BTU #103 - Dr. Felicia Haecker: From RV to Dr, entrepreneur, and mom

“There are people who have - in their head - ideas that they think are ridiculous; dreams that they're afraid to pursue because of failure; because we're all afraid to fail. But while you have that safety net, go ahead an investigate it - dig into it deep, and then make a plan. Work backwards: this is the goal, assess what you have, and what do you need. And sometimes with plans you have to go back and course correct. Be OK with that. It's not a bad thing sometimes. We often beat ourselves up because we made a plan and it didn't go the way we thought it would - but that's OK. Always look back, reflect and see how you can grow from this." - Dr. Felicia Haecker

Dr. Felicia Haecker is the President of Haecker Associates Consulting, CEO of Dog Tag Divas, and Adjunct Professor at Brandman University, where she also received her Doctor of Education and Organizational Leadership. She started out in the Air Force, where she served for 12 years along with her husband, who served in the Air Force for 15 years. She faced many challenges after her separation from the military, and ultimately chose to pursue her Ed.D on female veterans transitions into post secondary education. Using this understanding of transitions, she now seeks to help other veterans diagnose where they are and construct a plan to reach their goals.

She has made herself available to the Beyond the Uniform community by email at shaecker@yahoo [dot] com

The top 2 reasons to listen to this episode is:

  1. A road of discovery - Felicia articulates so well what I - and so many of my guests - have experienced about a meandering road from the military to finding our career. She talks about taking leaps of faith, making mistakes along the way, but learning and being ok with those mistakes. Felicia and her husband left the Air Force after 12 & 15 years of service, respectively. They purchased an RV, and with their newborn daughter spent a year traveling the United States. This was the starting point of a journey that would lead Felicia to pursue her doctorate.
  2. Advice on transitions - Felicia did her doctorate work on the female veteran transition into post secondary education. She has also advised and mentored many veterans about this process, and has fantastic advice about how to avoid common mistakes in this transition.

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Selected Resources

Show Notes

Note: I've typed these notes during my interview with Josh, so they may not completely represent his words, and may contain spelling and grammar errors. My intention is to provide veterans with a quick reference to see the gist of our conversation, along with timestamps to hear Josh's actual advice in his own words within the interview.

