If you are comfortable, something is wrong.
As a U.S. Navy lieutenant, Carlos de Cordoba’11 finds that embracing discomfort helps him learn and grow.
During his first deployment on a U.S. Navy ship, Carlos de Cordoba’11 wondered how he’d weather the high-pressure environment. Good communication with fellow shipmates, most of them strangers, would be key to the success of the mission and quality of life aboard the ship.
“When the ship is underway, you can’t go home. You are constantly working as part of a team and you are never off the clock. You have to focus on the mission and your part in it. You need to be a team member and use tact with your shipmates. And if you are an officer, as I am, you need to lead and always be mindful that your highest priority is taking care of your people.”
Fortunately, Beloit College had prepared him.
As Carlos relates, “Beloit students spend most of their time together on campus and are incredibly diverse. They have to pull together to succeed in their studies and to make campus life work. My years at Beloit taught me skills that are critical to the Navy: situational awareness, emotional intelligence, and resilience.”
Carlos is a public affairs officer, or PAO. Commissioned as a surface warfare officer, he took advantage of the Navy’s professional development opportunities to transfer to public affairs while in Bahrain. The ship’s executive officer had suggested the move.
“As a PAO, I help manage the flow of news and information for the Navy, media, and the public. PAOs not only deliver information, but choose the best medium to fit the message and audience. At any given moment, we may be responding to reporters’ questions, managing a social media campaign, or offering insights for top-level Navy decision-making. We also try to put the best version of the Navy forward and defend the fleet from misinformation and negative publicity. The work is fast-paced, demanding, and exacting.” And it suits Carlos well.
Carlos spent one of his Beloit College semesters studying abroad in China, where he was the only Beloit student at his host university he attended. The initial experience was daunting and uncomfortable. But soon he felt, “This is it. I can do this. And I like doing it.”
Carlos would spend the semester both embracing and learning from discomfort. In the process, he’d also become more flexible. Those skills have positioned him well for a career in which deployments to unfamiliar locations can take place on very short notice. Additionally, the cross-cultural competency he gained is invaluable for his current work. As a PAO, Carlos regularly interacts with militaries from around the world. Cultural adaptation is a constant.
Asian studies faculty members were “fountains of knowledge” and taught him analysis. Thus, political scientist John Rapp taught Carlos to examine political systems and find patterns in state behaviors. In turn, historian and anthropologist Rob LaFleur taught him to analyze culture.
“A paragon of professionalism,” according to Carlos, international relations professor Beth Dougherty challenged Carlos to think outside the box and push himself harder to understand foreign policy and politics. Through her, he added the Middle East to the regions that most interested him. He hopes to return to Bahrain at a future point in his Naval career.
Visiting political scientist Matt Lieber taught Carlos to deliver products on a tight deadline, work under pressure, and produce quality work quickly. These skills are critical in the Navy.
His advice for Beloit students?
First, don’t put limits on yourself. Never say, “I can’t.” The Navy has taught him that individuals are capable of achieving incredible feats when they don’t let fear and doubt get in the way. And rather than make excuses when things don’t go your way, look for solutions so you can navigate obstacles and achieve your goals.
Carlos put this philosophy to work on his journey into the Navy. After first knocking on a Navy recruiter’s door, it would take three attempts over a year and a half to be admitted to Officer Candidate School. “Desire, persistence, and determination really matter. When I was not accepted the first and second time I applied, I was tempted to quit. But rather than quit, I decided to see every day as a victory along the way to achieving my goal of joining the Navy. And on the third try, I met success.”
Second, even if you don’t have a specific goal, focus on your personal development. Opportunities don’t end when class is over, and they will connect to your professional development. “Join clubs that challenge your mind,” he recommends. “Play a sport. Push yourself to become a good team member. Winning isn’t the point, but rather the lessons you learn. They will stay with you for a lifetime.” As a former member of Beloit’s swim team, Carlos speaks from experience.
Third, choose classes that are challenging. And once you enroll in them, push yourself to get to the next level.
Finally, if you are interested in joining the military, Carlos advises that you contact recruiter while still a student. The recruiter can help you explore the careers available and understand the application process. And if the military proves right for you, get in the best physical shape you possibly can. You’ll benefit by not only being fit for the training you’ll undergo, but by having the discipline a military life requires. a