KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — Hikers who climb a mountain without a guidebook could probably still reach the summit, but they might run into obstacles they could have avoided, or miss things like shortcuts and unique landmarks. Career assistance advisors are like a guidebook. They can help Airmen avoid obstacles, find the shortest path to where they want to be in their careers and discover enriching stops along the way.
As the career assistance advisor for Keesler Air Force Base, Senior Master Sgt. Tiffany Patterson is charged with leading professional development efforts for the base. This includes one-on-one career counselling and providing a wealth of resources to help people reach their goals. She also facilitates all professional development courses, other than Airman Leadership School and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, offered at Keesler AFB.
“I can help shape, mold and advise the entire base, and that’s not just looking at my Airmen, but we’re talking about NCOs, senior NCOs, officers and civilians. Oftentimes, people don’t even know a career advisor exists,” Patterson said. “I’m trying to help people to understand that there are resources out there like myself that can help enhance their career.”
Earlier this year, Patterson led a revitalization of the Keesler Professional Development Center to make it more inviting and incorporate the technology needed to provide top notch education to the base populous.
“I want this to be a place that people go for all things professional development,” she said. “I want people to know there’s someone there that really cares about their future.”
Patterson led a NCO professional enhancement seminar Dec. 4-8, 2017 that covered topics and issues typically faced by NCOs.
“We’re trying to make sure we hit the Air Force institutional competencies in an informative but exciting way because it helps them to be better supervisors and better leaders as a whole,” Patterson said. “I think NCOPE is important because it helps to make the lives of those NCOs easier as they’re supervising, leading and charged with executing a mission.”
“Professional development is important because that’s how we develop our Airmen into leaders,” said Staff Sgt. Debbie Fair, Professional Development Center NCO in charge. “It’s investing in our future.”
Patterson emphasized that people make time for the things that are important to them. She suggested if someone wants to engage in professional development, but feels like they just don’t have time, they should first speak to their supervisors and then think about whether they could start with just one hour a month.
“Often times we’re so focused on getting the mission done that we don’t realize that if we don’t invest in ourselves, then there’s no way that we can really fully give all that we have to that mission,” she said.
Patterson also said if professional development opportunities were around when she was a young Airman, she didn’t know about them. However, while she didn’t attend any professional development courses until she was a technical sergeant, she was always able to look toward the Airmen and leaders around her for guidance.
“As an Airman I was blessed with some really, really great leaders,” she said. “They taught me the value of doing what’s right even when you don’t feel like it. That was a concept I was not used to hearing. Typically, most people say you should do what’s right even when nobody is watching. Although that is a true statement, the flip side to being a great leader is to be a person of character and credibility. This involves not compromising your integrity by doing what’s right, even when you do not feel like it.”
Now, as a leader herself, Patterson is guiding the Airmen who follow her.
One lesson Patterson likes to teach her students is the “jar of life” lesson. While the original author of the metaphor is unknown, variations have been shared by countless people for decades.
In this metaphor, a large glass jar represents life. A teacher stands in front of his students and fills the jar with large stones. The jar isn’t full. He pours small pebbles between the cracks of the large stones up to the brim. The jar isn’t full. He fills yet more crevices with sand. The jar is full, but in some versions he adds water for emphasis. Now, imagine if the teacher had filled the jar in reverse order – sand, then pebbles, then big rocks. The sand and pebbles could easily fill enough of the jar that some of the big rocks get stuck outside the glass.
“When you add the things that are most important to your life first and then fill the remaining crevices with things in life that are critical to your happiness and well-being, you’ll find that your life is enhanced and extremely full,” Patterson said.
In her own life, Patterson said it can be extremely challenging to find balance between her two biggest rocks — family and work.
“I won’t lie to you and say that there aren’t times when the balance is not so equal,” she said. “But what I’ve learned in order to give my life balance is to focus on quality versus quantity. During those times when I notice the seesaw between work and life is unbalanced, and work is taking the brunt of the weight, I make sure that the time I spend with my family is quality time because my quantity time is spent at work.”
Patterson also said because she works often with NCOs and soon-to-be-senior NCOs, she tries to remind them the number one job of a leader is to develop future leaders.
“You have to train and develop your replacements because before you know it, your uniform is going to have an expiration date. You have to ask yourself, ‘how well did I equip those who will come after me, and what lasting legacy do I want to leave tomorrow’s leaders,’” she said.