Are You Happy Now?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jody Zolman
  • 821st Air Base Group

Knocking out professional military education, or PME, by correspondence is a rite of passage for officers. Without PME complete, you take yourself out of the running for future promotions. Many officers sign up immediately after finding out about a promotion to avoid any stigma associated with doing PME “late.” PME by correspondence means spending a lot of evenings and weekends hitting the books, prepping for tests, and writing essays. The subject matter ranges from pretty interesting to drier than the Sahara desert, but one assignment I completed for Air War College, now called senior developmental education, really had an impact on me.

I don’t remember the exact task or question. What I do remember is that the assignment forced me to reflect back over my entire Air Force career, about 16 years at that point, and think about where I was and how I wanted the remainder of my career to go.  

We spend a lot of time as Airmen looking forward—to the next assignment, to the next promotion, to where we want to be in five years. That is a mostly a good thing. It forces us to plan and set goals. It forces us to work hard and improve, and helps us through rough patches. We are better people and create better units by looking forward.

Reflection, on the other hand, seems to be something we only do when we have reached a big goal such as promotion or retirement. Reflection is important, but waiting for those big milestones may be too late. Too late to decide if we are on the right path, and too late to appreciate what we have and what we have done. Sometimes, the push for the next new thing leaves little time to savor the moment. What pushes us can also make us dissatisfied, anxious, or unsure about where we are right now.

To complete my assignment, I thought back to the person who went to see a recruiter, went through Officer Training School, and commissioned into the Air Force as a second lieutenant. Who was that person? What did she want out of her Air Force career? Would she be happy with the person she was 16 years later? That person, the Jody Zolman who entered the Air Force, wasn’t worried about making a certain rank, getting a certain job, what her next performance report said or how she racked and stacked among her peers. She wanted two things out of an Air Force career, to travel and to have an opportunity for a secure retirement. Simple and easy.

When I looked at my career through that lens, I felt wildly successful. At that point, I had been to eight assignments in six different countries, with temporary duty assignments to five others. I was four years from being eligible to retire. It was kind of a “wow” moment for me. I realized no matter what happened for the rest of my career, I had done, or was doing, what I set out to do. 

I also realized that those original goals still felt right to me.  This gave me a sense of deep contentedness with my career and has also steered my path since that time.  It has been almost five years since I completed that PME assignment.  I have passed the 20 year mark in my career, a point at which I always thought I would retire, but then there was this opportunity at Thule Air Base, Greenland, and I still like to travel.