Job Crafting, Strengths and Meaningful Memorial Day Muses

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone.

For me, it was a time to pause, remember and appreciate service. A weekend filled with positive reminiscence, gratitude, and poignant freedom stories. Pride, courage, sacrifice. How about you? Has the military impacted your life?

I watched the John Wayne movie for the fist time, “They Were Expendable.” It’s about the early PT boat crews and how they were initially disregarded as useless. But these stellar guys had guts, motivation and pride. They used “job crafting” before that term was coined. I’ll get to that shortly.

I sat and pondered. My dad was in WWII for about 3.5 years in Patton’s Army, Flash and Sound. My uncles and my sister also served. My grandfather wrote about the war and was a radio broadcaster. I wanted to enlist in the Air Force and go to grad school, but I had a 2-year wait. For me, that wait was too long. Little did I know the Army would come calling.

While I don’t have the honor of being a veteran, I am proud to have worked for the Army in Bamberg, Germany, during Vietnam.

Susan-Potter-7-2013-150x150Dr. Judy, I just love reading your work. Your written words are as energetic as you in person. And the content of your blogs are always very meaningful. Thank you for your service. With love,

Susan Potter, PCC
Win From Within Coaching
Certified Ministry Coach
Coaching4Clergy Faculty & Mentor Coach

While I was living in Germany, the powers that be on the Army post discovered I had a Masters in Clinical Psychology. They knocked on my door and asked if I would have a chat with Vietnam two-tour Army Ranger, Capt. Bob Echols.

Little did I know that chat would engender the best job of my career. It would etch gratitude memories into my heart and soul. Camaraderie. Names and faces I would never forget.


Bamberg was the “you can’t go back home from Vietnam like this” post for many soldiers coming back from their tours in Vietnam.

Brave soldiers trying to cope with the horror, became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Echols had been selected by Warner Barracks 2-star General Munson to develop the Army’s first Community Drug and Alcohol Assistance Center, CDAAC. He needed help. Was I up for the job? You bet! Never mind I had no drug and alcohol experience. I had worked in my dad’s newspaper business, and been a waitress, babysitter, behavior and learning disabilities education teacher, and a clinical psychologist in Baltimore inner cities schools. But leading men with substance abuse issues? Nope. I was green.

Good thing for me, while my green was not Army green, at least my green matched their needs and mine. When I offered my feelings of inadequacy for the job, Echols retorted, “You know more than I do about this. Let’s just work together and do the best we can.” Wise man. I was 24 and he, 27. We became a great team, an unconventional blind leading the blind motivated pair.

Echols was a wonderful, no-nonsense, decorated, compassionate leader. And an even better human being. I cherish our long talks about his military experience and life. When I look back, I could see this duty-bound soldier was way out of his element. He was much more comfortable on the battlefield than sitting behind a desk crafting a new program for the Army. Regardless, duty-bound, he never complained. He soldiered on. He knew I loved every minute of my job. We had laughs and created the best counseling team. A true family. I hope that made his paperwork-packed new assignment easier for him to swallow.

You will love this.

One day just after I was hired, Capt. Echols told me we needed to take a two hour ride to Ansbach. When I asked why, he coyly commented, “You work in Ansbach.” He saw the puzzled look on my face, but I had already learned you don’t ask questions of command. In the car, he knew he was going to get me fired up. With a straight face, he told me there was no position open in my pay-grade in Bamberg, where we lived. But the powers that be wanted me for CDAAC. The only way to make that happen was for me to work in Ansbach. So we were off to Ansbach to sign the papers for me to work there. I was supposed to drive to work two hours a day? What? Before I could get the questioning chagrin wiped off my face, he told me to relax. The Army had it’s ways. I was formally on the books as working in Ansbach, but I never visited that barracks again! Who said the Army wasn’t interesting. Got a problem? Engineer a way to fix it!

My unexpected job was a true example of “Job Crafting”, decades before I ever heard the term.

If the term is new to you, it’s how you can cultivate a positive sense of meaning and identity in your job. It enables optimal functioning. It ignites proactive behavior that encourages employees’ agenic behaviors. Ways they can actively make their own jobs better. That it, it puts the employee in center stage as they explore creative and motivational methods to improve their experiences at work.

