Sunday, August 11, 2013

Don't Panic: Life After Highlander

I had a bit of a freak-out the other day. Now, most people who know me know that me "freaking out" involves about as much dysfunction and stress as most people experience while on vacation, but it's still upsetting. So, what's going on? It's really quite simple: I'm nervous about post-graduation employment.

Should I be nervous? Probably not. For one thing, it's early, and I only just started looking for work about a month ago. My buddy David the Recruiter informs me that August is the low point for recruiting, and that he expects that I'll have something lined up no later than December. That's great encouragement. I've also identified a number of different companies outside my own to apply with (just to cover my bases - you can never be too careful), and I've got a couple of "safety" options as well. It's unlikely that I won't be able to find something to do, and proceed accordingly.

So, why am I so nervous?

I was thinking about this on the bus a couple of days ago, and I realized that for the first time since late 2010 - going on three whole years - my trajectory for the immediate future is in question. I have spreadsheets and budgets and timelines for Operation Highlander that date back to Spring of 2010, and those were derived from other spreadsheets for other projects that date back even further than that. For me to have reached the point at which Highlander is almost over, and not have a solid idea of where I'll be going or what I'll be doing when it's done, is a major departure for me, so it's really no wonder I'm getting nervous. And I'm in a tough position because time that I'd otherwise be using to develop several different contingency plans is instead being used to write my dissertation. In that sense, it reminds me to something I read recently:
Preceding military commanders and civilian officials had sought to facilitate transition by assigning greater responsibility to Afghans. The Marines concluded that the enemy was too strong and the Afghan government too weak to permit a successful transition under these conditions. Instead, they decided to take the lead in security operations in order to set the conditions for ultimate success. By reducing violence and permitting government officials freedom of movement, they put the government on a viable path to sustainable transition. This shift in approach mirrored the shift in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, when initial efforts to transition responsibility to Iraqis failed so spectacularly that the Americans chose to retake the lead in security until the situation stabilized. In both instances, a de-emphasis on transition actually improved the prospects for transition and shortened the amount of time required for a successful handover.
While I'm certainly not comparing myself to the Marines' campaign against the Taliban, the point I'm getting at is that the best thing I can do at this point is to work hard on my dissertation in order to finish the program out strong, which should hopefully facilitate my subsequent push to find gainful employment. I may take a few hours over the course of several days in order to start some serious planning, but as we're now a third of the way through August, I really need to keep putting some serious work into finishing and refining my dissertation so that it's graded well and gets me the First that I've been gunning for all along.

Years and years of working alongside the military have made me fond of a number of mantras, among these being "the only easy day was yesterday", "it pays to be a winner", and "challenge, endure, conquer". A lot of people probably think these are just slogans or catch-phrases, but they've become a cornerstone of my personal philosophy. In addition to "don't panic" and "keep calm and carry on", one of my own personal mottos has become "keep fighting" - in fact, during my Unst geocaching adventure, the difference between giving up and charging forward was telling myself to "keep fighting". When you think about it, this is just another one of those situations. So, my duties are clear: 1) slaughter my dissertation, 2) plan for the short term, 3) plan contingencies for the long term. Bam. Nailed it.

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