Career Tip for Army Soldiers: Begin with the End in Mind

If I could offer you just one great career tip as an Army Soldier, it would be this: begin with the end in mind.  One of my mentors, Stephen Covey (now deceased) wrote the famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  To me, this was a life-changing book.  One of the lessons he taught in the book was to begin with the end in mind.  In other words, you need to know where you want to go if you ever hope of getting there.

When I look across the Army, I seldom find anyone who knows EXACTLY what they want to accomplish in their military career.  Rather than having a concrete plan or strategy, they float along and take the assignments and jobs they are given.  Personally, I call these people FLOATERS.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I’m not knocking these folks.  There’s nothing wrong with not knowing what you want in your career.  But, if you truly want to accomplish something significant, you have to take some time to determine what you really want.  Furthermore, I’ve never met a General Officer or Command Sergeant Major who just woke up one day and achieved that rank.  In other words, their success did not happen by accident.  These successful NCOs and Officers had a game plan and they stuck with their game plan.

If you want to have a successful and fulfilling Army career, you need to begin with the end in mind.  You need to set some written career goals and think about what you want to accomplish in your career.  What rank do you want to retire as?  What jobs do you want?  What deployments do you want?  What schools do you want?  What do you want to be remembered for?  How much do you want your pension to be?  Spend as much time as it takes and honestly answer these questions.  Once you know the answers to these questions, you need to write a mission statement for your career.  Here is an example:

My goal is to retire from the Army National Guard with 26 years of service.  I will retire as a Lieutenant Colonel.  In my last assignment, or prior to retiring, I will serve as a Battalion Commander of a combat unit.  I will complete the Army War College prior to retiring.  When I retire, I will qualify for a monthly pension of $2,000 per month when I turn 60.  Finally, I will position myself for a job as a government contractor at the state headquarters.

When you begin with the end in mind, you have a clear purpose.  You know what you want to accomplish.  You can then do your backwards planning and determine the actions steps you must do along the way to reach your ultimate objectives.  You will know what jobs and schools you need and when you need them.  Simply put, you will be a person of action, someone who knows who they are and what they want.  Once you know how to do that, you have a 99% chance of reaching your goals.

If you get nothing else out of this post, please follow Stephen Covey’s advice and “begin with the end in mind.” Determine what you want in your military career, whether it is a four year career or thirty year career.  Be as specific and as clear as possible.  Use the example I provided and then tailor it to your goals.  If you can do that, you will be well on your way to success.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you have any questions? Please post them below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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11 thoughts on “Career Tip for Army Soldiers: Begin with the End in Mind”

  1. So many people in today’s world should read this post; not just military. It seems people in general just bounce from day to day without any clear cut goals of where they are going. There is nothing wrong with living care free, but a person still needs to have goals on where they want to go.

    I kind of look at this post like driving a car. I was taught that you don’t watch so much right in front of you, but you contemplate what is going to occur one or two miles in front of you. Such is life; look at the future and plan what you want, and there is a good chance you will get it.

  2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is not only a book but also the basis of many leadership and career classes. I have participated in such two times. For some people though the means are more important at certain times of their lives than the end. They crave flexibility after having been in say … a 60 – 70 hour per week job (quite true when it is your own business) for a dozen years or so. The period of time when they can afford to place a priority on flexibility can be the time when they do much observing. They might consider being a consultant in the areas of their expertise and pay attention to different opportunities. Creating a new mission for life will be easier because of the new exposures.

    1. I always wanted to attend one of his workshops. From what I read about Stephen Covey he did the workshops first and then came up with “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The book changed my life and taught me how to be successful and whatever I wanted in life. I’m glad you enjoyed your two classes.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Neil O'Donnell

    Sounds like you had a great mentor. I definitely find that writing down specific goals helped me maintain my focus and succeed throughout my career. I would add that a soldier’s end goal may change once or twice. In such instances, I think your advice still stands – just start fresh with the new end in mind.

    1. Goals change all the time, even for Soldiers. That’s perfectly okay and normal. Whenever you set a new goal, just take a few minutes and create a new action plan that outlines what you need to do to reach your goal.

  4. I think many military folks forget that some of the best government jobs to be had after discharge are at the state level. Of course, the huge agencies at the federal level, like IRS, Social Security, and Dept. of Agriculture hire plenty of ex-military. But state governments tend to have higher-paying (and more interesting) jobs. The handful of states I’ve dealt with are always looking for qualified, disciplined candidates for all sorts of job categories.

    1. Good points, Larry. Most states have some great state jobs for former military personnel. You just need to do your research and due diligence to find the right job for you. Thanks for the comment.


  5. This is great advice for someone wanting to stay in the military and make a career out of it. For those people who are like me, and decided to get out after a few years this article still applies to you. I saw many people in the military that were just there to be there and really had no aspirations in mind. Before I joined I set goals for 4 years down the road of what I wanted to have accomplished by the time I got out. I was able to finish two years of college in the Army before I got out. So even if you aren’t planning to make a career of the military, you should have goals in mind for what you’re going to use your time in the military for.

    1. Goals are the key to success in life. It’s a proven fact that less than 2 in 100 people have written goals. Just taking the time to think about what you want to accomplish in the military, and in life, and then jotting that down on paper can pay huge dividends! I’m been writing down my goals for almost 10 years now and my life has completely transformed because of it. In life you can either decide what you want to accomplish or accept what you are given.

      Chuck Holmes

  6. Any goal should be SMART:

    Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-limited

    People have a tendency to say things like “I want to be successful.” Well, that’s not very specific. What do you consider “successful” to be? If you don’t know what you need to achieve, you’re not going to get very far toward your goal. Measurable means putting specific numbers on your goal. Your New Year’s resolution might be to lose weight, but if you say, “I want to lose 20 pounds,” that gives you a specific goal and lets you create milestones to judge success or failure–two pounds a week, for example. Attainable just means being realistic. If you’re not already on that career path, chances are you’re never going to be an astronaut. Establishing a goal that’s just not realistic can be terribly discouraging when you don’t reach it. Be careful with this one, though, because it’s easy to let “I can’t” creep in and derail your plans. Relevant means having a purpose that supports your broader aims. You might declare to yourself, “I’m going to read two books every month.” OK, great–but why? Do you want to learn more about your career field? Do you want to improve your personal relationships? Do you want to become a better leader? Make your smaller goals support your larger ones. Finally, put a time limit on things. If you say, “I’m going to save $5,000 as a down payment on a new car,” you’re under no pressure to achieve that because there’s no clock ticking, so you can justify spending $100 at the mall instead of putting it toward your goal.

    1. Daniel,

      SMART goals definitely make sense. You need to be as specific as possible. And you need to write it down. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a dream.

      Setting written goals has transformed my business and life. It worked for me and I know it can work for you.


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