Team, Identity & Transition
Posted on April 02 2021
Growing up, I played basketball for a short period of time and in those years, our team was pretty dominant in our division. Of course, if you’ve seen me, it wasn’t exactly due to any help from me as I am no taller than the average American male. Nonetheless, once our team started pulling away by 40 points, then 50, we would put the bench in. Sometimes we would still increase the lead as our bench deemed it necessary to prove themselves, at which time the coach would tell us all to pull back, stop pushing the offense and ease off on the defense. In other words, give the other guys a break. Now, I understand that we were trying to help the opposing team save a little face. But I’m that guy that was always a little bothered by this. I wanted to dominate them. My intent was not to embarrass anyone but I was competing with more than the other team. I was also competing against myself. I wanted to know just how great we could win, never easing off the gas. In the words of Mortal Kombat, all I could hear when on top, was “finish him.”
Eventually, we did face a team that would come out ahead by the buzzer. Not by much but we were beaten nonetheless. These times were hard but much to the chagrin of whoever we faced next, we were determined to never let it happen again. We pushed harder than ever in practice and wanted to crush another team, hoping to never feel that pain of defeat again. Deep down, we knew who we were, what we were capable of, and were dominant as a team.
This mentality stuck with me as I grew older and joined the military. I wanted to join the Marines due to the impression that they were the most dominant on the “field,” and before even leaving the bus, I had decided that I would be a part of either Recon or the newly formed Marine Special Operations command, the dominant of the dominant. And within time, I made it, doing intelligence at the highest levels. There, we dominated too. This time there was no holding back to allow the “other team” to save face. We pushed until the end with the desire to leave a message, never mess with us again. Finally, I felt at home. But it was the team that made it that way.
Many of you reading this are similar in this mentality. To be part of a dominant military force, we were bred to do just that; dominate. Deep down, we know who we are and what we are capable of, but we know this because of our team. We may have taken our licks from time to time, but we come back stronger. And then all of a sudden, particularly during our transition from the military when we step away from that team, we forget everything. We forget who we are; an identity that was formed by and through that team. We look around at the unfamiliar, perhaps a little isolated and alone now. Our head and shoulders begin to droop and we move a little more hesitant in one direction or another. We start new careers from the bottom because let’s face it, the military didn’t prepare you for a career in accounting or marketing. Your peers within your age group who never served in the military, are light years ahead of you in this new field. Perhaps your boss is even younger than you and clearly has little to no leadership experience, but he or she already did their time in the “trenches” within that line of work. And every once in a while, a friendly face, a new “teammate,” will help you along but not too much. After all, they are gunning for that next promotion or pay raise and they’d never want you to jump ahead in line. In fact, get too close and they’ll stab you in the back.
Your confidence and your identity, particularly that identity of a competent, driven individual as part of a dominating team is likely to take a hit. You begin to question yourself and there are few people around you, your new civilian team, that helps to keep that fire lit reassuring you of who you are deep down. This, I might argue, is a key issue in the transitioning of many service members. So, what to do in such a case?
Hold on to those things you do particularly well. Those things that remind you of the badass that you are. If you were an excellent shot at long range, don’t let that go. Schedule range time and keep pushing your limits. Sure, you’re no longer honing those skills for war. But now you’re honing them for yourself to see how great you can be. Were you known as the strongest guy on your team? Keep getting stronger. Don’t let that go. When you are having those down days, when you feel that you are so far behind everyone else and begin to question yourself, load up those plates and get to work…to remind yourself of who you are.
Further, find a new team. If it is the gym you’re choosing as an avenue to maintaining your source of confidence, join a powerlifting gym and crew or even CrossFit gym. Find a community, or team, that pushes you and allows you to push others. Find that identity again, in and through them.
From 9 to 5, you might be the low-man on the totem pole. You’re new, after all, and there’s a lot to learn. But if you have those daily reminders of the badass that you are outside of those times, you will walk into that 9 to 5 with your head held a little higher, with a little more thump in your footstep, and people will notice. Soon enough you will know your knew career field well and begin to dominate there too. Then you get to build your own team.
Authors note: As many of you know, Sheepdog Strong has partnered with the Daniel Ferguson Memorial Foundation. Daniel was an 82nd Airborne veteran who took his own life after transitioning from the military. His family formed the nonprofit in his name with the purpose of creating a new team for veterans and first responders, utilizing fitness to remind them of the badass they are, by and through a new team. If you are in the North County San Diego area, consider joining one of our local crews. Go to www.danielsmemorialfoundation.org to learn more.