There is no substitute for hard work

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- One of the questions I am often asked is, "How did you get promoted to chief master sergeant so quickly, with less than 20 years of service?"  Although there is no easy answer or one specific event that has led me to being in this humbling position, I normally answer by attributing making the rank of chief master sergeant to good old-fashioned mentorship. 

I've been blessed with several mentors who have made a big impact on my maturation and development as a senior non-commissioned officer.  Whether your goal is to be the next Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force or simply obtain your bachelor's degree, I'd like to share a few tips that may assist you during your journey.

It has been said that most successful people started out with having big dreams.  Although dreaming about things you want to do in life is great, a wise mentor once told me that goals produce results, dreams don't.  So my advice to any Airman is to establish what you want to do in life, short and long-term, and then write your goals out on paper. 

The next step is turning your dreams and goals into action or reality.  For example, when I first joined the Air Force, I dreamed of being the first 'Clark' to ever graduate from college.  My mentor at the time was the logistics group executive officer, Captain Carillo, who opened up my eyes to the field of computer science.  He always advocated that education made Airmen better at their jobs and enhanced their leadership abilities.  Every day he would ask me if I had enrolled into a degree program until one day I gave in.  I quickly marched down to the education office and obtained a degree plan (goal), and through hard work, long hours and commitment ... I eventually received my bachelor's degree in 2003 and became the first person in my family to graduate college. It was not an easy task, but through hard work and focus, we can accomplish almost anything.

The old saying that 'there is no substitute for hard work' can never be under estimated. Airmen often ask me how they can achieve a quarterly or annual award or earn below the zone.  I emphatically scream ... hard work!  Everyone knows that the competition for awards is very tough, and it should be an honor to even be nominated, however I truly believe that hard work pays off. I also have confidence that our senior leaders will rightfully recognize those who truly deserve any accolades.  Moreover, serving in the Air Force is more than about winning awards; we all should strive to work hard to execute our mission. With that being said, most members who do win those awards go the extra mile by working harder and sometimes even staying late until the job is done.

There are some people who are born with exceptional gifts and they do not require as much application and practice as others to reach their goals, however, that's very few people. Most people have to put in a considerable amount of work to reach goals of substance. One person who was known for working hard is Jerry Rice, a National Football League Hall of Fame player. He is considered by many to be the best wide receiver of all time and one of my personal inspirations.  With records such as 22,895 receiving yards, 1,549 receptions and 197 touchdowns, Rice's work ethic is said to be not of this earth.  He would run ridiculous distances uphill--2.5 miles nonstop--each and every day during the off-season. Rice wasn't the fastest football player and didn't possess the most athletic ability, but no one prepared and worked harder than Rice.  He is proof that hard work will almost always guarantee a favorable return on investment.

Achieving your goals and working extremely hard are essential elements for any successful endeavor, but I truly believe we earn our stripes as Airmen by overcoming adversity and challenges in our day-to-day lives.  The road ahead in the Air Force seems a bit foggy at the moment.  With budget constraints and new personnel programs such as the evaluation system overhaul looming, some of our Airmen feel uncertain of how their careers will fit in this big paradigm shift.  My advice to be successful during these changing times is to trust that our senior leaders are steering the Air Force in the right direction and will not let us down.  The bottom line is to be concerned about things that are in our control.

In 2011, I felt I had worked my hardest to be in a position to get promoted to chief master sergeant. I absolutely felt that the stars were aligned so that I'd be promoted first-time eligible to test.  When the chief promotion results were released and I didn't make it, I was devastated for a good week and questioned everything and everyone who gave me advice.  I missed promotion by less than seven points and felt the promotion board shortchanged my records ... I blamed the system.  I sought out advice from one of my great mentors and she recommended that I remain positive and focus on getting better by controlling the things that were in my power to change or improve. 

That following year I studied harder and kept my attention on taking care of the Airmen I was entrusted to lead. I made chief that year but learned a bigger lesson after all the dust settled, and that is that sometimes things don't go as originally planned, we must be willing to sacrifice some things and have trust that our mentors and leaders have our best interests at heart. 

Joseph Campbell, American mythologist and author, stated, "Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging."

I have never claimed to obtain the magic formula to success in life, but one thing that is for certain, we can't do it alone and having mentors is crucial to our development and growth.  Additionally, it's okay to have big dreams; however, be sure to translate those visions into goals and then the sky is the limit.  However, I must warn you, there is no substitute for hard work. Remember the most successful people don't stay down for too long because they are resilient and let others help them during turbulent times.  Finally, I challenge each of you to find a mentor or have a positive influence on a fellow Hodja who may need your support; you may be in a position to change their lives.