(Continued from Part 1)
In high school, I remember talking about the Parable of the Cave in our humanities class. This is the story of the guy who spends his whole life living in a cave, thinking that the colorful cave paintings depicting the outside world were beautiful, until one day he’s able to actually go outside. Of course the actual sky and trees far surpass the paintings. Sadly, once he’s forced to go back in the cave he realizes that the paintings no longer hold the same beauty. Depressing story, right? But how applicable it can be to certain parts of our lives. I did indeed have my own cave paintings, and it was during my school trip to Israel over spring break that I realized it.
I had signed up for this trip back in November, shortly after I’d attended the Veterans MBA conference and decided I wanted to pursue a career in the tech industry. It was, I thought, the perfect way to combine my military and international experience with my desire to help people while working in an innovative, fast-paced environment. (The opposite of naval intelligence, in other words, but I digress.) However, I had found the pursuit of that career path to be an uphill battle – to most employers, military experience doesn’t actually count at “real” job experience, and I had unfortunately chosen to attend a school that… let’s just say that I found out too late how important B-school rankings really are, and how much my decision to attend a school based on location would cost me. My networking attempts fell flat, and if I was able to get an interview at all, it almost never progressed past the initial phone screen. “Have you ever had a real job?” someone once asked me. Right.
So by the time March rolled around, I was feeling pretty shitty, and trying to come up with an excuse to skip the spring break trip so I could focus on my job search. Of course I couldn’t do that since this was actually a class and I was being graded, so off to Tel Aviv I went.
Maybe it was the serenity of being in the desert, maybe it was the rich culture and history, maybe it was getting to see firsthand so many tech start-ups and be around all these brilliant, innovative minds. I love the idea of setting off on your own to start a company that might make a lot of people’s lives better. So many times I found myself thinking, this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for. There is a lot of courage and passion for your work required to successfully build a start-up, but what is life worth if you’re not stepping outside of your comfort zone to achieve something great? A couple days into the trip I started to feel different, and it took a couple more days before I realized exactly why – I was feeling like my old self again, for the first time since I had lived in Japan years earlier. I was once outgoing and fearless and passionate about my work, but between my demoralizing years in Hawaii and settling into married life that all changed, and my classmates had come to know me as a nice but reserved person who once did some things in the military. But now the old me had come back with a vengeance, and suddenly I was salsa dancing with strangers during our hotel’s happy hour and engaging in friendly banter with CEOs (and winning business cards and Linkedin connections in the process.)
One of the most significant things was that this was the first time in a very long time that anyone was interested in my experiences. I had gotten so used to being ignored in favor of my fighter pilot husband, so I was astonished whenever the Israelis inquired about my time in the military, and even more so when they asked why I wasn’t bragging about myself more. I didn’t think I had anything to brag about, but they insisted I was wrong – being a former NFO and intel officer made me a certifiable bad-ass and I needed to own it. I can’t describe how nice it felt to be treated as something more than a pilot’s wife who didn’t have enough ”real” job experience to get an MBA internship.
So anyway, I enjoyed my time with my new friends, partied probably more than I should have, and did some pretty impulsive things like submitting an application to study abroad at Tel Aviv University next semester. When I came back to DC I knew that I had indeed left the cave, and that there was no way I was going back in. I’d gotten a glimpse of the life I wanted for myself, and it was not what I currently had.
To be continued in Part 3