21407 Jen Causey: Career Advice I Wish I Had Got

Career Advice I Wish I Had Got

Article by 21407 Jen Causey – Class of 1999

I attended the Royal Military College of Canada’s Ex-Cadet weekend this year, not because my graduating year was celebrating, but to mark the 25th year of having a Women’s Varsity Soccer Team. It was a wonderful weekend, and as I looked around the room during the Meet and Greet with the team, I couldn’t help but be amazed and proud seeing the other lady ex-cadets. And being around the young Officer Cadets made me think back to not only my initial career choice, but even subsequent choices I made within my career. I don’t like to look back and say I wish I had done something different because it implies I am not grateful for the life I have now, or that the the path to get to where I am has been an unhappy one. It isn’t with regret necessarily, but more so a musing on what would have happened, how would I have enjoyed a different path.

There has been a fair amount of introspection since last weekend, enough that it has inspired me to write again. The catalyst in this case was when I found myself answering a question one of the players asked about posting choices. I realized mid-answer that I was giving her the Major Jen Causey answer, I wasn’t giving her the Jen Causey answer. It wasn’t fair. It was presumptuous and short sighted. To give you context, she had mentioned where she wanted to go for her first posting. My initial response was to give her the perspective on the pros and cons to each, purely from the perspective of an artillery officer. I then went on to say that I too had the same posting preferences initially, but had changed my mind after I met my husband. I said something along the lines of choosing a posting based purely on geography without consideration to my career implications might not have been the best approach, even if it had worked out. I then stopped and had to rewind. That was terrible advice! I backtracked and told her that whatever career choices one makes are theirs to make. Whether it is for family, for personal job satisfaction, for education options, other personal interests, do what is right for you with at least an understanding of the career implications of either of those decisions. I wish someone had told me that. I wonder how things would have turned out otherwise.

I enjoyed last weekend. I liked being around those young officer cadets. Had I not gone into the military, I’m fairly confident I would have ended up as a teacher. I enjoy coaching sports teams. I refereed high school soccer this past spring and really enjoyed being in that environment and seeing the interaction between the teachers and kids. In my military career, I had wanted to be an Instructor in Gunnery, but that career choice would not have worked well with my husband’s profession so I went down a different path, one that took me to the city of Toronto, to a Headquarters. Not long after I had received my posting message, I received a call from the Recruiting Group. They were wondering if I would have considered going to a Recruiting Center instead of the Headquarters. I said no, even though I had an interest in recruiting, because I was told it wasn’t good for my career. I like to be around young people who are eager to get a start in life. I wish I had the courage to follow that interest rather than be concerned about the implications to my career. I wish I knew then what I know now. I thought I was supposed to have the career the military was telling me I should want, and that swayed me.

I have 24 years of life/career experience. I enrolled in the military at 17, left home, had a career, got married, had kids; I’ve had a life. While my career and my profession are aspects of who I am, it is only a portion of who I am. It is not the sole definer of my identity. So when doling out career advice, why not remember that, and frame that advice into the larger context of what one is looking for in life? I have seen the toll that a military career can put on an individual or a family. I think it is important to acknowledge that, and to give young people a license to seek some sort of balance between personal and professional, and not naively assume that they are lopsided in one direction. I realized that while I cannot benefit from hindsight, perhaps someone else can. I now find myself saying things a little differently. These are the snippets of “wisdom” according to Jen Causey:

If you think you want to have a full and long military career, then pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Understand the the pros and cons of different career choices…but…recognize that the pros and cons presented to you by someone more senior are always biased by the path they took. Get differing points of view.
Know what it is that will fulfill you in life, not just in uniform, but also outside of uniform. Both matter.
Know what it is you are prepared to sacrifice, but more importantly, know what you are not prepared to sacrifice for your career.
Stay true to who you are, and what you want out of life. You are the one that needs to live with your career, not your supervisor.
None of those snippets are intended to suggest that the mantra of “service before self” does not apply, but rather, demonstrate that it need not equate to “sacrifice self for service” either.

