I’m a secret fan of the F-bomb and those dropping it during the military transition. Don’t tell my mother. She thinks I’m a lady.
Instead, I am 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 break free from their most frustrating job search problems.
While an F-bomb is officially the wrong way to go in a professional setting, I’ve found that an F-bomb has a different effect in private conversation. It conveys anger. It conveys anger. It conveys frustration at a system that doesn’t work the way we envision it.
All of these feelings are often a part of the job hunt for veterans and spouses alike — and incredibly insightful. So in a coaching session, when the f-bombs start dropping (even though they shouldn’t), I start paying attention to a specific impossible problem: a gravity problem.
What is a gravitational problem?
A gravitational problem is what you have when your problem isn’t actionable or solvable and therefore isn’t 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 bogs you down because there’s no possible solution to it. It’s like getting excited about the existence of gravity, as in Gosh, 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 problems when looking for a job
It might sound silly to put it that way, but the truth is that I often hear from veterans or spouses who are legitimately trying to solve their gravity problems. It sounds like it:
“I applied for 300 jobs online and never got an interview.”
“I was at the job fair and didn’t find a single 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 want to go back to that.”
“The VA didn’t give me a good job tip.”
“I want to work [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 move there [overseas duty station]. My boss is okay with it, but I don’t want to work nights.”
“Work in a SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility]? I just want to train [intelligence field] 100% removed.”
“Ideally, I could have my Etsy shop paying six figures.”
You might think that these job seekers should be able to find what they are looking for. You might also think that these job seekers sound legitimate, naive, or spoiled. Anyway, my heart goes out to her because I know that kind of frustration. I, too, struggled with f-bombing gravity in my job hunt as I battled an unsolvable reality like it.
A tapestry of obscenity
When we were stationed in Norway, I wanted a job like so many of my significant other. In the whole time we lived there only one job became available on the base (I didn’t get it). On the other hand, companies that in the past often employed international spouses have laid off their own employees in droves due to a local economic crisis.
Not surprisingly, just like in the classic film A Christmas Story, we spouses wove “a tapestry of obscenity” that, as far as I know, still hangs over every fjord and fell out there.
“Finding a job” was my gravitational problem back then because there were no jobs to be had. But F-bombs did not solve the insoluble problem. They just sent up the signal that there is a gravity problem there.
What solves the unsolvable problem is identifying what is a solvable problem for you. In Norway, my real problem was: “How do I use my time constructively so that I don’t lose my place in the professional world?”
I had countless possible solutions to work on if I identified the right problem, but I had to be willing to accept that “finding a job” was a gravity problem and redefine it. Which was harder than it sounds.
These other job seekers with their natural gravitational issues could redesign them like this:
“How do people get hired when they apply online [or attending job fairs] doesn’t work?” (Take our FREE networking masterclass and I’ll show you!)
“What kind of work has more flexible hours than [coveted job]?” Or: “How could I work towards more flexible working hours if I take [coveted job]?”
“What organizations provide placement services for veterans?”
“Maintaining my family is my top priority during my transition. What jobs are there in my area?”
“I don’t want to work nights while living abroad. How else can I use my professional skills while I’m there?” Or, “How much of my work 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 feed myself while conserving enough energy to pursue my art?”
None of these reframes result in a job immediately. Instead, they guide you down a path of solvable problems until you get a job offer that works for your reality.
When veterans and spouses like us approach the job market, we naturally have an idea of how things should be and work. Then we hit reality, which is often fraught with gravity problems. Reshaping the gravity problem so that you arrive at an actionable problem is the first step to the right kind of work for you.
If you suspect you’re stuck with a gravity problem but don’t know how to reframe it, contact me on LinkedIn. I love nothing more than helping veterans and spouses solve their job search problems.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com’s Transition Master Coach. She is a certified professional careers coach and military sociologist who helps military members find their first civilian job by offering career-level masterclasses through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach them at [email protected]
Sign up for one of our many FREE Military Transition Master Classes today for more tips on a successful military transition. You can watch previous courses in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.
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