Innovation is Life: Honoring Veterans in Transition

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I attended the Atlantic Live! Press Breakfast this morning which focused on Veterans returning home. In thinking about why I was drawn to attend the discussion of Culture Shock: Vets and the Battle Back Home, I realized that it was because I believe Innovation is Life, and two components stand out – the circumstances which bring people to being innovative, and the transition one goes through to achieve being in a new place, frame of mind, and approach. I had come to hear inspirational golden nuggets.

Every day we are confronted with new ideas, possibilities and opportunities which offer themselves for the taking. If we dare, we act on them. For some of us this is natural. For others, this takes a lot of will and effort. And for still others, it is a dance between the two.

And when we step into opportunity and do something new, for some that can be a transition, sometimes deep and significant. In one moment, that person is in a place they know well. In another moment, they have leapt into a whole other way of thinking, doing, and Being. Transition can be difficult, scary, or accepted and easy, or, again, a dance between the two.
I know from personal experience that if one stops innovating in one’s own life, or resists doing it and accepting the transition that it naturally brings, it feels like death. The imagination dies. The will to create dies. The very will to live and be a productive part of humanity disappears.

Innovation and Transition can be a ‘Culture Shock’ for any person. For any person looking at their life or a circumstance and realizing they need to take a new approach.
Now imagine what it is like to return to civilian life from a tour of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq or any other place in the world. Or imagine what it is like to be responsible for deaths taking place thousands of miles away in another country through drone attacks. My imagination will not do it justice. I would need their words. But the numbers tell a story – 18 returning veteran suicides per day. Still. We’ve been hearing this number for several years now.

Imagine the depth of courage that must be sourced in order to transition from active field duty with ones platoon to eating at the corner deli with one’s partner and children. How are our soldiers innovating in their lives on mental, spiritual and physical levels in order to reinvent themselves and transition into their next life phase?

I appreciate some of the language I heard today because while acknowledging the hurt and suffering of returning veterans and soldiers, it also acknowledged the strengths these people have. “Post Traumatic Growth,” was the phrase used often. The acknowledgement that the soldiers come back with much needed skills in leadership, discipline, mission first focus, the ability to adapt to circumstances on the fly – all the skills that any business, particularly any innovative business, would wish to have on its team.

The veterans are innovating and, with support, are creating new lives for themselves. But there is the other side to the equation that demands close review.

Returning veterans show us that it is not only the person going through that Innovation that must transform, but also everyone in their environment. Our “Broken Heroes” (how we like to romanticize and thus set apart), feel invisible, unaccepted, unseen for who they are, disrespected. We the civilians who stay home, must also take responsibility for our response to their pain, and think creatively and proactively about how to embrace the veterans back into our lives, as individuals, as family and friends, as a community and as a country.

Thank you veterans and those still serving in the armed forces, for showing us every day of your lives, the meaning of Innovation and Transition for yourselves and for us.

by Limor Schafman

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