Leading with Honesty & Integrity
When you become conditioned to feeling like everything is an uphill battle, it is easier to believe people when they tell you that you will fail. Before I stepped foot back into life as a civilian from the Army, I was warned sternly by many of my superiors, peers and friends. “You will struggle,” they told me when I decided to leave the military after 8 years of service as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. “You will be lost,” they said as I began the process of transitioning from military to civilian life. “You will never succeed,” I thought as I left my military career behind and took my first tentative steps back into a world without PT, M4s, chow halls, formations and field problems.
Being a woman, I fought for respect and acceptance in the military, but I didn’t realize I would fight that battle again when I decided to exit the military. Starting over after the military meant climbing up out trenches I didn’t even know I was in. Putting one foot in front of the other had to be a conscious, deliberate choice – every step of the way.
To understand how the “now,” it helps to understand the “then.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but my career in the military was rooted in feelings of powerlessness. Losing my stepbrother in a car accident while also living in a home where I witnessed violence against women were two traumatic experiences that also made me feel like I needed to do something. I was full of passion but I was angry and restless. Finally, when I was a sophomore in high school, 9-11 happened. That was it for me. I knew I wanted be a soldier. It was my way of embracing, as well as taking control of, things over which I felt powerless.
Once enlisted, I was distracted enough by trying to prove myself in the male dominated ranks of the Army that I did not spend much time thinking about why I was where I was or what I hoped to accomplish in the long term. I became task oriented. I focused on achieving success one short term goal at a time and ultimately became very good at it. PT was a place for me to be able to prove myself. I trained hard. Sometimes I came up short of my goals and other times I crushed them. I came to understand that wanting to succeed needed to be more important to me than any fear of failure. I trained methodically both mentally and physically, learning to endure and overcome. This was when my passion for physical fitness began to take shape.
Everything I needed to start my own business was present and accounted for by the time I laced up my combat boots for the last time. It was just jumbled up and out of order. Though my dream to start my own fitness and wellness company felt completely unattainable, my desire to pass on the lessons I learned while making my way in the Army started to outweigh my fear that I would fail. I stopped avoiding my status as a veteran and chose to embrace it. It is part of who I am; I could not follow my passion without coming into it as a whole person. I expected there would be stigma and turmoil attached to my identity as a veteran and my trepidation was crippling. But I decided to maintain my integrity and open myself up to the possibility that I was good enough. Good enough to present all of me. Good enough to earn the trust of my future clients.
Embracing my status as a veteran has become a game changer, just like embracing the things that brought me to threshold of active duty in the first place has changed my life. Being a female veteran is a big part of who I am, but it is not all that I bring to the table. I educated myself, figured out that what I wanted to offer people was a full lifestyle and perspective shift and not just instruction at a gym. I organized my goals, set a timeline and I executed. I have had many stops and stalls with Dub Fitness, but each time, I have chosen to continue to push ahead, putting one foot in front of the other, refocusing on my short term goals and remembering to focus on the path in front of me, not the mountain ahead. During one of my stalls I was introduced to a phenomenal group of veterans who lift up, encourage and inspire; Team Red, White and Blue. They aided me in getting back by trusting in my ability to lead, by inviting me to not only become a member, but to host gatherings, such as leading the WOD for Warriors at the Philadelphia Art Museum on Veterans Day, among many other charitable vents. Team RWB is full of doers. Even if they did not realize; they were helping me re-focus. I was not alone, no matter what, I always had this team of support behind me.
Nobody wants to build a life for herself trying to be someone she is not. It was only natural to me to begin to brand my whole self and not just focus on building a business. In doing so, my status as a veteran was part of the package. Much to my surprise, I found that being a veteran today is attractive in many ways, so long as transparency and honesty about one’s career are made a priority. Companies want to hire, associate with and help veterans in business pursuits. There is a fine line between embracing one’s identity with honesty and exploiting one’s experiences and I have been very cognizant of the line between the two. It is not exploitative to accept publicity, honor one’s status as a veteran or be proud of that label. If your stories are real and true, your status as a veteran will become part of what is most recognizable about your business. It is an honor and privilege for me to tell my clients that I served in the Army, even if I did not enter as a perfect soldier or exemplify perfection every step of my journey.