  • 3:10 - Felicia's bio
  • 4:03 - How would you explain what you do
    • Every veteran makes a transition
    • Her and her husband realized they transitioned out of a community that was safe and comfortable. After their transition, a lot of people didn't understand their background and they were definitely out of their comfort zone.
    • This applies to the families as well - they have to deal with their significant other
  • 6:15 - How she divides her time
    • HCC & Dog Tag Divas are both emerging. She was diagnosed with PTSD and ADHD, and is learning there are things she needs to do to stay on task. Must do / should do / could do "To do lists" dominate her schedule on bright orange post its.
    • She has two kids, and it's a matter of taking advantage of time when she has it - time in line at Starbucks, at piano practice. Sometimes she
  • 8:12 - How did you decide to leave the military?
    • It wasn't an easy decision; she was an Army brat, with both parents in the military. She followed her dad all over Europe as an Army kid.
    • She recognized on her own she wasn't ready for college, and didn't want to waste her parents money
    • Decided to join the military - originally the Marine Corps - but wasn't treated seriously during the process and saw the Air Force recruiter on her way out. The military was safe and something she understood.
    • She was a photographer, and wanted to try something else out - she loved the military but wanted to try something new
    • When she found out she was going to have a mother, she wanted to be the mother she didn't have. It would be tough to do both the military and a mom, so her and her husband decided she would transition. Her husband had a similar background, so they both decided - at 12 & 15 years - to get out of the military.
    • They made the goal of each of them finishing their master's degree prior to leaving the military, which lead for a rushed schedule leading up to departure
    • They purchased a 35' RV, and spent a year traveling the United States.
  • 11:46 - Advice for figuring out when to leave the military
    • Investigate the feeling - if you feel like you need to move on, give that room. See if you can switch jobs within the military, but if you can't find it start figuring out how to make it happen.
    • She recently worked with someone who decided to open a catering business. But you need to do EVERYTHING you can to investigate this right now - intern, or find a temporary job. This person learned it wasn't what they wanted to do it. So investigate every avenue you can. Call people who do that job (better yet a veteran who does it) and get a feel for what it is like.
    • Harness your power - my power right now is I have a paycheck and roof over my head. This is what I have - what is it I need. Capitalize on your opportunities for growth. I want to have this much money in the bank, this much education, talk to them and get buy-in with the family. Sometimes you need to go back and course correct
    • The Hack Process:
      • H - Harness your power. You have SOME power in the situation
      • A - Assess your resources. What do you have on hand that will propel you forward, and what do you need to gather to get to that goal
      • I - Identify them. The people and resources that will help you and you need to get in your corner to get there
      • C - Capitalize on the opportunity
    • You may be more comfortable right now than you realize - any stress you can take
    • Give yourself permission to recognize how difficult the transition is, but don't wallow in it.
  • 22:59 - How would you describe your path from the military to deciding to pursue a PhD?
    • They were stationed in Missouri. They got in their RV and didn't know what to do next. They decided to visit her parents in Oklahoma. They piecemeal the first part of the trip together, visiting diners and different sites.
    • They noticed in their journey there was a subculture of veterans everywhere they went.  She noticed many experienced difficulty, and many were on the verge of homelessness. She realized that she wasn't the only one who felt challenged in the transition - there were many other veterans like this.
    • Along the journey she became pregnant with their second child. As they were unpacking their house in Georgia, her husband received a job offer in Sacramento. So they packed up their house and moved cross country with their two kids
    • After five days as a stay-at-home mom, she realized she couldn't do it. It was more difficult than her three deployments. She saw a commercial for a doctoral degree, and wanted to give it a try. Her children were 9 months and 3 when she started - it was crazy but she did it. And her husband just received his degree from the same program. He saw the growth and self discovery journey she went through and that motivated him to do it as well
  • What was the PhD process like for you?
    • She views herself as very lucky. Her program was very creative, and she was able to chart what she was interested in - which was transition in veterans. She was able to research, write papers, and do whatever she wanted. It became addicting, because she kept finding more and more information, but didn't find the readily available resources she wanted for veterans. It felt like a well-kept secret and she didn't want it to be like that.
    • She kept getting assignments that kept her digging and before she knew it she stood back and realized what she wanted to go after
    • When she left, her resume was good, professionally she was ready to transition. No one spoke to her heart and mind transition, that you never receive when leaving the military.
  • 37:40 - In your work with veterans, what are common problems you see them facing in their civilian career?
    • She teaches a masters class on Leadership. One thing she has her students do (and she does as well) is Morning Pages. You put the pen on paper for 20 minutes and you just write non-stop. She didn't think it would work and the first two weeks were random song lyrics, shopping lists, and babble, but at the end of two weeks the cob webs went away and certain things came into focus.
    • She kept doing it and started to get clarity on different items - things she hadn't thought about in years. It's completely free and is an easy way to make progress in thinking through issues. Just write about whatever comes to mind - no matter how random. Keep with it and you'll find clarity. Supposed to do it first thing in the morning, as soon as she wakes up.
    • There's a book called Road Map. There was a PBS show called Road Trip Nation and they actually wrote a book "the get it together guide for what to do with your life" - it will inspire you but also give you a roadmap.
    • A mentor would be a GREAT addition for veterans. Help you navigate the new waters and identify what is important to you.
  • Common mistakes that veterans face
    • The adage that "the grass is greener" is definitely true. Without someone telling you what to do, there is also a challenge of autonomy and having to do everything on your own.
    • She encourages people to imagine that you were dropped into the center of England. Yes - they speak English, but there are different words, customs, and norms. You still need to learn a lot - and it's like this with a military transition
    • Some people may not understand your life and may ask you offensive questions like, "Have you ever killed someone." Try to remember it's out of ignorance and curiosity and not malice.
    • She has found in Mommy Groups that things that are earth shattering to other people are not so for her... she has to remember that "my journey is different." It may take time to find your time. Observe how they interact with other people.
    • Emotional Intelligence will be key too and this was something she had to learn
  • 44:50 - What can we do to help veterans who are struggling in their transition
    • Her local VA has a special office to help veterans who are homeless and she is looking at how to help with this
    • Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them
    • The TAPs programs send a LOT of information towards veterans, and going and talking and sharing there could help a lot
    • She was surprised that she was diagnosed with PTSD, even though she had taken many disturbing photos as a photographer on active duty.
  • 49:20 - Final words of wisdom?
    • If you've been listening to this and thinking of an idea and not sure if you should do it - give yourself permission to try. It's ok to be afraid to fail - that's ok. If you think about it - the times you succeed you probably didn't think about how you got there... you didn't think about how you got there. It's only when you fail that you do. But this is when we learn - from this failure. It may work, it may not, but it's ok. Have more than an A-D plan - there are 26 letters in teh alphabet. At the end of the day, try to do what makes you happy.