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What drives you?

Col. Lee Gentile, 47th Flying Training Wing commander, reflects on how his perspective of success has changed over the years. Along his Air Force journey, Gentile was influenced by those around him who helped refocus his goals from his own success to that of others. Upon changing his mindset, he discovered a deeper purpose in being there for his family, Airmen and friends. (U.S. Air Force photo by the 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked the question “what drives you to succeed?”

When I was young, it was the need to be the best, the need to be no. 1, the need to be praised by friends and family. My personal need to succeed drove me to work harder, study harder, and commit more time to learn my profession. And I did, yet it was destructive.

However, nearly ten years ago, there was a pivotal event in my life that changed everything. I was working on a high-visibility project that consumed an astronomical amount of my time and mental capacity. I was so focused on “my” career, achieving “my” goals and “me” being no. 1 at work that I was failing to be a husband to my wife, Laura, and a father to our kids. My hyper-focus on my needs and my goals was not leading to success. It was leading to disaster.

Thankfully I met a Marine colonel who helped me see what was important, what I was missing. He showed me that others’ needs were more important than my own. That it was my obsession with stratifications, awards, assignments, and promotions that was destroying my chances of getting to those goals because I was a “me player” not a “team player.” He taught me that my priorities were misaligned and that my path would end in ruin.

That mentoring was tough love, but personally transformational. It took me from focusing on “me,” to focusing on “we.”

Here’s the irony! By focusing on others, you work harder. Because you want others to succeed and achieve their goals, you study longer. Because you want others to get the award or the promotion or the dream job, you commit more time to work. So now, when asked ‘what drives you to succeed?’ The response is effortless. Others.

Could it be that simple? Could shifting your focus on others drive you to succeed? The answer is yes. With each passing day, we are closer to the end of our career than the beginning. We must focus on others’ combat skills and readiness training, so they are prepared to fight when called. We must focus on others’ training, education, and mentoring so they can grow their leadership skills, and one day, serve in our positions. We must focus on others’ to make sure everyone in Team XL has the tools, training, and resources to produce combat-ready Airmen. We must focus on others’ quality of life and work needs. Lastly, we must focus on others because it reminds us of the reason we serve. We serve to protect others, our friends, our families, our squadron mates, our fellow Americans, our partners, allies, and people in need around the globe. We are all Airmen, we serve, we succeed—not because of ourselves, but because of others.

So yes, others are why I am driven to succeed—it is that simple!

~Col. G.