As a member of the WeWork Veterans in Residence program, I have come in contact with some amazing military veterans turned entrepreneurs. This Veteran’s Day, I’m reflecting on the time we shared, which has been nothing less than transformational—personally and professionally. The camaraderie, authenticity, and genuine caring we show for one another springs from our shared experience, sacrifice, and commitment. In short, my company TurtleWise is a better business and I am a better founder and person having been a part of this program, which will soon expand nationwide.
I would like to share some of the unique attributes that I have seen on display in our entrepreneur group while at the same time dispel some commonly held myths and untruths about military veterans as a group.
- Myth: All veterans have PTSD. Most veterans, either through rigorous training, wargaming, or actual combat, have experienced traumatic stress. This stress develops into full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder in very few of us. We should support—and not stigmatize—military veterans who have endured much to protect their nation’s ideals. The ability to function well in high-stress, high-stakes situations will serve the veteran entrepreneur well as he or she launches and grows a business.
- Myth: Military skills don’t transfer well to civilian life. Military service is one of the best training grounds for leadership, teamwork, complex problem-solving, prioritization, determination, decisiveness, endurance, adaptability, improvisation, and values-based thinking/action. These skills are wholly transferable to the entrepreneurial world and can be the difference between success and failure in business and in life. Having spent 20 years as a corporate executive, I firmly believe that any one of the founders in my Veterans in Residence group would do exceptionally well in any corporate leadership role due to these skills.
- Myth: Veterans are uneducated. Contrary to negative stereotypes, US military veterans are generally more educated with higher aptitude and situational learning than the general US population. Choosing military service shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of other alternatives. For most, there is a clear and present opportunity cost when deciding to begin (and persist through) a career in military service. This choice is to be commended, not snubbed.
- Myth: Ex-military need someone giving them orders to succeed. While military service is largely a team environment, individual accountability, expertise, and responsibility are also honed. But as any entrepreneur can tell you, founding a business is a lonely road to travel. By coming together in programs such as Veterans in Residence, we have mitigated the loneliness and shared coping mechanisms with one another, showing that we are stronger together.
- Myth: Once a soldier, always a soldier. The military veteran entrepreneur is adept at re-invention, re-creation, and the pivot. Whether it be a change of location, vocation, duties, careers, etc., this ability to negotiate change adds a tremendous amount to the entrepreneurial toolkit.
While all of these positive characteristics aren’t guaranteed in every veteran, nor are they the only keys to entrepreneurial success, I believe that they indicate a strong potential for success. Creating jobs for veterans? We can create own jobs, if we’re given the right tools.