A few weeks ago, Andrea N. Goldstein, wrote an article that resonated with me deeply. In it she asserts, “female veterans are the most visible service members, but the most invisible veterans.” Considering that women comprise only 15.3% of the U.S. Armed Forces, it is not hard to agree with her assertion. As any female service member will tell you, being a female in the military means engaging in constant battle for the respect of male peers and leaders. There was nothing I hated more than feeling that even my best work would be scrutinized due to my gender, that my promotions were not earned or that my achievements were sub-par because of the misplaced belief that the standards for success were lower for females. It seems natural to want to leave that exhausting part of one’s military experience behind when stepping back into civilian life.
There is very little information on female veteran entrepreneurship. Much of what I have done along the path to successful business ownership I have learned through trial and error. I have learned this: being a veteran sets you apart from your competition. Being a female veteran categorizes you within an elite few. As a result, including your identity as a veteran elevates your brand because military training is known to incorporate discipline, commitment to excellence and ownership of one’s actions. This makes sense – why would anyone not want those qualities and descriptions associated with her business? My advice to you, future female veteran entrepreneurs can be organized as follows:
Step 1- Identify YOURSELF.
What are you made of? Life experiences and relationship help to mold who we become as both soldiers and veterans. I have made my share of mistakes during my life in the military and as a civilian, but those mistakes do not diminish my successes. By identifying my personal weaknesses, I have turned them into professional strengths. I chose to apply my military training – something I was confident in and dedicated to – to my business pursuits. As a result, I have been able to offer my authentic self to my clientele. It may feel risky to lay yourself bare to people you intend to work alongside on the road to success, but I have learned along this path that everyone can relate to being flawed. Honesty is appreciated and often rewarded with camaraderie and respect.
Step 2- List STRENGTHS.
Being strong often means acknowledging weakness but not allowing negativity to overtake your mindset. It is okay to know your value, however, it is imperative to know the difference between confidence and cockiness.
Step 3- Create CORE VALUES.
These are your non-negotiables and deal breakers. Integrity is the biggest ingredient in this process. Know who you are and what you stand for or you will find yourself compromising more than just your business model with the going gets tough… and I promise it will get tough.
Step 4- Build YOUR BUSINESS and YOUR BRAND.
Why did you pick the industry in which you operate? How will your core values match your brand? Pour the foundation upon which you intend to build success with the confidence of knowing that your values and identity will be honored at all times.
Step 5- Structure YOUR MESSAGE.
Clarity is paramount when establishing yourself in business. People do not want anything you are offering unless they know that you offer it with authenticity and honesty. Be genuine. You dishonor yourself and anyone you come across otherwise.
I have found that the key to creating a successful veteran brand and embracing the title of veteran is figuring out how to connect my civilian passions with my military training and experience. This is why Dub Fitness works. I am true to my brand because my brand is a physical representation of my authentic self. I followed these steps to establish myself in the fitness industry and help other women harness their personal power while realizing their own physical and mental strength and potential. I have made it a point to never just “help out,” I get involved. I have also made it a part of my mission to educate youth and adults about how to treat themselves with respect and find their inner warrior, which are things I learned myself as a young enlisted woman.
I have trained myself to confront the reluctance I used to feel when asked to share my personal story and am proud to say I no longer see my experiences in life as an obstacle. While being a female veteran was never intentionally part of my business model, it is part of my identity and therefore part of my journey to success. I used to feel awkward when others recognized me as a veteran and said, “thank you for your service.” These days, I reply “thank you for your support” and have only just begun to realize that each time I hear it, I am reminded that it is my duty to strive to be the physical embodiment of the strength and valor people associate with someone who has served in our armed forces. Experience has taught me that if I stay the course and lead with honesty and integrity, my “brand” will never become obsolete.