deployed and who are thinking about what’s next post-service.
I paid for an upgrade in Euros (a currency that didn’t exist when I lived and worked in Spain while I was in the Air Force), plus a few thousand frequent flier miles, and turned over just more than 125,000 flying miles last year. I’ve worked with veterans this year in Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio, Washington, DC, NYC, LA, and Syracuse, among others. I just wrapped up our Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship conference for nearly 200 women entrepreneurs in New Orleans. On the horizon this year, already, Boston, again DC, Kansas City, and with my team, over 175 other locations across the nation, and dozens internationally. At each place I’ve learned from others, and hope I’ve shared information that helped people make informed decisions about what was next.
I had no idea when I left Iowa to join the Air Force where my life would take me, I only knew I wanted more, and different, than Iowa. I didn’t even know what was out there beyond Iowa, not really. I had no idea I could succeed in college, let alone a highly ranked law school, or where those educational experiences could take me. And that’s the issue for our current veterans. So many of them knew (and know) no more than I did when I joined the service. Many learned during service what their life course would hold, but others didn’t and turn to us now to discern what’s next, to help them paint their pictures by supplying the colors, sharing the accents, and encouraging them to dream really big dreams!
And that’s the obligation that we veterans who have transitioned have to the newest veterans – to share what we know now, to motivate and inform, to open doors and opportunities. We, and especially those of us working with veterans, their families, and communities, have an obligation that requires breadth and depth of thought, followed by action. To make them aware of the opportunities for their lives, to help them access the opportunities, and to have good lives. I’ve been out of the service for over 20 years, and along the way met many other veterans who inspired me, shared their paths, showed me what was possible. I owe a debt to them and I’m paying it forward through my work. What an amazing opportunity I have to give back.
So, tell me in comments what you learned from someone else that moved your post-service life forward? What’s the wisdom you’re ready to pass on? Where can they go to school? What should they study to attain their goals? Where should they live and work? What industry is ready for military, veteran and family member talent? How do we put these talented people into the roles that will benefit our economic competitiveness and build their lives? What’s your story?
A version of this post earlier appeared at http://www.jamesschmeling.com/veterans-pay-it-forward/