Why Veterans Should Check Their Assumptions as Their Career Grows

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(Department of Defense/Naoto Anazawa)

As you grow your civilian career -- whatever industry that’s in -- it’s important to challenge and check your assumptions periodically to ensure you’re staying focused, are growing in the direction that serves you best and are adding value to those you serve.

Here’s how this looks: On a recent call with a veteran who’s been in her civilian career for 10 years, she shared some concerns. “I should be a director by now. … My boss doesn’t appreciate me. … I’m not living up to my potential,” she said.

Let’s look at her assumptions:

‘I Should Be a Director by Now.’

Here, she shared that she’d had the “manager” title in her post-military jobs for more than 10 years. She believed she deserved an elevated title that reflected the time she’d spent in her jobs and would offer her more credibility as a professional. The challenge with this assumption is threefold:

1. Titles are earned on merit, level of influence and responsibility, and for other business reasons related to criteria the company determines. Not because you feel you deserve it.

2. She hadn’t been with the same company all those 10 years. Should her present employer feel obligated to advance her to a higher title because of the length of her time in the role?

3. Her level of responsibility had grown over the 10 years. Right after the military, she was a manager of a three-person team of sales professionals. Today, she manages over 45 technical professionals and oversees four critical projects. She’s not the same manager she was at the outset. Her work has increased, yet her title hasn’t.

Given all of this, you might agree with her that a director title is warranted. But in the company she works for, managers carry a lot of weight and influence. A title of director moves her into an executive leadership team for which she doesn’t have the experience or skills to handle.

In her case, being a manager in her company is prestigious and advantageous to her career. She needs to move past the assumption that her career will progress along a linear, predictable line, as it did in the military.

‘My Boss Doesn’t Appreciate Me.’

Does she know this for sure? Or is she assuming he doesn’t value her because he doesn’t offer consistent positive feedback, praise and input on her work the way she’s expecting it? The assumption here is that because she isn’t getting recognition, he doesn’t see her worth.

One way we challenged this assumption was by looking at her expectations. She thought she’d receive heaps of praise as she put in so much effort. Her company culture (and her boss) were of the belief that everyone works hard, and that sets the minimum expectation of performance.

Next, she expected to be celebrated for every milestone and accomplishment she’d achieved with her team. Again, her company saw these accomplishments as results to be expected. She worked in an environment and in a culture where the bar was set very high for praise.

Then, we challenged her assumption by reviewing her recent performance evaluations. In them, she’d consistently received 4/5 marks on her skill development, contribution to the team and viability to grow in the company. While she understood that receiving a “5” is extremely rare, she internalized that somehow she’d failed and was unappreciated.

Instead, we looked at the comments she’d received from her boss. Words like “contributor, high potential and collaborative,” were excellent signs from her manager. We focused on those, and the value attached.

‘I’m Not Living up to My Potential.’

This one was a personal assumption she’d made. She’d been taught to define success as “title, pay and influence,” and while her issue with title was now managed, the pay and influence part needed work. Reframing the expectation and assumption, setting new goals and aspirations, and reminding herself that her post-military career is only 10 years in helped her see that she’d just gotten started in fulfilling her potential.

By challenging assumptions, you test your ideas, theories and beliefs to ensure they’re accurate, grounded and that they’re serving you well. To hold on to assumptions that are unrealistic, false and detrimental to your career can cause frustration, confusion and disappointment as you move forward in your life and career.

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