When I Grow Up

I am excited to post a guest entry today by a man who has been both a door to door salesman, and worked in the future weapons department at the Pentagon. He has sold shoes for JC Penny, and navigated drug busts by aircraft in foreign countries. He has a pet chihuahua named “Teddy”, and is currently a senior executive in the Department of Defense. He also used to change my diaper. Yep, this man is my father!

No matter what I’m struggling with, my dad has always been an excellent person to turn to. He gives honest advice while still taking feelings into account, something that is crucial with four daughters. Because of his varied life experiences, I asked him to write a post for The Other Courtney.  I left the topic open ended and couldn’t be happier with what he chose to discuss, I think it’s something that people of all ages can relate to and learn from:


It was one of the most successful Superbowl commercials ever produced.  In fact, it was the only commercial placed on Time magazine’s list of “Best Television” when it debuted in 1999.  The commercial provides unsettling answers to the question almost every young person is asked — “what do you want to do when you grow up?”  The children respond in blunt, matter-of-fact statements during the 30 second, black and white commercial with humbling, real world adult experiences.  A few examples:

“When I grow up I want to…”

  • “file all day long”
  • “climb my way up to middle management”
  • “be forced into early retirement”

The monster.com commercial ends with a simple statement for us to ponder, “There’s a better job out there.”

R9h3a3wTes9kt5iH5hMDoxOm9rO7eyCbI now have four adult children ages 20-28 who are in various stages of career search/consideration, so when one of my daughters asked me to write a “guest blog” on a topic of my choosing, I thought this would be a good place to start.  It is such an important topic for the next generation, and there seems to be a lot of career frustration if you consider the current career statistics.  About 80% of the U.S. population reports being dissatisfied with their employment, and over 50% are actively seeking to change jobs.  

So here are my top five considerations when working through career options, or maybe just trying to answer the question, “what do I want to be when I grow up.”

  • Don’t overstress — You may not get it exactly right and that is OK.  It can be a good thing to try different jobs/work experiences when you are young. The older you get, the harder it is to change into something different, so go ahead and get as much variety as you can when you are young.  Pay attention to what excites you versus what bores you to death or makes you want to run in the opposite direction!

    Key:  Know yourself and what you love, and find a way to work in that area.


  • You know more than you think you do.  I remember a growing sense of urgency as my college graduation date loomed.  I was majoring in Business Management, but in the Spring of my senior year I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ve just completed a 4 year degree and I don’t know anything — what job can I do?”  I ended up going into the Navy as an officer in an aviation program.  I soon realized that my learning was just starting — in fact, it never stopped!
    Key: Most employers hire for potential, not necessarily what you already know.


  • The best job is the one you have now — prosper where you are!  I once attended the retirement ceremony of a highly successful General Officer, and he used the opportunity to share a bit of “career success” advice.  He told us that his attitude throughout his very long career was always that his current assignment was his best job yet.  Learning to excel regardless of where you find yourself is a critical lesson of work and life.To illustrate, I like the example in the Bible of Joseph (you remember, the young man with the coat of many colors?).  Anyway, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery—and he became an outstanding slave.  Unfortunately, he was falsely accused by the master’s wife and he was thrown into prison.  While there, he became such a good prisoner that he was given a leadership position and rewarded for his wisdom.Eventually he was recognized by the King of Egypt, and was promoted to the #2 position in the entire Kingdom.  The point:  It is easy to complain about your current circumstances or think that you’ll be a better employee once you move into a job you like or are more suited to your perceived place in life – but don’t let yourself become that disgruntled employee who always wonders why the “breaks” never come their way. Do your best wherever you find yourself – and good things will follow.  Ashton Kutcher recently reinforced this during an award acceptance event when he proclaimed, “I never had a job in my life that I was better than.  Opportunities look a lot like work.”

         Key: Develop a positive and strong work ethic/philosophy, and excel!


  • Knowing the difference between perseverance and moving on.  During our lives, most of us will find ourselves in a situation where we need to decide whether to stay in our current situation or move on.  Unless you are a slave or prisoner like Joseph, you do have some control in this.  A wise person once told me, “look at your immediate boss and his boss.  If you do not want to do what they are doing some day, then seek to change jobs.”  Simple but wise counsel – I took it and moved out of one career path and into another when I was 36 years old.I also think there are times when your job situation is so dysfunctional that you need to make a change.But here is an important word of counsel – be extremely careful how you leave a job.  I often tell folks the two of the most important times in your career are how you enter an organization and how you leave.  Never burn bridges…it might make you feel good for a few minutes, but it can cause serious damage in the future.  You should always try to leave an organization, even a dysfunctional one, with a true sense of professionalism and class.  Seek counsel from someone you trust, who will tell you the truth, before you make a decision to leave (unless you are in prison!).  Sometimes the discomfort you are encountering can be an important learning experience.  {Note: I am NOT referring to any hostile work or sexual harassment environments – obviously, those must be dealt with immediately or you should leave as soon as possible}.

      Key:  Carefully develop an exit plan when it is time to go – seek counsel first.

two weeks notice

  • Balance work with life.  Don’t be totally defined by your job:  I remember hearing someone say, “no one ever reminisced on their death bed that they wish they’d spent a bit more time at work.”  It is probably true that you will spend the majority of your time in your workplace.  Even writing this now I feel a bit guilty because I have a job that could easily take every waking moment of my time.  But we all need to have boundaries or our work will consume us, and one day when we look around, all we’ll have are plaques and pictures of who we used to be.So lets develop relationships and have interests and friends outside the work place.  Broaden ourselves constantly by reading and interacting with people who challenge us. I tend to view life in four quadrants: Mental, Physical, Social, and Spiritual.  We all need to learn how to better balance our personal and work lives within these four quadrants.
    Navy navigator by day, piggy back giver by night

    Naval aviator by day, piggy back giver by night, circa 1990

    I have purposely changed the reference point in this last paragraph to an “us” vs. “you,” because it is so easy to become unbalanced.  Warning for you young mothers/fathers: I was talking to a very successful businessman once who remised that he wish he’d put his blackberry down more when his children were young – those years will go by so very fast.  Stay in the moment, and don’t lose the precious time you set aside for those who are most important to you

       Key:  Balance your life, enjoy the moment, and be wherever you are 100%.

10 thoughts on “When I Grow Up

  1. Love this! I wish I had been given such sage advice starting out. It is all true.. especially the part about perseverance v. moving on and work/life balance. I plan on sharing this with Brian. Great Job, Mark!

  2. amazing! I just LOVE this…&your WHOLE family. Each of you are so unique and special & also bring so so so much to the table. <333

    • Thanks Corie, you always make me blush 🙂 I agree though, I LOVE my dads thoughts on this. I feel so lucky to have his advice at my disposal anytime I want.

  3. What a wonderfully wise and well-written blog by my beloved brother. I am passing this along to all of my friends and students and well, anybody who is holding down a job, which includes about ALL of us right now in this economy!

    • Thank you Behba for your words and for sharing! I also shared it with my coworkers and students, I think it is fantastic insight and advice. He’s a good man!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s