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  • Writer's picturejen saraceno

The American Butterfly Chronicles Presents: Leadership 101--Listen to your own advice

In the past several years I have had the opportunity to mentor a number of people--civilian and military--providing advice on careers and life paths. During many of these conversations I recall recommending…”follow your gut, follow your instincts, follow what your heart and soul is telling you to do. Do the things that make you happy. Find your purpose and live it.”

And if they were trying to make an “either/or” choice….now more than ever, I find myself telling them to follow their passion or what feels right to them…and not what some senior mentor is telling them to do. Maybe I give this last piece of advice because one of my senior mentors did the same for me, “Flash, whatever decision you make will be right for you.”

But sometimes that line can blur. Sometimes, despite the pull of other feelings and forces, we also feel the desire to venture down a path because someone else believes it is our calling, or we’re told by another that we’ll be good at it and we need someone like you doing “xyz”…the voices outside of us are stronger than those on the inside. Other times WE feel we need to embark on a journey because we believe we need another challenge…our mind asks us…”so, you just finished this big thing…what’s next girlfriend?! How can you prove to yourself again that you can do anything?!”

Maybe you see yourself or a younger version of you in what I described above. In all honesty, I have been a mix of all the things!

Several years ago, after a few huge accomplishments—graduated detachment commander, graduated Air Command and Staff College with my second Masters Degrees, graduated School of Advanced Air and Space Studies with a third Master’s Degree, and finally selected for squadron command…as if it wasn’t all enough, I signed up to take the last degree I earned and turn it into an “All But Dissertation” in pursuit of a PhD.

Immediately after accepting that challenge, I went on to serve in a number of high-speed jobs with another year of school, a few years on the Joint Staff, and another command opportunity sprinkled on top. My dissertation advisors changed. I changed topics. My passion for pursuing the PhD waned. I could not longer explain to myself or others why I really wanted a PhD. I was growing as an individual—new priorities, new interests. Personal priorities shifted--some by choice, some circumstantial. My stress levels rose as I accepted increased responsibilities and tackled challenges. Sleep suffered. My body was maxed out. I hunkered down a little bit like a hermit. I was not pursing my passions, not living the life I wanted to live, and I finally realized that life is too damn fucking short to be doing something that does not spark a fire in my belly…I was on the verge of burning out…again. And for what?

I was thankfully able to take a two-week hiatus from work—while my leave was scheduled long before I hit the wall, it was as if it was perfectly timed! Could not have planned it if I tried. The time off was a blessing. The brain fog dissipated, stress levels dropped, weird pains in my body disappeared (well, most have!). I spent time resting. Thinking. Journaling. Being. Doing things with some of the people I love.

While I returned to work refreshed, the time off allowed the gut instincts I buried deep for the last couple of years claw their way to the surface. It was decision time. And, as if the universe intervened to give me a nudge, my work schedule included some events re-connecting me to my passions and purpose…events that brought me even more clarity regarding my way forward…and the monarch butterfly making a close high-speed pass of my face after I finished a hike with my Air Force civilian team sealed the deal…

It was time to put down the pens, pack away the books, store the crate full of notes, and step away from the dissertation—what I called “Opus.”

Because I finally realized it is NOT my Opus. My heart and soul are no longer in it and have not been for a long time. My mental, spiritual, and physical health need me to stop pretending Opus is good for me. And all the things I really want to do with my time…to live my purpose...are ready to be unleashed.

It has been a few weeks since I made the decision with the support and wonderful words of encouragement from my advisor and loved ones.

Best decision ever. To finally listen to my own voice, my own advice.

Thank you to everyone who has been with me on this journey!! Advisors, former instructors, friends, family, colleagues, librarians, coaches, the Air Force, the Airmen I serve…everyone!

The end of this journey is actually the beginning of something even greater…

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