I'm a secret fan of the f-bomb and those who drop it during military transition. Don't tell my mom. She thinks I'm a lady.
Instead, I'm the transition master coach who helps veterans and spouses find their next job through Military.com's Veteran Employment Project. I also coach senior military leaders to get unstuck from their most frustrating job-hunt problems.
While an f-bomb in a professional setting is officially the wrong way to go, I've noticed how an f-bomb in a private conversation does a different kind of work. It conveys anger. It conveys fury. It conveys frustration with a system that does not work the way we think it should.
All those feelings are often a part of job hunting for veterans and spouses alike -- and incredibly revealing. So when the f-bombs start falling in a coaching session (even though they aren't supposed to), I start listening for a certain kind of impossible problem: a gravity problem.
What Is a Gravity Problem?
A gravity problem is what you have when your problem is not actionable or solvable and, therefore, not the problem you should be trying to solve.
According to Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of "Designing Your Work Life: How To Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work," a gravity problem gets you stuck because there is no possible solution to it. It is like getting mad about the existence of gravity, as in, Geez, all I ever wanted was to map the dark side of the moon, but I can't jump to the moon from here because of this f-bomb gravity!!!
Unsolvable Job-Hunt Problems
It may sound silly to put it that way, but the truth is that I hear from veterans or spouses who are legitimately trying to solve their gravity problems frequently. It sounds like this:
"I've applied to 300 jobs online and never gotten one interview."
"I went to the job fair, and I didn't find one job."
"I had this job offer for [coveted job], but they wanted me to work from 7:30 to 4:30. I've been in the Navy for 10 years; I don't wanna go back to that."
"The VA didn't give me one good job lead."
"I want to work for [particular target company with only one location], but I don't want to move there."
"I want to keep my job in California when we transfer to [overseas duty station]. My boss is OK with it, but I don't want to work nights."
"Work in a SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility]? I just want to work in [intelligence field] 100% remote."
"Ideally, I could make my Etsy store pay six figures."
You might think that these job hunters ought to be able to find what they want. You also might think these job hunters sound entitled, naïve or spoiled. Either way, my heart goes out to them, because I know that kind of frustration. I, too, have had f-bombing gravity problems in my job hunts when I was fighting against an unsolvable reality like they are.
A Tapestry of Obscenity
When we were stationed in Norway, I wanted a job like so many of my fellow spouses. Only one job on base became available the whole time we lived there (I didn't get it). On the outside, companies who often employed international spouses in the past were laying off their own workers in droves due to a local economic crisis.
Not surprisingly, just like in the classic movie "A Christmas Story," we spouses wove "a tapestry of obscenity" that as far as I know still hangs over every fjord and fjell out there.
"Get a job" was my gravity problem then because there were no jobs available to get. Yet f-bombs did not solve the unsolvable problem. They only sent up the beacon that there was a gravity problem there.
What does solve the unsolvable problem is to identify what is a solvable problem for you. In Norway, my real problem was: "How do I constructively use my time so I don't lose my place in the professional world?"
I had tons of possible solutions I could work on when I identified the right problem, but I had to be willing to accept that "get a job" was a gravity problem and reframe it. Which was harder to do than it sounds.
Those other job hunters with their natural gravity problems could reframe them like this:
"How do people get hired if applying online [or attending job fairs] does not work?" (Take our FREE Networking master class, and I will show you!)
"What kind of work has more flexible hours than [coveted job]?" Or, "How could I work toward more flexible hours if I take [coveted job]?"
"What kind of organizations offer placement services for veterans?"
"Keeping my family in place is my top priority during my transition. What kinds of jobs are available in my area?"
"I don't want to work nights while I live overseas. How else can I use my professional skills while I am there?" Or, "How much of my job could I do at night and how much during the day?"
"How can I use my security clearance or cyber skills without working in a SCIF?"
"How can I support myself while still saving enough energy to pursue my art?"
None of these reframes will lead instantly to a job. Instead, they lead down a path of solvable problems until you get a job offer that will work for your reality.
When veterans and spouses like us approach the job market, we naturally have an idea about how things should be and how they should work. Then we bump into reality, which is often fraught with gravity problems. Reframing the gravity problem so you can get to an actionable problem is the first step to the right kind of work for you..
If you suspect you are stuck grappling with a gravity problem but you don't know how to reframe it, reach out to me on LinkedIn. Nothing I like better than helping veterans and spouses start solving their job-hunting problems.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
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