In the spirit of Independence Day, I decided that now would be the perfect time to write a Fourth of July-themed blog post. For one, it’s sort of a fun idea, and it’s also a rare opportunity for me to apply my background as a history major. I love drawing these sort of analogies in a cheesy, nerdy kind-of-way, and I really think that we can all draw some powerful inspiration from the people and events that have come before us.
So, here we go: Four “Revolutionary” Career Lessons, brought to you by our Founding Fathers:
Think Outside the Box
In the early modern world, military tactics looked much different than they do today. Vast armies would gather on the field, form long battles lines and exchange volleys toe-to-toe until one side gave up. During that period the British Redcoats were one of the most elite and fearsome military establishments in the world, which almost proved to be an insurmountable challenge for the upstart Colonial forces.
How did they overcome this obstacle? By thinking outside of the box and altering their tactics. Guerrilla warfare tied up large amounts of British resources, making the war costly in terms of time, manpower, and money. George Washington also showed a flash of inspiration when he dramatically crossed the Delaware River and defeated the British forces at Trenton on Christmas Day. Ultimately, the use of unconventional strategy helped turn the momentum of the war in the Colonists’ favor.
The same concept is true for your career. Sometimes, using traditional job search tactics is a little like going to toe-to-toe with the Redcoats – the odds are not in your favor. Instead, you should think about other “guerrilla” tactics that you can use. Should you hide in the bushes and jump out when an employer walks by? Of course not. But you should examine other means for getting your foot in the door. Perhaps that means networking, interning, or volunteering. Perhaps it means using online tools such as LinkedIn or a digital portfolio. Whatever the case might be, don’t be afraid to change up your strategy to help yourself succeed.
Things May Get Worse Before They Get Better
Even if you know relatively nothing about the American Revolution, you’ve probably heard the words “Valley Forge” before. The winter of 1777-1778 was one of lowest points in the war for George Washington and the Continental Army. Camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the Colonials had limited supplies, inadequate clothing, and terrible issues with disease. Of the 12,000 men who entered the encampment at Valley Forge, around 2,500 died during the course of the winter. Despite these massive challenges (which included calls to remove George Washington from leadership), the Continental Army remained intact and went on to continue the war.
In your own professional life, you will encounter similar trials that will challenge your very will to persevere. Of course I’m not talking about your essential physical needs of food, shelter, and medicine (although that may be true for some). Rather, I am talking about the rejection, frustration, and overall hardship that comes with finding your path in life. Perseverance and tenacity are the key to overcoming those obstacles. Just as George Washington and the soldiers of Valley Forge maintained the spark of American independence throughout that winter, you too must keep your eyes on the long-term goals that you wish to achieve in your career.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Related to the story of Valley Forge is another character you may remember from your childhood history books: Baron Friedrich Von Steuben. Von Steuben was a former officer of the Prussian military who was enlisted by George Washington to turn the Continental Army into a professional fighting force. During that harsh winter of 1777-1778, Von Steuben developed training manuals, ran the troops through drill formations, and taught soldiers how to fire and maneuver more effectively. When he was finished, the Colonials were a more formidable army, much more confident in their ability to engage in traditional combat with the British Army.
Without the help of people like Von Steuben (and other allies, such as the French military), it is highly unlikely that the American Revolution would have succeeded. The Colonial forces simply did not have the knowledge and resources to achieve their goals on their own.
Sometimes in your career, you also will lack all of the knowledge or resources you need in order to succeed on your own. The trick is to think about ways that you can leverage your network and the resources that you DO have in order to achieve your objective. That may mean asking for financial support from family members during a period of transition, finding a capable mentor who can help you along the way, or it may be as simple as finding someone with the proper experience to help you with your résumé and cover letter. The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It happens to the best of us…even George Washington!
Never, Never, Never Give Up
One of the most enduring lessons of the American Revolution and its leaders is about the power of perseverance. There are many times – like Valley Forge, or the earlier fall of New York City – that the Colonists could have abandoned their quest for independence. However, the desire for freedom from the British Empire outweighed the sacrifices required to win the war.
Keeping yourself motivated during trying times is never easy, but reflecting about your long-term goals and values is one strategy that can help. What changes are you trying to bring about in your life through your career goals? What is the vision you have for your future?
Another helpful tip: celebrate your victories. While the Colonists suffered many devastating setbacks during the Revolutionary War, there were a few glimpses of success that helped keep them motivated. Victories such as Trenton, Saratoga, and Cowpens kept hope for independence alive and showed the Colonists that the British were not invincible.
As you pursue your career goals, you probably won’t experience success on the first try. But, you might at least land an interview, meet some good contacts at a networking event, or have a breakthrough that allows you to clarify your professional vision. Whatever the case, celebrate those little victories – it will help stoke the fire to keep you motivated and keep your career dreams alive!