After the loss of her leg, Patty continued to serve on Active Duty and eventually competed for the US in the Paralympics. In this interview she talks about how her accident changed her view on athletics, and how to shift one’s thinking from Post Traumatic Stress to Post Traumatic Growth. We talk about the difficulties Veterans face in their career transition around finding a new identity, and how to get out of your comfort zone and find new goals to combat this. We talk about the “imposter syndrome,” workalike balance, consulting, and more.
Patty Collins is a Principal at the McChrystal Group, which has leadership development offerings that are designed to equip leaders with the knowledge and tools to shape culture and cultivate performance within their organizations. Patty served as an Army Communications Officer for over 24 years, and spent over seven years assigned to Special Mission units within the Joint Special Operations Command. After her transition from the military, Patty was a member of the 2016 US Paralympic Team, representing the U.S. in the sport of Triathlon in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Patty holds a Master’s degree from the National War College and a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University.
This episode is sponsored by Lockheed Martin. At Lockheed Martin, veterans are at the center of everything they do — in fact, one in five of their employees has served in uniform. Lockheed Martin is proud to help men and women like you successfully transition into civilian careers. Join Lockheed Martin and you will find opportunities to take on the same kind of long-term challenging assignments you tackled while in the military. Whether you’re on active duty, transitioning or already embarking on your civilian career, Lockheed Martin’s Military Connect is your online community for professional support. You can find out more at https://lockheedmartin.bravenew.com
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Alexandria, VA is Patty Collins. Patty Collins is a Principal at the McChrystal Group, which has leadership development offerings that are designed to equip leaders with the knowledge and tools to shape culture and cultivate performance within their organizations. Patty served as an Army Communications Officer for over 24 years, and spent over seven years assigned to Special Mission units within the Joint Special Operations Command. After her transition from the military, Patty was a member of the 2016 US Paralympic Team, representing the U.S. in the sport of Triathlon in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Patty holds a Master’s degree from the National War College and a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University.
Can you talk about the role of sports in your life?
I was a mediocre high school athlete. But then I found triathlons shortly after high school. So that has been a huge hobby for me ever since.
My injury is not related to combat. I was home from deployment and hit by a car while bicycling. After that I went through a period of time in which I was diagnosed with depression. I didn’t know how my injury would heal or what it would look like. But I also realized what an impact sports had on my mental state because after the injury I didn’t have that outlet in my life.
About ten months after the injury, I decided to amputate. Eventually I was able to get back into sports. Getting involved in para-sport presented an amazing opportunity for me. I now believe losing my leg was one of the best things that happened to me because it opened a whole new world for me.
We talk about post-traumatic stress but we don’t talk that much about post-traumatic growth. Scientifically - 30% of people that go through a traumatic experience will grow in some way as a result of that event. And I really think it’s important to have those conversations as well.
And to bring it back to your original question about sports, I think that people’s involvement in sports can really shape and define you. When you look at people that were in sports teams growing up, there are certain attributes that they develop that they carry with them throughout their life.
I love your perspective on struggles and difficulties because when I look back on my life, it’s been those periods of time when I’ve learned the most.
Transitioning from the military is an enormous step and we often fail to acknowledge that. It can often be quite difficult. Having a tight network of people around you can be extremely beneficial. My last assignment in the military was in Alexandria, VA, and I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be staying there after I retired. So I made an effort to get to know my neighbors. I also got involved in some community initiatives. So as I transitioned, I already had a network of people outside the military.
It’s important to also set some new goals for yourself. You’re going to be in a new sector, learning a new industry so it’s important to shift your expectations.
What was it like transitioning to your first civilian job?
I actually took a year off after I left the military in order to train for the Paralympics. It was an amazing opportunity to have that time. I made some financial decisions prior to that that made that possible. I would really encouraging taking a period of time off after you leave the military to just to some soul searching - even if it’s only 30 days or so.
