In ancient Greece the laurel wreath was awarded to the victors of the Pythian Games and was a symbol of status and victory. We have Nobel ‘Laureats’, the name stemming from the same Greek myth which tells of the God Apollo who approached his love, a nymph named Daphne, and as he neared her, she was turned into a Bay tree (yes, the same Bay leaves in your spice cabinet). The heart-broken Apollo took the tree and cut from it a wreath of the leaves and declared it sacred. It is from this ancient myth that springs the common term, “Don’t rest on your laurels” or in other words, don’t get over satisfied with your past achievements and dismiss future efforts.
As we navigate our way through the military, we naturally start to see what our fellow soldiers look to as an order of merit or sometimes called military “bling”. The structure of the military is such that we wear our resume, literally, on our sleeves and pockets. Although there is nothing innately wrong with this, it does have its down side. If you suffer from a bloated ego due to the amount of “bling” on your uniform, the truth is that one day you will take it off, hang it up, and dress for a job that doesn’t allow you to place your accomplishments front-and-center.
I remember the day I graduated from Ranger School, the Army’s premier leadership school, which is 62 day’s of sleep and food deprivation while being required to execute leadership roles under a great deal of pressure. I couldn’t wait for a few things upon receiving my newly minted “Ranger Tab”, most notably food, sleep and to show up to work with my new tab on my shoulder.
After I was well fed and well rested, I had some time to reflect on what I had just experienced. What I found is something that can be applied to many of our achievements in and out of the Army. The truth is, where the real value lies is in the struggle involved in obtaining our awards, degrees, and various accolades, rather than the end state they yield. The saying “becoming is better than being” shows that proving to others how good you are is at the expense of getting better. Now, awards and degrees and various achievements are signals to those we encounter that we have the capacity to get through what is required for that accomplishment. But we, me included, tend to rest on our laurels.
When transitioning service members find themselves in front of hiring managers, most employers do not know what our military achievements entailed or even mean. It is up to us to create a narrative that encompasses our struggle and how we value process-goals more than achievement-goals. No matter what you achieved while in the service, it is our passion for stretching ourselves and putting our heads down when times are tough that has been termed “the growth mindset” by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Every service member has realized this perhaps even if it has been at different degrees. My awards, my combat time and “bling” do mean something to me as they represent a wonderful time in my life. However, it is the mechanism of being refined through the different challenges the military provides that makes us who we are and why we can and will be a value added member of an organization.
So go find a Bay tree, cut some laurels, but don’t forget that the real value is in finding the tree and cutting the leaves not the wreath that comes from it.