The Power of Change

by Mario A. Oliva

November 2, 2021

I just can’t get away from change!

This is my twenty-sixth year of military service, and I absolutely love my job. But as with any great endeavor, it eventually must end. Retirement is looming in the next few months, and my life is about to change immensely.

You’d think it wouldn’t bother me. During my whole career I’ve been a “Jack of All Trades.” Every three to four years, my family and I moved to a different military base, and I had to start from scratch in an unfamiliar position and working environment. 

This included new jobs, new bosses, new co-workers, and, really, new lives. Often this caused me great frustration. After a few years in a previous assignment, I would master it and become very comfortable in a familiar routine.

I should be used to it by now, but it always bothered me at some level.

In his book, Who Moved my Cheese, author Spencer Johnson presents a simple parable of two mice and two little people. They have to look for cheese in a complicated maze in which to survive.

The characters spend most of their time running up and down the corridors seeking food. Turn a corner, run to the end, see if there’s any cheese, and if not, turn around and go back.

The parable depicts, in a very pragmatic way, the complexity of the human mind and our constant resistance to change. We want the cheese to be in the same place every single time. It’s in our nature to become comfortable with the status quo.

However, the truth is if we stagnate in our current ways, we miss the opportunity to learn through new skills, new people, or new experiences, to learn a new maze. But more importantly, we miss the opportunity to improve those around us—family, friends, and coworkers. 

So, change is not a bad thing after all!

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Change is the only constant.” This principle is true across everything we do in our personal and professional lives; they are in a constant evolution. 

As we negotiate different phases of life, we gain experiences and wisdom that continuously shape our leadership style. They help us deal and cope with the challenges that life throws at us every step of the way and, most importantly, help us grow as mature and responsible human beings.

I enlisted in 1995 and commissioned as an engineer officer. I am so proud to have had the opportunity to be part of the United States’ one percent that answers the call to protect and defend our great Nation.

But the constant change was always tough on me and my family. When we moved, I would turn the corner and look for the new cheese. It was always in a different spot. Using a short-term view, I was longing for the familiar and didn’t realize the immense benefits that change brought to me and my family during our twenty-six year journey while serving in the United States Army.   

As I reflect back, I now realize the powerful impact change made in my personal and professional lives.  I have been blessed to serve as a lieutenant colonel, explore rugged Alaska, represent the Army Corps of Engineers in Australia, serve alongside heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and meet leaders that have helped me be a better man, father, husband, soldier, and leader. Every new corner brought immense benefit.

I learned late in life to eagerly embrace change and the newness that comes with it. My big takeaway after a quarter century of military leadership is that we must reflect on the journey we’ve been through, understand how that shaped us, and most importantly, know what we represent to those around us.

Only then will we realize the goodness of change, the benefit of starting anew every now and then, and the opportunity of being challenged through new experiences every step of the way. 

As I turn the corner into retirement, I know there will be no cheese at the end of that corridor. And I’m okay with that. 

Keep charging and embrace change!  It is going to be great!

Mario Oliva is a proud military officer of over 26 years. He has served in a variety of assignments from enlisted and officer leadership positions in both command and staff. He is a loving husband and father of three. Mario will be retiring next year as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Corps of Engineers Branch and continue to seek change.  His thoughts do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Army or the Department of Defense

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