Leadership Lessons: Time is money, so spend it wisely

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jonathan Castellanos
  • 319th Operations Support Squadron commander
As a young captain, I received some very sage advice that I did not want to hear. I was returning home from a three-month deployment, and was scheduled to deploy again in less than six weeks. As I disembarked the KC-135, and before I had had the opportunity to reunite with my family, my squadron commander started a short conversation that still haunts me. He asked me how far along I was in pursuit of my master's degree.

Since I was tired, upset about our operations tempo, and really just wanted to see my family again, I was brutally honest with him. "Sir, I don't have time to pursue a master's degree," was my unfiltered response. I remember him looking at me like he was disappointed, as he shook his head he said, "Jon, you will never have more time than you do right now."

I knew that I would have time to focus on my education after the next deployment. I told myself that I would march right over to the education office as soon as I got back and had some time. Funny thing happened when I got back from that deployment; there was another one scheduled and I was given more responsibilities in the squadron.

I really didn't think about that conversation until it was time to submit an AF Form 1206 for annual awards. My supervisor took my inputs, reviewed them with me, and told me that he didn't think I was very competitive, I didn't have the level of significant self-improvement to compete with my peers. I had not invested in myself and had lost out on an opportunity. That was when I began to peel back the onion on the sage advice I had been given.

First, the surface message: You will never have more time than you do right now. Throughout your Air Force career, you will be busy. When you demonstrate the ability to meet standards and exceed expectations, you will be given more responsibilities. Whatever level of work you are doing right now, it will be increased in the near future. You probably won't think that you are fully prepared for the increased workload or increased responsibilities, and you definitely won't have any extra time. Time is a finite resource, our most valuable resource. Once it is gone it can't be recaptured.

Second, the implied message: Procrastination will get you nowhere. Anything put off until tomorrow will still have to be done and there will probably be a price to pay. If you put off requirements at work, you are letting your section down. If you put off your gym time, your fitness will suffer. If you put off your education, you will fall behind your peers and fail to meet your goals. If you are honest with yourself, education is probably part of the reason you joined the Air Force.

Third, the life lesson from the school of hard knocks: You will invest in what is important to you. I have heard it said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Invest in what is important to you. If your career is important, you should be investing in becoming the best at your primary duty that you possibly can be and investing in significant self-improvement. Your family is important; invest in making your community better for them. Find out what activities are available and volunteer and give time to those base and community activities that they want to be involved in.

Fourth, the hard truth: Sooner or later you are going to have to pay the piper, and the cost is much less now than it will be later. I delayed working on my master's degree until it was almost too late. To complete my degree on time, I had to take extremely heavy course loads. Not only did I run out of time, forcing many sleepless nights, I ran out of tuition assistance, so the money had to come out of my own pocket. I could have been working on my degree while I was deployed, but instead my family suffered as I worked on it at home. I might as well have been deployed because I couldn't spend the time with them that they deserved.

When I became eligible for Air War College, I signed up at the earliest opportunity and began to work on it immediately. To be honest, I had much less time available to devote to this course, but I knew that if it was important to me it was worthy of investment. I completed it well ahead of most of my peers.

What is important to you? Are you working diligently toward your goals? Are you spending as much time and energy working toward your goals as you are spending gaming, reading through Facebook, or partying at a local hangout? You will never have more time than you do right now.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, time is money so spend it wisely.