One thing I have discovered through my military transition is that it’s so much more than just taking off the uniform and putting on a business suit. It requires a change in mindset. When you’ve been immersed in the military culture for the vast majority of your adult life, the civilian sector looms large and intimidating. The structure you were used to is nowhere to be found, and your rank is irrelevant. You are no longer sergeant, major, colonel so-and-so; now you’re Mr., Ms., or Mrs. I don’t think it’s talked about enough, but that can really mess with your head.
I recently attended a seminar that addresses this very thing. It was created by Annie Brock, the CEO and founder of the Leader Transition Institute. LTI’s tentpole seminar is called “Changing Focus: Moving from We to Me.” It’s a 3-day virtual seminar that forces its students to examine their purpose, their vision, their strengths and talents, and ultimately come out of the experience more aware of self.
I had the pleasure to sit down with Annie and discuss LTI and Changing Focus.
Leah Kilpatrick (LK): Tell me a little about your background.
Annie Brock (AB): I’ve had a military ID card my entire life, because I was a military kid. I spent nearly 10 years in the Army, active duty. Nine years and nine months on active duty. And then I spent just over two years in the Reserve, in the inactive Reserve. I was one of the first 100 enlisted women assigned to the 82nd [Airborne Division] back in 1979. I received a direct commission through the Medical Service Corps and then went to flight school and became a Medevac pilot.
LK: What year was it when you transitioned out?
AB: 1988, I left active duty on September 30th, 1988.
LK: I know that your starting LTI had a lot to do with the way that your transition happened for you. So can you tell me what is the Leader Transition Institute and why did you start it?
AB: The Leader Transition Institute is a 501(c)3 that is actually an umbrella under which we could put a myriad of programs. We have LTI with Changing Focus: Moving From We to Me underneath it. And the way I came to develop the program was that I was at a personal development weekend in 2016, and I was challenged to put on paper what my dream would be to create. That was the program. In a lot of respects, it’s tailored after that weekend. I realized that veterans could benefit from the same kind of thought process that we were going through that weekend.
LK: What can people expect to get from Changing Focus?
AB: When I transitioned, there were no transition programs. I was a captain in the Army on the 30th of September, and I was an Air Force spouse on October 1st, and there was nothing to prepare me for it. There was absolutely zip, and it was like going off a cliff.
I was active in the veteran community, and I saw what the military was offering. I realized that what they were offering solved the problem that the Department of Defense had, but it didn’t solve the problem that servicemembers had. DOD saw that it was paying a ton of money to the States in unemployment to replace the unemployment compensation that was paid to the servicemembers. And DOD aimed to make sure that the service members got jobs, so that DOD didn’t have to pay that money.
Service members were struggling to get jobs, struggling in jobs, and struggling to stay in jobs, because they really didn’t understand how to change what’s in their brain. I thought, “OK, we need to start by getting people to understand this and by getting them to focus on who they were as human beings, because we give that up when we join the military.”
I would talk to people and ask “why do you want to do that job?” And they would say, “Well, I don’t know. I just need a job, and I can do that job.” But they didn’t understand that it was important for a fulfilling life to know what they brought to the world. So, what I realized was that servicemembers were struggling, because they were just going after jobs because they thought they could do the job. And that caused them to struggle in job interviews because they couldn’t articulate very well what they brought to the table. Some of my husband’s friends were in three or four jobs in the first four years after they retired from the military because they weren’t happy in life because they didn’t get who they were. When I look at our alumni over these last four years from Changing Focus, I would say that very few people have cycled through jobs. I don’t have exact specifics, but I’ve watched and very few people have cycled through jobs because they know what they’re looking for and who they are. When they go after something, they know the kind of life they want.
The other thing where I saw people struggle, and I struggled myself because I didn’t understand my purpose: We communicate based on rank and position in the military. That doesn’t work necessarily in the civilian sector. And sometimes we don’t communicate as well with our families, because we’re coming from how we communicate at work. So I thought that was something that people could benefit from learning about.
There’s a method to the madness of what we cover in the order that we cover it.
LK: It really forces you to look inside yourself and find what am I good at? What are my strengths? What is my purpose? What is my vision? Where do I want to see myself? And it really forces you to really be honest with yourself.
AB: Because when you’re leaving the military, in the Transition Assistance Program, nobody really forces you to do that work. You don’t get asked those questions in that same way. And if you are asked the questions, it’s like “did you do this?” And you say yes. And there’s a checklist. In Changing Focus, we ask you to do the work and then we say what did you write down? When we have to be accountable to ourselves and other people when actually doing the work, that’s important. And we have to speak this stuff out loud. If we just write stuff down on a piece of paper, it doesn’t bring it to the light the same way that speaking words out loud brings things to light.
LK: Going through my transition, there’s DOD’s transition assistance program, right? And it does what it does. But then there are all these other organizations, like VFW and DAV and Hire Our Heroes … and all these organizations that have these various different transition programs to help servicemembers make the transition. What makes Changing Focus unique?
AB: What makes Changing Focus unique is that we are not focused on getting you a job. We don’t exist to help people get jobs. We exist to help people live their best life possible.
LK: I got so used to being Sergeant First Class Kilpatrick that I forgot who Leah Kilpatrick was, you know? And so a program like this is absolutely necessary, and you’re absolutely right that TAP is good for what it’s good for. I mean, it gets you a job, it teaches you how to write a resume, all those things. But it doesn’t teach you that you’re more than your rank and your position.
AB: As I looked at the other programs, I didn’t see that they did that either. They just helped you get a job, but you didn’t do the work — the individual, the inside work, the head work, the hard work. It’s a combination of head and heart work. And it’s scary work to think about who I am.
To learn more about LTI and Changing Focus, go to https://www.leadertransitioninstitute.org/ and follow LTI on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/leader-transition-institute/