The formal definition of job crafting is, “The physical and cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries of their work. By altering the task and relational boundaries, employees can change the social and task components of their jobs and experience different kinds of meaning of the work and themselves.” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). That is exactly what happened at Warner Barracks in Bamberg, Germay in 1973-74. We created and developed the program, and then we expanded it. We were blessed with the freedom to live our values and help GI’s get sober, heal, and use their values in ways that were meaningful to them. It doesn’t get much better than that. For most, their calling was not to be a soldier, but with girt and vigor, they gave the USA their hearts and souls anyway.

In the present for a moment, I am grateful to Dr. Bryan Dik, Jobzology and job crafting, “make your job a calling” fame, for the information he afforded me in a recent jobs and meaning course he taught at MentorCoach (MC.) I can better now focus on the sublime meaning my Army job engendered. And how much teamwork, integrity, and honesty, all terrific strengths, were exercised and strengthened by my precious Army experience. I saw respect and honor up close and personal. This meaningful work, it was the gift of a life time: Satisfaction, Engagement, Identification, and Commitment. The Army offered me the opportunity to job craft my “VIP”: Values, Interests, and Personality. I am forever grateful.


Looking back on the Memorial Day weekend, I see how Capt. Echols and I crafted our counseling program. We were thrown into an important arena and neither of us had ever been trained for the performance. We winged it all. No computers back then, Echols went into each soldier’s records and pulled out the best possible candidates to be trained as a drug counselor. These guys had no choice. One day they were a cop, or in maintenance, or a clerk, or a missile operator. The next day they were sent off to Fort Sam Houston, TX, for drug and alcohol counseling training. The left as grunts, and a few months later, they returned to Germany as our counselors. I had the welcoming task to train them more and to supervise them. I was also assigned to counsel five units myself: hawk missiles, engineering, MP’s, paymasters/records in ARPAC and maintenance. Talk about diversity. I loved them all!

I had no idea what an utter joy this job would be. The ultimate positivity challenge. Of course being one of only three women at CDAAC on a post with 10,000 GI’s, I got more attention than I could ever have imagined. Any woman would have gotten noticed. But it was a needed self-esteem boost. True friendship forging. I never had so many guys watching my back. Literally and figuratively. I think I’m
ay have grown more that year than any other in my life.

I remember reading and being touched by Gen’ Schwarzkoph’s autobiography. He said he had no qualms about crying in front of his men. War was hell. Even better, he said LOVE was the most important aspect of soldering. Really? Wow! And remember the “Ability to Love and be Loved” is one of the Values in Action (VIA) 24 strengths. You bet I felt loved at that job! In the military, you stick together. Your life depends upon it. I have never felt more a sense of belonging, connection and genuine love. Family. We were family. We were all young, eager learners of life. It didn’t get much better than that.

Were it not for my desire to get my doctorate, I might well have gone to work for Gen. Creighton Abahms.

When the Chief of Staff of the Army, came to Bamberg to visit us and learn about CDAAC, he asked if I would come to Washington to work for him. I was so hell-bent to get my doctorate, I kindly and gratefully declined, but what an honor. He told me to keep in touch. There was no finer man I had ever met. I wish I had kept his card, but I will remember that day forever. I was 24 years old. Not wise. Years later I look back at this experience as one of the best work day of my life, yes. I felt his compassion and caring. When I asked him (carefully!) why he would offer someone with so little experience a job, I remember him smiling before he replied. He relayed, “You tell me the truth. You are not afraid to tell it like it is. You don’t try to please me. That’s rare when you are a general.” I was so naive. What a gift he gave me. Again, as the years go on, I realize the magnitude of his love for the Army and wanting the best for his troops.


Love, real love.

That strength in your job is something I was not wise enough at the time to savor.
How I wish I had known about positive psychology strengths then. But life is learning ,and I love to learn. Hey, there’s another strength, Love of Learning.

Yes, the Memorial Day long weekend gave be the opportunity to pause and remember and be grateful for freedom and for the men and women who serve to assure that. And the strengths they muster to stay in shape mentally and physically. True grit and dedication.

Did you muse on Memorial Day?

What strengths did your brain conjure?

Gratitude, perhaps? Hope for no more war? Teamwork? Appreciation of Beauty to enhance Freedom? Kindness in serving others?

I am grateful for my connection to you. And how fortunate I have been in my total career. Know I appreciate your service to the world, no matter what it is.

Wishing you meaning and well-being in your career and in your life in general always,