Today I’m celebrating 10 whole years as a Navy civilian!
And over the last ten years, I’ve been able to do a lot of super awesome things only because I’ve chased opportunities either given to me, or paved for me by previous leaders. And all of that is great. I’ve had one heck of a time making friends and hopefully making folks’ lives just a little easier.
But even more importantly, every day I failed at something. Failing means you’re taking risks. It means that you are willing to fall and get back up again. And I’d love to tell you that every day I failed gracefully, but that’s just not true…
I told my Commanding Officer that I thought airedales were terriers (they’re not in the Navy); I though being a civilian made me a cooler officer (it doesn’t); I cried into the corner of my cubicle when the mean girls at work made fun of the way I dress (my purses and shoes and jewelry are sometimes still eclectic); I promoted with male shoulder boards superglued onto the backs of female shoulder boards because they didn’t sell female boards in the exchange (female uniform items are still tough to come by); I’m still annoyed we didn’t win the Halloween costume contest in 2015 (hmph fairness hmph); I literally said “It’s imperative that…” eight times in under an hour for my interview at NAVSUP FLC Sigonella (I recorded it); and I spent my first three years worried about being liked, and not worried about the content of my work or if I do it right (oh naïve girl), to name a few.
As I writer, I knew this post was coming. As a procrastinator, I’m hurriedly writing it before darting out the door for my physical readiness test (PRT). In summation of a very appreciated ten years serving as a government civilian, I thought I’d share a little something I give to very special folks at the end of each of my tours. “Tia Nichole’s Rules of Engagement” are the lessons that have hit me hardest over my career. You can bet I will keep failing gracefully (hopefully) and learning from those mistakes and adding to these rules.
Tia Nichole’s Rules of Engagement:
Your toolbox matters. Your toolbox is comprised of several items. For me, it’s an anchor hole punch, Orbs wipes (thanks, RADM Heinrich!), note cards, a Tide stick, a wine bottle opener, extra one- and two-star insignia, clear nail polish, a lint roller, extra bobby pins, tweezers, Doxycycline, a small sewing kit, and a copy of both “Protocol” and “Emily Post’s Etiquette”. For each event, find what you needed most or wish you had, and add it to your toolbox. Keep an extra set in each vehicle you use for work.
Take the first cookie. One NAVSUP morning, CNO visited our staff. We spent hours preparing to host him. That morning, I made my award-winning (they’re not) lemon pistachio shortbread cookies and carefully placed them at the center of the table. As we sat to begin our meeting, I watched him eyeing them hungrily. But he never took a single one! At the end, people started milling about; CNO made a beeline for the cookie plate and stretched himself across the table to take one. “I wish these were in front of me 30 minutes ago!” he laughed. Ooops. Put the cookies where people can take one. Make sure your products are placed to meet your objectives. And always take the first cookie–it encourages others to indulge as well.
Who do I treat as a Distinguished Visitor? I remember the first change of command I ever worked at the flag-level. I had served as the NAVSUP protocol officer for a mere week and was presenting my first DV plan to our two-star admiral. During our briefing, I confidently asked him, “Sir, who would you like me to treat as a DV?” to which he replied, “Why, everyone, Tia.” Everyone should be treated as a DV–some people just have different parking and seating.
Dive a mile in their submarine. When I served as the Deputy PAO for Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, we were at dinner with the CBS 60 Minutes crew and we were getting ready for an embark the following day. The producer asked me if it was difficult working for a community that had a hard time being transparent because of the nature of its work–we are the Silent Service, after all. I encouraged her to keep an open mind and to put herself in our Submariners’ sneakers. After making a full-day’s dive with the crew, her heart embraced our Sailors’ stories, and she had a greater understanding of the community. Understand that you don’t know what you don’t know, and keep an open mind, like our producer practiced authentically. Before you think you know a community, dive a mile in their submarine.
Stop and fill love tanks. In your career, you’ll come across myriad people at different places in life’s great adventure. I remember coming into one job and feeling as though I walked into a dog pound of wounded puppies. I knew that the first two weeks would set the climate for the rest of my time there. So, I did what any East Coast Yankee would do: we had a field day from top to bottom, cleaned out all the old crap from the office, celebrated around our newly Lysol’ed table with some pizza, and started looking forward to and operationally planning for the new. When people are hurting, stop and find out why. When people seem a bit off, stop and ask how you can help. When people directly ask for support, stop what you are doing and care for them. We are put on this earth to love and care for each other. Your career can wait; love can’t. Stop and fill love tanks in everything you do.
Thank you to all who have supported and pushed me and loved me and made me angry over the years. I appreciate everything I learned from you and continue to take with me.