Overcoming Inertia

Inertia is the force that holds an object at rest in place and prevents it from moving. A certain amount of force is required to move an object at rest. Sometimes people are like objects at rest and it takes a certain amount of force or motivation to get them to move or change their behavior. One of the behaviors that takes some time and effort to change is an Airman's willingness to be promoted. Believe it or not, many Airman really don't want to be promoted! It's much more common than you'd expect.

The first step in changing this behavior is to think positive! Everybody has their good days and their bad days. Some days everything goes right and we feel like we can conquer the world. But other days we just want to stay in bed and call in sick. Sometimes we get a little discouraged and think, there's no way I'll get promoted so why bother? Don't fall into this self-defeating trap! If you don't believe you can be promoted, you almost certainly won't be! You can be promoted! You will be promoted!

I don't think anyone believes that they'll never be promoted. And if they believe they'll be promoted eventually, why can't that eventual date in the future be now? Positive thinking has more effect on your life than most people think. There is not room enough here to thoroughly discuss this vitally important topic but I recommend these old classics, See You at the Top and The Magic of Thinking Big, as required reading. They will introduce you to new, more positive ways to view your life and the opportunities you encounter every day.

An obstacle many Airmen have to overcome is the fear of being promoted. Many people are intimidated by the perceived increase in responsibility. They think, I can't do that —I can't be an NCO or a SSgt or a MSgt or whatever —and so they don't make a sincere effort to prepare for testing —because they don't want to be promoted! It might be hard to picture yourself performing your supervisor's duties. You might not feel as if you're tough enough or mature enough or confident enough to do what he does. And that's a natural feeling that most of us have at one time or another. But we're all different and we all approach tasks in different ways. The way you execute the duties of your next rank will be different than your predecessor and may be even better and more efficient. Don't let this natural concern damper your enthusiasm. Every Airman encounters a moment of self-doubt and has had to overcome it. You can too!

Do you think this will be the only moment of self-doubt you will encounter during your career? No! There will be many challenges. Wait 'til the first time you have to stand up at Commanders Call and make a short presentation. You will encounter it before every single promotion and it has to be vanquished every time. I'll never forget the time I was TDY to the NCO Academy. We were housed in the same dorms as the Master Sergeants who were attending the SNCO Academy. As we stood on the common balcony getting to know each other, one of the Master Sergeants was visibly worried and couldn't stop asking his fellow Master Sergeants questions —does this uniform look OK? Do we have to give speeches? Are there group projects? Is there a final test? Oh, I don't think I can do it. What if I fail? I might as well leave now. This nervous Nelly was sure he'd never make it through the SNCO Academy and was crippled by fear! I was shocked. I thought Master Sergeants knew everything and were the privileged insiders who had nothing to fear. It just goes to show you: we're all the same. We all have moments when we think we're not up to the task. And we have to overcome them.

In addition to overcoming the fear of increased responsibility, sometimes we also have to overcome a lack of ambition. I have known, over the years, many, many outstanding technicians, crew members, and mechanics who were the absolute best at what they did, loved their jobs, but were content to remain Senior Airmen or Staff Sergeants for the rest of their natural-born lives. And that is lamentable because these people are the backbone of the Air Force. They are what make things move. They are the people NCOICs consult when they need correct and accurate boots on the ground answers. Yet they stubbornly resist suggestions for advancing their career and refuse to make efforts in that direction.

Some are afraid of the tasks that go along with a promotion that they may feel they're not qualified for like writing reports or presenting briefings. Some don't want to be promoted because they love doing what they do and don't want to become desk jockeys. After all, who wants to deal with deadbeat Airmen and chase people around trying to get them to complete their ancillary training? But, if you are one of those who are reluctant to get promoted because they don't have the skills to become a "manager", let me say that there are very few natural managers. We all learn on the job making lots of mistakes along the way and learning from them. That's part of the fun of being promoted: sharing your mistakes with your fellow managers, laughing at them, and learning from each other. You can be a manager too. The most important thing about being a manager is being sincere and doing the best job you can —for your co-workers and the mission. It's not always fun to be the boss but it's the natural order of things. We have to accept responsibility and grow into greater responsibilities.

Another thing that discourages people from working to get promoted is their dedication to the workcenter, the squadron, and the Air Force. Most of the time, the people who work the hardest and care the most about their responsibilities are too busy making sure the mission is accomplished and training new Airmen to put much effort into advancing their own career. And this type of Airman often doesn't want to be promoted. Becaue many Airmen and NCOs have the not entirely unfounded perception that integrity and leadership decline as rank increases. After all, in today's well-rounded Air Force, it's the TSgt who is often missing from the work center because he's setting up a Dining-In for the Commander or volunteering at the local Airman Leadership School who gets recognized and receives endorsements —not the people who labor day and night behind the scenes to make sure that plane gets launched. It's the shady NCO who attaches himself to the NCOIC like a remora and is only capable of repeating what the shop chief puts out who is on the fast track to the next rank. Who wants to be promoted if it means joining this despised group who care more about themselves than their coworkers and the mission?

But, if you let this perception keep you from pursuing that next stripe, you are doing yourself a disservice. This perception that the only people who get promoted are unprincipled scalawags is only a perception perpetuated by those who are bitter about not being promoted themselves. The vast majority of people who rise to the top three ranks (TSgt, MSgt, and SMSgt) earned their positions through hard work and dedication to the mission —just like you. They are the kind of people you'd be glad to join. (I know CMSgts are the top rank but the same claim cannot, without qualifications, be made for them.)

So, to summarize, many of us just aren't ambitious and care more about doing a good job at work than promoting our own careers. We care more about doing our share than about trying to make ourselves look better than our peers. And that's natural. But ultimately, it's wrong. You have to take care of yourself. While you're working overtime to help make sure the mission gets done, others are working just as hard to get promoted ahead of you. Don't let the under-achievers in your shop get promoted ahead of you. If you really love the Air Force, you have to take responsibility for your position and see to it that only qualified people get promoted —and not that weasel who's always missing when there's work to be done. Not the person who always finds a way to avoid shiftwork. Not the person who always calls in sick so they can watch their kids when their wife can't. Not the person who attends every squadron function he can get away with or signs up for every permissive TDY he can con the Commander into. Not the jerk who gets away with refusing a remote assignment. It's time for you to step up and get that promotion you've earned.

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