I’m fortunate to have spent many years working closely with military people all over the world. Early in my career, I worked for an American University based in Europe and lived in a divided Germany before the Berlin wall came down. I looked into the eyes of people who lived on the other side of “the wall” and found despair. I also looked into the eyes of Soviet border guards and knew that the wall would come down. I knew it within my deepest humanity – though for reasons I still can’t articulate. I knew that a deeper human dimension would prevail in Eastern Europe and that our military people were there to hold the space open until that could happen.
After several years in Europe, the University where I was employed transferred me to Okinawa, Japan, where I continued to work with the American military stationed there and I met the man, an active-duty Marine, who would become my husband. This extended exposure to other cultures and belief systems early in my life helped to broaden my perspective and deepen my appreciation of those in our military services.
After returning to the United States, I became a consultant and project manager for Everett Alvarez, Jr. Mr. Alvarez is best known as the first American shot down over Vietnam and the longest-held POW in American history. His deep humility about this experience had a profound impact on me. The simple intention that sustained him and his fellow prisoners through 8.5 years of brutal captivity: Return with Honor. During my years with Mr. Alvarez’s company, I absorbed the lessons offered by this quiet hero; not as concepts, but as a living, breathing model of wisdom and integrity.
Eventually, I took what I learned from my military mentors and applied it in business where I had the privilege of working with executives all over the world. I noticed that there were some who reached the pinnacle of success and yet experienced a sense of emptiness… a gap. What I witnessed was that for many of these executives, that gap was filled when they could serve – when they chose to commit to something bigger and go beyond themselves.
In David Brooks’ book, “The Second Mountain,” the author speaks of two different mountains. The first mountain is the life of what we’re told is success and then something happens that throws you in the valley, which breaks you open to the second mountain, a life of giving yourself away in service.
This is the dynamic I observed with my military mentors and then later with these top global executives, and it has inspired me personally and professionally for many years.
What these individuals all have in common is that they live with a heart of service. Our Veterans are willing to commit to something bigger than themselves. They will confront the deepest fears known to humans, they will be asked to risk their lives or give their lives, they will step into the line of fire, they are willing to traverse the edges of what human beings are capable of — both good and evil – and all of this they do with a heart of service.
I recognize that this is a sensitive topic, and we have an ongoing national debate that is easily weaponized – but that is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about the people I know and have met and their commitment to service. There is an inherent nobility in a willingness to serve and to experience the bonds that can be created when we go beyond the boundaries of self-preservation.
I am reminded of the words of Albert Pike, the author, orator, and poet, who said, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
We are living into a new frontier, creating a new future; one that I believe makes it possible to heal, to move forward, and re-connect at that very human level using the heart of service as a guide that will leave a lasting, positive impact on the world that remains.
I believe that being of service is a normal, natural state of being – it reflects the highest attributes that we possess as human beings, but those who choose to commit their lives in service to others and the world are exceptional indeed. For this, our Veterans deserve our gratitude.
So, on this Veteran’s Day, let the InteraWorks team be the first to say to all our Veterans: “Thank you for your heart of service.”
Author – Anne McGhee-Stinson
Managing Partner & Director of Practice
InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent, and energy to produce results that matter most.
We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team, or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.