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Increase Margin to Decrease Stress

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- I arrived at Officer Training School in the midst of the Air Force's major draw down in the early '90s. I vividly recall the unofficial mantra of the time, "We don't need you, we don't want you, and you have to prove you want to be here." They backed up their threat by eliminating half of the officer trainees. Missile training at Vandenberg was the same.

Then over the next four years at Grand Forks there were seemingly endless force shaping efforts, and many who survived were later culled by low promotion rates.

Like the current draw downs, uncertainty and stress were high. Your current senior leadership survived, and even thrived, by increasing their personal margin.

Increasing margin allows one to bank a little extra something for when it's needed. It also means being better than one has to be, earlier. Margin lowers stress. Being over prepared and having reserve lowers stress. Need 50 push-ups for your PFT? Train like you need 100. Need 60s to make tech? Study like you need to make 90s.

Is a degree a requirement to make major or senior? Complete it as a lieutenant or staff. You'll be glad, because while your peers are struggling to complete a degree before the board convenes, you'll be relaxed and running circles around them at work.

And speaking of work, what are your goals? What if you fall short? Find a chief or colonel, and ask what their career goals were as an airman or junior officer. You will not likely hear, "I just wanted to retire as a captain, and just stumbled into colonel." More likely they worked hard and effective from the onset of their careers, never counted on luck and aspired to be two grades higher than they finished.

The coming years will be difficult, and not everyone who wants a military career will make the cut. There will also be great opportunity. Those who work harder earlier, and bank some margin will be the future senior leaders, and will be less stressed getting there.