From start to finish; lessons learned

Chief Master Sgt. Laura Klaczyk
(Courtesy photo)

Chief Master Sgt. Laura Klaczyk (Courtesy photo)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Today is Friday, March 13, 2015.  Today makes 23 years and three months since I arrived at basic military training to start my military service.  Today is also the day of my retirement ceremony, the symbolic end to my military career. 

As I look back at my time in the Air Force, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities I've had.  I've been allowed to support numerous important missions, travel to some wonderful and a few not so wonderful places and meet many fantastic people.  Along the way, I've also had the opportunity to learn many important lessons.  These lessons came from a variety of sources...some through formal education, some from mentors, some from peers, and many through experience--otherwise known as mistakes...or 'valuable life lessons'. 

As I reach the end of my military career, and prepare to depart my tenth assignment, I'd like to share 10 lessons that have stuck with me the most:

1. If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.        
This lesson was first imparted in basic training, and it's a valuable one.  If you learn all of the little things about your job and do them correctly, then big things like the mission, inspections, etc. tend to go well.  If you can't, or won't, do the little things properly, then you're probably going to miss the mark on big things too.

2. Either you're going to work for jerks of the jerks are going to work for you.            
As a young Airman, I had many peers that I respected and a few I didn't. I really dreaded the thought of some of those individuals getting promoted and becoming my supervisor.   Therefore, I always sought additional training and greater responsibility in hopes that I would put myself in a position where I didn't have to work for people who I didn't respect.  This drive pushed me forward throughout my career and, helped me to stay ahead of the jerks. 

3. If you're not thinking two stripes ahead, you're never going to make them.                 
I first heard this while attending Airman Leadership School, but the lesson didn't really set in until much later.  You must have a plan.  If you don't have a plan, you're not going anywhere.  Plans take time to execute, so if you're late coming up with a plan, you're more likely to be late in executing it.

4. Try to see the big picture and where you fit into it.                                                      
As an Airman, I was often frustrated by leadership decisions because the end result wasn't what I wanted.  As I moved up in rank, I was fortunate to have several supervisors that tried to explain the big picture concept.  Just because a decision is in your best interest, doesn't mean it's in the best interest of your flight, unit, or even the Air Force.  With military promotions, you will be forced to think more strategically instead of tactically, but keep in mind there is always a bigger picture to see.

5. The grass isn't always greener on the other side on the fence...it's just different.                                                                                                                                                         
I can't count the number of times I said, or thought, "I can't wait to PCS!  My next base, boss, or job will be so much better!"  And, quite often, I learned that the new base, boss, or job was better in some ways, but more difficult, more challenging, or less enjoyable in other ways.  So, I've learned that the next thing coming along may not always be better, but it will definitely be different.

6. Try to keep your boss' boss happy.                                                                    
This lesson really started to take root after I became a senior noncommissioned officer.  I realized if I could help make my boss look good to his boss, then my boss was happier with me.  What does this mean to you?  If you're working on a project, plan, proposal, etc., try to anticipate the questions you think your boss' boss will have.  If you can provide that info to your boss up front, he'll be better prepared when his boss has questions or concerns.

7. Pick your battles to win the war.                                                                                   
There are some battles that aren't worth fighting for and if you fight every battle, you begin to run out of resources; thereby making it harder to fight the important ones.  You must figure out which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren't, then fight the battles that are most important to the overall objective. 

8. Bloom where you're planted.                                                                          
The Air Force will plant you where they need you, whether that's at a specific location or in a different career field or in a certain job.  You need to take the opportunity to give it your best and bloom where the Air Force planted you.

9. Control the controllable.                                                                       
Often we spend a lot of time trying to impact things we have no control over.  Take care of the things you can control and stop wasting time worrying about things you can't.  In the interest of full disclosure, I still struggle with this one!

10. Sometimes you've got to ask for help.                                                         
Whether it's in your personal life or your professional life, you'll eventually reach a point, or multiple points, where you need help.  One thing about the Air Force and Airmen is that we're really good at helping others and solving problems.  But it's hard to do so if we're unaware that someone needs help.  Realizing you need help and asking for it is a sign of strength, not weakness.  Be strong and ask for help when you need it.