As I mentioned, things worked out for me. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to command soldiers and do things I would not have been able to had I walked a different road. I don’t have regrets, but being around these Officer Cadets, coaching, refereeing, they all have made me think “I wish” about a few things. I wish I could have acted on the opportunity to have gone on my Instructor in Gunnery Course. I wish I had an opportunity to be a Squadron Command at the Royal Military College. I wonder how things would have gone had I become a teacher instead of joining the military. Who knows. Talking to that young Officer Cadet was like looking back 20 years at a version of myself, and I realized that I was her once. It hit me, and I realized that she’s listening to what I am saying, and she’s probably putting a great deal of stock into what I’m saying. That’s kind of scary. It’s powerful. And it shouldn’t be taken lightly. They are owed honesty, devoid of as much bias as possible. People are our greatest resource, but if we treat them as a resource and not a person, we fail.

So, thank you to the Women’s Varsity Soccer Team from the Royal Military College. You reminded me that though I may not have become a teacher, I can still “teach” in the form of honest dialogue. I can share my experience and you can take from it what you will, or take nothing at all from it, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity nevertheless. I wish this group of ladies success in their upcoming soccer season and future military careers.

Article first appeared in Linkedin


  • Lauren Flaherty

    October 9, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Thank you Jen! I totally agree with the points you make and appreciate that you’ve taken the time to write them down here. It is hard to separate “what the military wants for you” and “what you want from the military” but it’s certainly important to think about often throughout your career.

  • Andrew Whitman

    October 9, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you ‘Ms. Wall’ (you were my CWC in rook term), I appreciate your honest reflection. As an army chaplain now, I have to say that it will make my job easier if people follow your advice here.
    “Know what it is you are prepared to sacrifice, but more importantly, know what you are not prepared to sacrifice for your career.” Right. When the stakes are high, we may have to sacrifice more, and our families will understand that. But more often, we might sacrifice more than the goal is worth.

  • 13139 Mitchell MacLeod

    October 9, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    Excellent article. It is a pity, at times, that there was not much inbound honest dialogue during my 23 year career. This included time spent at RMC regrettably. Post commissioning I did get the career I wanted, but wasted almost nine months of training in another element.

  • Jennifer Purdy

    October 10, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Jen, teaching is clearly in your blood, and I recall when you were Regt 2I/C I learned from you on a few occasions. What an excellent, well-written, and insightful article, important for people regardless of their branch. This is key information that should be shared early in one’s career, and I too could have benefited from a similar discussion from a supervisor.

  • Fred Demers (21349)

    October 10, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks for the pearls of wisdom Jen! It takes courage to follow ones’ interests, but in the long run, it’s probably what brings the most fulfillment.

  • Claire Bramma

    October 10, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    Another note of gratitude to Miss Wall (you were also my CWC during my 1998 recruit term); you are an army officer I have held in high esteem ever since RMC. Thanks for taking the time to write this article; your honesty is powerful and inspiring. To relate, a similar question was posed to me by some varsity volleyball athletes during a meet-and-greet after this year’s reunion weekend volleyball matches. When contemplating my response, I also felt a strange sense of humility, opportunity, and privilege. I offered that early in a young officer’s career is the ideal time to explore and seize opportunities where the operational need is the greatest, which may demand some personal sacrifices at the forefront. The challenge comes after the first posting or two, where I believe it is important to communicate core values and family priorities to the career managers (and mentors) so that informed decisions that promote work-life balance can be made.

  • 25262 Captain Victoria Pynn

    November 13, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Ma’am, very inspiring article. As an Artillery Officer is was very interesting to see you reflect on your career path. I was particularly inspired by your ‘Snippets of Wisdom” – I’m going to print it out and carry it with me. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tip Graham

    November 16, 2018 at 4:21 am

    A great piece Jen, with some great, from the heart advice. Do what feels right for you at that time. Like you I had a good career form the youthful age of 17, I dont think I’d change any of it. There might of been few things I might of done differently?….