On Getting Uncomfortable

7 June 2018Adventures • Susan Rietano Davey



“Do one thing every day that scares you.”  This ubiquitous phrase, found on everything from coffee mugs to shopping bags, has unique meaning in the context of the Prepare to Launch U course. Returning to work after years spent on the home front is, quite literally, stepping out of your comfort zone. And it’s a discomfort Kelley and I advise you to welcome and embrace.

I stepped out of my comfort zone big time recently. On a road trip to New Jersey to see our daughters play college lacrosse, my friend Steve told me about his exciting experience as a participant in the Marine Corps Executive Forum, a one-day leadership immersion experience. “Wow,” I exclaimed half politely, half seriously, as he spoke of sitting in a Pentagon briefing room and riding in an Osprey helicopter. “I’d love to do something like that!”

The next morning an email arrived in my inbox. A man of action, Steve had nominated me to participate in this year’s forum, and an application was attached.

There were many reasons to let the application sit, untouched, in my inbox. The forum was just 2 months away (May), at a busy time of year (I have a high school senior), in the middle of the week (which would mean taking days off), plus I didn’t know any other applicants and have no military connections or experience. Just days before the deadline, feeling like I had to follow my own “embrace discomfort” advice, I completed the application and hit ‘submit’. The next day, I received word that I was ‘in’.

My interest in attending the forum transcended curiosity about helicopters or high security buildings. For starters, I appreciate any opportunity to improve my leadership skills. I also have a number of clients who are retired military women looking to reinvent themselves for civilian work, so understanding their world could only help me help them. But, underlying it all was my desire to better understand and appreciate the military world my 18 year old will enter in July when he reports to the USMA at West Point.

Our group of 25 business leaders from across the country was greeted at 0600 hours by the forum hosts – an impressive assortment of Marine Corps leaders, each with a compelling personal story. (This alone was scary for me. I’m not a morning person and I lay awake most of the night terrified I would sleep through my alarm).  Our first stop was the Pentagon, where we waltzed through security (courtesy of advance clearance) and into the Pentagon press briefing room for a meeting with General Seely.

We moved on to the Joint Chiefs of Staff boardroom for a team presentation on the Marine Corps organization and a roundtable discussion about military-civilian connections.  The hallowed halls we traveled contained enough photos and artifacts to occupy me for a day, yet after just a couple of hours, we boarded our bus for Quantico, the 60,000-acre training campus for Marine Corps officers and U.S. Intelligence.

At Quantico, we witnessed Marine Corps proprietary martial arts training and learned more corps history. We drove the expansive grounds and toured the manufacturing facility where the Marine Corps fashions its own guns. Later, we received 1:1 instrction in how to use those guns and each of us (yours truly, included) shot four different weapons – a 45 caliber, a 9mm, a semi-automatic rifle and a computer-aided machine gun. I’ve never held a gun nor had any interest in shooting one, so this exercise was particularly intimidating – and it left me with a deep appreciation for the skill it requires to shoot one (I’m not a natural) and the sheer power each one contains.

Our Quantico adventure rounded out in an Osprey helicopter – an incredible flying machine with vertical takeoff and landing, and short takeoff and landing capabilities (hence, its use for ‘door to door’ transport of senior officials, including the president).

Back at the hotel at 1700 hours (that’s 5:00 PM for us civilians) we were given 45 minutes to clean up and dress for the evening: dinner at the Commandant’s Washington D.C. compound, followed by a military parade. The hall was exquisite, the guests multi-national and glamorous, the food delicious, and the sounds of the Marine Corps band were musical perfection. Hearing them play The Battle Hymn of the Republic gave me chills.

Not until recounting this evening experience to a military friend did I realize how exclusive and coveted an invitation like this is, and how damn lucky I was to have experienced it.

At 2300 hours, I plopped into bed with the goal of getting a good night’s sleep before my early morning return flight. But sleep didn’t come easy for me. My mind was busy recounting the day: the up-close and personal view of the heart of our country’s defense; the hands-on training; the exclusive dining and entertainment at the home of one of the four U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff – and the interesting business people from all over the country with whom I’d shared the experience.

I had embraced the discomfort of the unfamiliar and, in some cases (i.e. the guns) the downright scary, and emerged a better leader: enlightened about, and far more appreciative of, our military. I was comfortable again – not only from the warmth of my hotel bed, but from the knowledge that my son is going to be in good company.

I’m glad I embraced the discomfort.

It pays to follow the advice on your shopping bag.

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