My Secrets to finding the JO Work-Life Balance

BY LT. CMDR. BRENT NIVEN, SC, USN, STUDENT
NAVAL WAR COLLEGE

Lt. Cmdr. Brent Niven

When I walked across the brow of the USS Nevada (SSBN 733) for the last time and heard, “Lt. Brent Niven, supply officer qualified in submarines, departing,” my heart and mind were filled with mixed emotions. While I already felt like I wanted to go back to the boat, I was also relieved to proudly finish my tour as a department head and to be heading off to my next tour.

I have often reflected on the things that helped me as a young junior officer to maintain an appropriate work-life balance in such a challenging environment. I had weighty responsibilities to the captain and the crew as a supply officer. As submariners, we trust each other with our lives. I had responsibilities as a mentor, as a naval officer, and as a friend and shipmate. In addition I was a husband with a family – my beautiful, strong, and patient wife, along with our three daughters, who were very young at the time and a real handful. In addition to that, I had responsibilities in the community and at church to go along with personal goals outside of work that I set for myself. Finding success despite all these responsibilities was not easy, but for what it’s worth, here are some tips that helped me maintain my priorities in the right place.

Use your limited free time wisely.

If what you are doing isn’t enlightening and inspiring and if it isn’t making you a better person, skip it. Be honest to your captain who trusts you to use your time professionally. Especially useful for me were my months underway. Time away from home wasn’t easy, but my deployments enabled me to spend a massive percentage of my time on qualifications and fulfilling my responsibilities as a “chop.” When you’re underway, no one is going anywhere, so be sure to take full advantage of that time.

Take time to plan and organize.

I still struggle with this one sometimes. When you are so busy, it seems illogical to sit down and use some of that limited time to make a plan, to set goals and prioritize. For instance, when writing a paper, if you take the time to organize your efforts up front with some sort of outline, your paper will be easier for you to write and for others to understand. Instead of surviving crisis after crisis, satisfying success comes when we are able to see ahead and prepare. Try to put out the preverbial fires before they start.

Prioritize.

You have a lot to do every day, and it is more than can be done. You have to figure out what is most important and why. Make sure those things get done first. Ask yourself what is most important for the mission, your people, the captain, your boss, and you. What kind of consequences will come from each decision? What are the advantages?

Gain and maintain strong relationships.

From our first moments at Officer Candidate School, my class realized that we could not survive the Navy alone. Everyone in my class had strengths and talents, and together we made it through the fire. Camaraderie and REAL, sincere relationships forged by serving your shipmates will bring happiness and success. Your friends will help you in your time of weakness and doubt and will be there when you make mistakes. You will make mistakes. Take time to walk down the passageway and talk to the person instead of sending an email. Go help your culinary specialists make pizza, talk to your chief about what you can do better. Make an appointment with your commanding officer and ask for advice. Take the time whenever you can to form lasting relationships with people and receive constructive criticism.

Make time for yourself, but be honest.

By that I mean, don’t destroy or neglect yourself on your path to success, but also be responsible and professional. Do things that build you up and strengthen you–don’t eat junk and drink energy drinks; eat healthy food. Even if you’re tired, make time to go work out for a bit. Stay strong spiritually, physically, and mentally. You aren’t any good to the Navy if you are broken.

As I have focused on these things throughout my tours, I have found that my stress levels are lower, my success is greater, and that my overall satisfaction is higher. Being a naval officer isn’t easy, but the rewards for our sacrifice and hard work are unmatched.

May/June 2017