I had an IT background but that wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to pursue. Nobody ever calls your software or cable company when things are going well. You call them to complain and have them fix your problems. But what I did like about that field was the interaction with other people. So I eventually realized that what I was really passionate about was leadership development.
We receive so much training on leadership in the military and we make an assumption that the rest of corporate America has the same programs but that’s not the case. I had served with General McChrystal during my career so it ended up being an easy transition into the McChrystal Group. What I wasn’t accustomed to was that we were hiring a lot of super talented people without military backgrounds. I was so impressed by them and felt like I wasn’t going to measure up. And then they said the same thing about working with veterans - that they were really impressed by their service and some of the things they had done. So there was a lot of mutual respect and I think we all had a little bit of Imposter Syndrome
How would you describe what the McChrystal Group does as an organization?
We’re a small company - less than 100 people. We work on a consulting basis with companies - usually a 4-6 month engagement in which we try to align their strategy of their operating rhythm. Our leadership institute - we prefer to do a light touch with companies in which we focus on behavior and changes to improve leadership at the organization. And then we have a discovery piece as well. That starts with a little bit of a survey to discover how people are connected at a particular organization and how employees are connected to the organization. Some of our clients are very small while others are major Fortune 500 companies. It’s exciting because I’m constantly working with people from different sectors or industries.
What does the title of “Principal” translate to on a day-to-day to basis?
Someone with 20-25 years of work experience would get hired as a Principal. I work with a 3-5 person team working with a client. So I’m usually the project lead with others on the team supporting me. But when it comes to plan a collaboration with a particular company, it’s very much a team effort.
There’s not a lot of emphasis on job title or status. It really is an “all hands on deck” type of environment.
How much travel do you do and how many hours per week are you working?
I was pretty surprised as I made that transition that there was a lot of latitude in creating a schedule and work environment that works for you. I just picked up my son and we’re going to do a couple things this this afternoon and then I’ll take some calls for work later on. We’re in such a digital world that working 9-5 is not necessarily the norm anymore.
I work more than 40 hours a week but not a great deal more. But I’m also working for different space wherever I might be - not necessarily in the office. We also have a policy that makes it so you’re not limited to a certain amount of vacation time. You know what you need to accomplish and as long as your work is done, nobody will question you.
I also remember from my military days that we contributed to a “water fund”. But here we have snacks and drinks all day long. So that’s really a job perk. That was new for me coming from the military. At our office, we also don’t have assigned spaces. We just plug in where we need to be.
You also mentioned the importance of discovering different opportunities outside of work as well. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Working on projects in different industries has opened my eyes to certain thing that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. And that has increased my interest in volunteering in different organizations.
I also coach triathlons and that has been really valuable to me. I think when I was in the military, I didn’t get that involved in the community because I felt like it wasn’t worth it since I would be moving so soon anyway.
Can you talk more about your involvement with Team 43?
It was really an amazing opportunity and I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t lost a limb. In 2011, George Bush took 15 military veterans that had suffered an injury and took them mountain biking in South Texas. For me, it was really an incredible experience. The program has evolved over time to include more job training and other programming to address issues veterans face.
Are there any resources that you would recommend to listeners?
Make a point to expose yourself to things outside of your comfort zone to experience new perspectives. Sometimes the military puts you in a bubble so it can be really valuable to expose yourself to new and different experiences.
There are tons of resources out there for veterans and I encourage veterans to take advantage of those programs.
One thing I thought I wanted to pursue and still might pursue at some point in the future is working in the nonprofit sector. Exploring that industry exposed me to different social issues that had not been on my radar before. So I encourage people to find what they’re passionate about in the community and get involved in those. In the military we were part of something bigger than ourselves and I think there are avenues to continue serving a greater good in the community.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
I encourage you to bring your family into the transition process. My son was very small when I retired and I wanted to keep his needs in mind as well as my own. So bringing your family into the conversation is really important.