During targeted operations overseas, there were veterans who didn't hesitate at the thought of charging into a building and rooting out a terrorist. Back here at home, some of these same vets are fearful of walking into a room and starting a simple conversation with someone that they don't know. Doesn't that sound ridiculous?
The difference between charging into a building in Iraq and walking into a room full of people back here at home boils down to one thing: preparation. For the most part, you were adequately prepared and equipped to conduct targeted operations when you deployed. You trained for months on how to do your job. You could have done it in your sleep. You were, almost, looking for some action so you could finally put your training to use. When the moment of truth came and you had to charge into that building or protect your buddy's back, you did it with confidence and without hesitation.
When you leave the military, no one adequately prepares you for this transition. It's a weird feeling to be back in the most familiar place on earth, your hometown, but feel like you no longer belong. Your family and friends are still exactly the same as when you left, but you have changed. You see everything and everyone differently now. It takes some getting used to.
This awkward feeling erodes your confidence, and you're no longer sure how to interact with anyone. All of a sudden, the hard-charging warrior who stormed into buildings dragging out terrorists hesitates at the thought of interacting with others and vying for a job. Why? It's really just a lack of preparation.
Here's another example. Think back to a mission when you had a complete understanding of where you were going, what you were doing, and how to get out of there. Wherever it was, I'm sure there was still a little pucker factor, but you also had a warm and fuzzy feeling because you were prepared and you knew exactly what you had to do. Now think back to a mission when you were not familiar with the area, couldn't really visualize how the mission was going to play out, and didn't have a clear understanding of how to retrograde back to base. (There are probably too many of these missions to choose from, so pick just one.) I bet you were a little anxious, perhaps even a little hesitant to take action during that mission. It's because you didn't adequately prepare.
Now think about a time when you showed up early to a class or an event when there were a few other people already in the room. When you entered, you were faced with the momentary awkwardness of deciding whether to introduce yourself to someone or sit down in silence alone. What did you do? Did any of these thoughts cross your mind?
- Is it appropriate for me to just walk up and introduce myself? I don't want to interrupt or intrude on their conversation.
- Should I introduce myself to the professor or speaker? I don't want to be seen as a brownnoser.
- What if I'm the new guy and everyone else already knows each other?
- If I do walk up to them, what do I say? How do I break the ice?
If you've had these thoughts, you're not alone. Most people, particularly veterans, aren't sure what to do in these types of social situations. When you're not familiar with the simple techniques of effective networking, you naturally tend to stay within your comfort zone, and as a result, you hesitate. Through preparation, practice, and a little humility, you will be able to have better control of the situation and the conversation, reducing anxiety and achieving the results that you want.
Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York. He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.