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I’ll Tell you How I Ended Up Here

(Civilian Career Advice for West Point Women)

Hallelujah, I am finally in a position to dish out valuable civilian career advice. I shouldn’t be surprised, especially after serving as an AG officer, focused on career management for aviators. I enjoyed helping people select jobs to be on the best path for their success and fulfilment. Even more, in my last Army year, I loved being that person who could phone DA and hook my friends up with coveted jobs. My network was finally working, and it felt amazing to have that kind of influence.

Today, nearly eight years after leaving active duty, my military friends still seek my advice on issues like getting passed over for a promotion, enduring an inept chain of command while deployed, where to post, interpreting OERs, etc. I relish these moments, when I can put my AG hat back on and help improve the quality of someone’s career. It doesn’t happen so much in the civilian world…not yet… fingers crossed that it will…

Most West Pointers possess an innate desire to lead, mentor and inspire. Nothing brought me closer to this than my experience as a Beast Counselor. I was in my full glory, nurturing new cadets. It didn’t matter that I spent two details in one of the hottest summers at West Point, where much of the nearby forest was on fire. I felt privileged to serve in this capacity.

Corporations (besides not being people) don’t have a structured leadership path like West Point and the Army, where we are guaranteed opportunities to lead and influence. Most of the time, it’s all about the bottom line – generating a profit. As new civilians, we’re on our own in figuring out how to continue making a difference in people’s lives, on top of selecting the appropriate health insurance coverage, let alone what job to pick, where to live, and most importantly – What am I going to wear?!?

In many respects, starting a civilian career post military is worse than being a new cadet. No one is required to take care of you. No one is responsible for making sure that you don’t fail. And we embark on this new journey with much higher expectations than our non-veteran counterparts, yet are utterly clueless on how to make the right choices that will allow us to live up to our ridiculous expectations.

Hello depression…have we met?

When I made this transition, I needed support from my West Point and Army communities more than ever. But besides an encouraging, “They have to hire you; you’re so smart and talented,” they couldn’t offer anything truly constructive. I was chartering new waters, literally more unprepared than when I invaded Iraq in 2003 with the 3d Infantry Division. Back then I was a highly untrained First Lieutenant with a faux bullet-proof vest, the civilian equivalent of attending a job interview in my underwear.

And just like Iraq, I was a mess in how I searched for, found, landed and performed in my first civilian job – only I didn’t have NCOs to save me from myself. So I gave up. And tried again. And again. And again. And again. And again. That’s a lot of jobs in 8 years, which also means even more job searches and interviews. My trial and error method at finding corporate bliss (I mean, tolerance) has inadvertently made me quite the expert at navigating such a complicated, intimidating, nerve-wracking obstacle. It’s felt like taking the IOCT all over again, and the stress alone can be just as carcinogenic as the asbestos that made our lungs burn when we crossed the finish line.

In no way have I crossed the proverbial finish line of Corporate America. And the way this economy is going, I fear that I will never retire. But I finally have a job that I am really proud of, one that I was actually recruited into.

So if there is any way that I can help you, please contact me. I want this forum to open a dialogue, where we can share our unique struggles and triumphs in this crazy journey we call life. Stay tuned for more postings of my wacky corporate adventures. And don’t do what I did!

About the author

Laura Westley, aka, the War Virgin, hails from New Port Richey, Florida and graduated from West Point in 2001 with a degree in Chemistry and a minor in Nuclear Engineering. She commissioned as an officer in the US Army Adjutant’s General Corps and was assigned to the Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Savannah, Georgia. On March 21, 2003, Laura and her unit were a part of the initial Iraq invasion.