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NEWS | Sept. 6, 2007

Are you too comfortable?

By Col. Erik Meyers 79th Dental Squadron commander

OK. I know what you're probably thinking. What can a dentist possibly have to say that I would want to read? After all, a lot of those medics (and especially dentists and doctors) aren't in the real Air Force, right? What do they know about leadership or core values? That's what I thought when I first entered the Air Force in 1985. I was in for 3 years. That's it. Then I'd get out and make the BIG money. This would be a perfect way to develop my skills. Private practice here I come! I was comfortable with my decision to join. I came on board with a plan, because everyone needs to have a plan, right? Wow, was I ever wrong. 

That first assignment I was going to stick to my plan - I just wanted to treat patients. There would be no way I'd ever go back to school for anything (after 8 years of college!) or EVER be the commander in the big office down at the end of the hall. I met my first commander, supervisor and first sergeant. It was all new to me and not what I expected. It was not simply treating patients from 7-4 and just wearing a blue uniform. 

My patients were men and women doing a variety of really interesting jobs. I listened to their stories and experiences. I began to learn and understand about service, motivation and dedication to duty. I was tasked with additional duties and appointed to serve on a couple of medical group committees. At first I wanted to say "no thanks" because it wasn't part of my plan. But that wasn't an option. I was told it was part of being an officer and part of the Dental Corps. I reluctantly played along. I was nominated for my first quarterly awards board. Now I was really out of my comfort zone. Soon my plan changed. 

What happened after that is amazing when I look back. I was asked if I'd like to PCS to the Air Force Academy for my next assignment. How could I refuse? One event led to another and 22 years later here I am at Andrews: a squadron commander, a former director of an Air Force residency program, and a board-certified comprehensive dentist. I've had the privilege of caring for several Air Force Chiefs of Staff, Chiefs of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. To say I have been blessed is the understatement of the century. 

The point I'm trying to make has nothing to do with my being a dentist or an officer - it applies to all Airmen. Take the chance to do something you've never done before - volunteer for duties outside your comfort zone. Join a working group or committee that has members outside your own squadron or group. The experience will be invaluable to you - you may decide you'll never do it again or the experience may head you in another direction you never expected you'd take. That's exactly what happened to me. I can think of several individuals I used to work with who didn't take advantage of opportunities offered to them and those decisions cost them. 

As I've moved from assignment to assignment (10 so far), I've encountered many really intelligent, dedicated and motivated people from E-1 to O-10. They've been my inspiration--they've made me into what I am. They've made me want to do my best to enable them to do their best. These same people have given me opportunities to succeed, and hopefully I'm having that same effect on others. Go outside your comfort zone and ask them about their experiences and mistakes they've made and learn from them. It's amazing how many doors can open if you just take the first step. You may not recognize which opportunities are stepping stones to your future. The trick is to be willing to take the chance to attempt something a bit out of your comfort zone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens!