Preparation For Your First Year In The CIVDIV

The Challenge.

You’ve survived your transition thus far! You’ve PCS’d your final time to your desired geographical location. You poured over your resume dozens of times and job descriptions hundreds of times, and it received hits! Those countless hits turned into interviews you crushed, and now you’re excitedly preparing for your first full week in the Civilian Division (CIVDIV)!

That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news.

It most likely will feel like hitting a wall at 40 mph.

Let me show you what I mean…

What Do You Wear?

You hear maxims like “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”, but no one means it. I walked around for many months in suits and ties and my peers said “Why are you making us look bad?” Some bosses who didn’t dress that way said “You can lose the coat Wright, and go tie and sleeves; we run a casual shop around here”. Others I am sure, behind my back, said “Check out that brown-noser!”

So over time you’ll relax, you’ll begin to dress more casually. You’ll slowly become gray; more like the drones around you.

Don’t fall for it! Dress the part you want!

I climbed the ladder. Why? I look serious about what I’m doing. I take seriously my responsibility to ensure my employer gets their Return On Investment (ROI) back for my salary. All of my work products were above expectations, and my ability to write and communicated put me on fast tracks to seats in board rooms inside many companies, from startup to established, from healthcare to finance.

Throttle Back. Waaaaay Back!

That’s another thing you might hear.

I’ve been ten minutes early to meetings only to sit there until the top of the hour. When everyone else begins filing in. Including the meeting organizer! At five minutes past the hour!

Why? Potentially lack of discipline and attention to detail, but my working hypothesis is Outlook! It insidiously sets everyone’s agenda because we’re all on auto pilot and continue to let it default to starting every meeting we schedule at the top of the hour and run for sixty minutes.

Think about it for a second though viewing audience, you leave an 8 a.m. meeting at 9:03 a.m. because it ran late because it started late, make a head call, grab a cup of coffee, and show up late to the next one. Even if you cut out the niceties, it isn’t physically possible to get from one floor to another in under one minute to make that next meeting, even if the elevator is only 8 feet from either conference room.

Not you though, we’ve been trained differently. No actually, our DNA has been altered!

You’ll always be early, ten minutes probably right. From your peers you’ll hear (or behind your back they’ll sneer) “Oh, it’s that gal! Butt kisser! She’s early to every meeting to make us all look bad!” But what they don’t understand is we simply care. We’ve been taught not to waste time, mine or others.

However, you’ll begin to wonder “Am I? Is it really me? Maybe I should throttle back”?

Don’t succumb! Be you!

You’ll stand out when, at 8 a.m., at the start of the work day, your computer is already on and booted up, your coffee is full and hot, and you’re already producing as your co-workers drag in. Their routines will actually have them working by 8:30 a.m. or so, but they’ll be ready and on-time for break at 9:30 a.m. for sure. And if you stay late? “Why are you making us all look bad?”

That alone will make you stand head and shoulders above your peers, and you’ll look darn good doing it. Leadership will notice!

Speaking of Leadership!

However, many of the “leaders” you work for will not do anything with you; expect you to work harder. In fact, in my experience, a majority of them will be intimidated by you. A few will even resent you.

Leaders in the CIVDIV are called that because they sit in those roles on the organizational chart. Often there’s been no formal training for them or vetting of them. They were the best technician, accountant, sales person, teacher, or employee in the department, so they got the leadership position. It’s catch as catch can.

However Brother or Sister, take heart though! A few of the good ones will be sprinkled here and there and they will recognize your value to the organization and its mission accomplishment, and they will mentor and groom you. Latch onto them tightly.

Exert your influence. Take care of your team members and peers, and yes, your leader. They’ll all realize you make their lives easier, and they’ll keep you around and promote you. They’ll help you develop cultural and political awareness. Your leadership, when applied subtly (you have to be subtle though!), will help you stand out, but only after you get good at doing what you were hired to do.

Mediocrity Rules

If you haven’t gathered it by now, I’ll just say it. In many organizations across many industries, mediocrity rules. Effort is rewarded, not results. And that effort only has to meet the minimum prescribed effort. Why? The law says so. Easy peasy. No extra credit given, but yep, extra whining allowed when “What do you mean I got a 3 out of 5! I did my job”! Mediocrity is the norm.

You don’t have to like it, just tolerate it and work around it. You now have the enemy painted clearly in your sights.


I know that by now, you must think I’m a pretty disparaging pessimistic guy. In fact, you may even think I’m being overly cynical. However, this piece and my hypotheses are drawn from my experience making my way out here in the CIVDIV for over 20 years in all shapes and sizes of organizations and in several industries. It’s anecdotal I know, but before you dismiss it, why do you think ecards like the image for this article circulate the Internet virally! Remember the old saying “There’s always a kernel of truth in every jest”? There must be a kernel or it wouldn’t be right; no one would connect with it. How are movies like Office Space so cultish, and TV series like the Office so universally watched. It’s not just my view Brothers and Sisters.

However, because I really am a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I do believe that everyone has some degree of intrinsic value, what positives can we take away today. Well:

  1. Dress for the role you ultimately want;
  2. Show up a bit early, stay a bit late, and do a bit more than the standard;
  3. Show your compassion for the mission and the team and the boss, be the force multiplier;
  4. Subtly show those around how to lead, be the example;
  5. And stay optimistic! They will notice.

Nothing lasts forever, you’re living proof of that! Your career in the military is now over, and you’ve started a stint in the CIVDIV that will probably ultimately be longer in duration. Just remember to influence what you can, as much of the time as you can, and struggle mightily and constantly to not become gray. You’ll stand out. You’ll be promoted. You’ll rise to make a difference to your teams, your leaders, your organizations, and your customers. It will take a year or so, maybe more, but the environment will conform to your influence. Each one of us that persists make the CIVDIV a better place to spend our second career.

BOOYAH! (That’s my CIVDIV replacement for HOOAH, OOHRAH, and HOOYAH!)