July 26, 2016

Transition and Self-directed Sabbaticals

2016-06-06 14.21.06I graduated from Carleton University with a Physics degree, and often wondered about the value of giving up my youth to late nights studying and long hours problem solving assignments with nerdy brainiacs.  During my days as a CELE/SigsO a quantum vantage point was never called upon. 30 years on, the words “What does the physicist think” have never been uttered.

Although the tangible value of a physics education was difficult to reconcile, my thinking expanded from the known and proven into the realm of the infinite, invisible, imagined and unimagined (i to the 4th?). The courage to test hypotheses ought to hold great value in a world that demands consistent change and new models. Everybody gets that – right?

I recently ran into a friend from basic training days, a  retired  Armoured Corps  Officer. He’s now leading a major consulting firm and explained his transition choice with the phrase “because I have no skills”. Although  he’s landed softy, he intimated that the C&E military community have the benefit of valued skills, continual learning and education upgrades. Branch types are recruited by his firm.

Some people are fortunate to be “in demand”. Their career path has allowed them to collect a war chest of sought after skills and a network that can help keep them in work. Head hunted out of the military? That’s certainly available to some, however, career  transitions are typically more involved. The freedom of having no road map ahead can be liberating and terrifying. The great unknown – adventure or curse?



Entrepreneurs refer to transitions as pivots.  I have made a few major pivots that involved going back to the drawing board and starting over from scratch. Each of those pivots was rewarding, at times exhilarating, sometimes tedious and in each case tough. My most recent transition stretched on so long that I named it as a life chapter;  My Self-directed Sabbatical

Each of my three major pivots have been beautiful opportunities to stretch and grow ;

  1. Pivot 1 – Leaving the military to return to school –  St Lawrence College  Marketing/Entrepreneurship – EASY
  2. Pivot 2 – Accepting a family adventure, moving to the Middle Eastern country of Qatar (as a wife with a baby and a five-year old on tow)  I started over as a new College Grad with no obvious related experience. There were no marketing jobs and you could not start a business without a local partner – TOUGH
  3. Pivot 3 – Leaving my successful businesses behind in the Middle East to start over again in Ottawa post recession as a single mother with zero local business network – UBER-TOUGH.

Military life is a series of transitions.  Each new posting is a mini-transition , although gentle, as your reputation moves with you and you likely know what to expect. Your network learns of your accomplishments, your bosses read your file before you show up, your promotions, postings, medals and awards are known and visible.  Missions rank as serious transition experience.

When it’s time to pivot to a new environment away from the military, your reputation may be lost in part. I found the loss of identity as one of the most challenging aspects of starting in a completely new profession in a new country.

In each of my transitions, the people I met did not value or understand my most recent experience. The first place I looked for work after taking off my uniform and retuning to school  was in Qatar.  In this  developing country, military were recruited from Asia and Arabs who served typically  did so though conscription. Military service was not valued as a professional choice.

When I moved back to Ottawa, after owning multiple successful businesses in Qatar, people did not recognize the world-class bar I had set for those businesses. They did not comprehend that I built sophisticated teams serving multinational clients in what developed as a cosmopolitan hub. They mostly saw that I was arriving from a developing country.

The point:  people need help seeing us for who we are. Others can not interpolate how our experiences bring value to their projects and teams. We need to speak in their acronym free language and tell them. Startups define themselves in something called the elevator pitch; a 30 second value proposition or mission statement.  That’s a great nugget for somebody looking for a new position. Can you deliver your value proposition and mission statement in 30 seconds each?

My cofounders invited me into iBIONICS because of my experience leading in highly complex environments. I did not have significant experience in the health field, none in a life sciences startup, nor in a startup requiring tens of millions of dollars in financing. They saw something I had to offer that they needed; business leadership.  Learning how your peers and leaders see you can help pull together an authentic and meaningful value proposition.

During introductions to my pitches and keynotes there’s often an audience pause at the mention of 13 years military service.I’m not sure if this derives from respect or surprise, however, a prominent Montreal business man recently told me he sees military service as an indicator of strength.

I use my military training and experience everyday. As physics thinking helps me see the not yet envisioned,  military thinking has a profound impact on how I approach startups and has immensely contributed to the successes I have enjoyed in business.  Building out strategies often includes principles of war consideration. The everyday includes trying to to be more disciplined about task procedure. I continue to benefit from the agility afforded to us from posting hopping and the resiliance built up though training.  Lessons in humility, quietly feeling in over my head but not showing it, and the interdependence of teams doesn’t hurt either.







0 Comments on “Transition and Self-directed Sabbaticals

July 26, 2016 at 1:44 PM


Michel Charron
July 26, 2016 at 1:49 PM

Excellent article that I can easily relate to!


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