Episode 301 Mary Polanco Finding Purpose and Navigating Military Transition Transcript

This transcript is from episode 301 with guest Mary Polanco.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host Scott DeLuzio, and today my guest is Mary Polanco. Mary served over two decades in the Air Force and she worked in the Pentagon’s Integrated Resilience Office, which. Uh, focuses on issues like suicide prevention, sexual assaults, and other similar issues throughout the, uh, the armed forces.

And Mary is vocal about transitioning from the military and the issues that come along with it. Uh, she’s writing a book on the psychological and emotional impact that transition, uh, has on veterans. And her aim is to bring normalcy [00:01:00] to feelings that veterans face during their transition. So welcome to show Mary.

I’m glad to have you here. Hey,

Mary Polanco: thank you so much. I’m so happy

Scott DeLuzio: to be here. Yeah, absolutely. And we were introduced by, uh, a mutual friend, uh, trip Bodenheimer from the, uh, the Shadows podcast. Um, really glad that he introduced the two of us. We’ve, we’ve been working together, kind of helping each other out with guests and, you know, I, I’ll send him a guest when I, I have one that kinda will fit his show and he does the same.

Sent you my way. Um, but for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you and your, your background, can you, uh, tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Mary Polanco: Yes, absolutely. So I hail originally from Pennsylvania, small town up in Northeast and I am the youngest of eight children. And so I say that because when I was, uh, becoming a young, uh, adult, I really wanted to kind of get out and see the world a little bit.

And so I decided to join the Air Force at the age of 18. Um, [00:02:00] I had a few different jobs in the Air Force. I was Security Forces, which is a military cop. I also worked as a medical technician. Um, I. Taught leadership and management courses. Uh, and I also did a stint on, uh, Capitol Hill for a year as a legislative fellow, which was a whirlwind experience.

Um, but then my, the tail end of my career, I was, uh, sent to the Pentagon and I was the senior enlisted leader for the integrated office, as you said, integrated resilience office. Um, My, we right now, we decided to keep Maryland home. So retired outta the Pentagon, didn’t have to move. We just stayed in our house.

Uh, we love it here. And, uh, married to a tennis instructor and we have two kids, our 13 year old daughter and our 10 year old son, and they keep us plenty busy. And now that school’s out, I’m even more, have to be even more organized with the schedule. So, so yeah, it’s a little bit about me.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I know what it’s like having, uh, kids that age.

My kids are in, in the same ballpark, uh, age range. [00:03:00] And, uh, yeah, they definitely keep you busy. We have, we have three, uh, we have a 13, 11, and, uh, almost a 10 year old. Um, and so yeah. Right. Uh, this time of year, there’s, there’s, uh, especially living out here in Arizona where we are, it’s really hot in the summers.

Not a whole lot that people wanna do outside. So it’s like you gotta find the stuff, the inside stuff to do. It’s kinda the opposite of like maybe the, the north, uh, the northern, uh, states where, you know, in the, the winter they don’t really wanna get outside too much cause it’s too cold here. We get out too, too.

Um, but yeah, finding stuff to do. Keeping, keeping busy with all that is is, uh, is pretty crazy. But, um, we’re gonna be talking about things like transitioning out of the military. Um, some of the, the things that you dealt with in, in, uh, your role in the Pentagon when you, you worked there, uh, as far as the suicide prevention and, and things along those lines.

Um, but this is, [00:04:00] um, to me, this is like one of the. Most important topics. It’s really the reason why I started this show, uh, is mm-hmm. To help people. Navigate through some of these issues that they’re having. And it, and it’s such an, an important topic. Um, and, and I’m really glad that you’re, you’re on the show here to talk about this.

Um, we’re gonna cut to a quick break though. Um, when we get back, uh, we’ll be, we’ll be jumping into this. We’ll, we’re gonna talk, um, a little bit more about, uh, your time in the Pentagon and the work that you did there and, and what you’re doing now. So stay tuned. Attention Military, veterans, and Families.

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So, uh, Mary, we all know that the rate of suicides amongst. Military members, the, the military community, uh, including veterans. When I talk about the military community, I can include the veterans as the currently serving, uh, service members. Um, that rate of suicide has significantly increased since, uh, the early two thousands.

Um, you know, pre nine 11 versus post nine 11 I, let’s just say. Um, and so as worked in the Pentagons Integrated Resilience Office, what insights you provide about what’s help. [00:06:00] Prevent su service members and veterans from taking their lives.

Mary Polanco: So I, I come at this with the, you know, full disclosure that it has been a year and some change since I’ve been in the office and things are happening at such a rapid rate.

Um, one thing I know that has happened since I left was the standing up of the Fortify, the Force. Uh, it’s an initiative where, uh, I don’t even, they probably are in the. Hundreds by now of members that come together to try to solve the problems of wellbeing and resilience across the Air Force. Um, so I know that that has stood up.

I know there’s a lot of initiative within that. Uh, when I was there, uh, I was there during the year where we had the highest rate in history. Um, I took off, I took the, uh, position in the office in early 2020 and the year of 2020, we had the highest rates in 2019 and 2020, excuse me. And, um, we were really, I think, [00:07:00] uh, trying, I like everyone just trying to figure out what, what is this, uh, the, what’s the root cause?

What’s the issue? Where can we do better? Where have we gone it wrong? Um, and so what I noticed while I was there in the two years I, I spent at the Pentagon, I noticed the shift in the willingness to have the conversation. I feel like we were getting a little bit more comfortable, or at least the introduction of having uncomfortable conversations with each other.

Um, and so just everything that happened throughout 2020 and then all of the disconnect that we had physically and emotionally, I noticed that we were a little bit more willing to at least. Bridge the gap a a little bit. I can’t speak for everybody because the thing is, when you’re at the Pentagon, you are very displaced from the everyday squadron level, and everyone’s experiences are so various, they are just all over the map when it comes to what kind of leader did they have and what was their personal experience.

But [00:08:00] having those conversations was. Was what we were attempting to initiate and keep going. Uh, we started something called the resilience Tactical Pause. And uh, what that did was it was an initially a one day kickoff, but it was just a one day to kind of get ideas of, Hey, how can we connect better? And then our office pushed out once a month.

Um, initiatives on, like tools. We actually gave them tools to sit with their people, kind of like an airman’s time, if you will, where they can connect. Um, and so those are some of the things that we did as far as pro program type stuff. Um, but, you know, it’s, it’s just a, it’s a really, really difficult, uh, subject matter, you know, and we just need to keep having the conversation.

Scott DeLuzio: And especially during that time period that you were talking about, I mean, 2020, we all know. Uh, you know, basically the whole world shut down and that doesn’t do anything good for, uh, you know, mental health and, and things along those lines. When, um, you know, sometimes all people really need is just [00:09:00] to be able to see someone, talk to someone, you know, see their face, see that smile, see that type of stuff, and everybody is wearing a mask.

If you’re able to see anybody at all, um, or you’re, you’re, you’re stuck away someplace else, isolated from other people. Um, so. That was probably one of the worst times to be getting into a, a role like that because, um, you know, the, of course these things are not going to improve during, during this kind of, uh, time period.

And especially when everyone’s focus was covid covid, um, mental health probably seemed like it was taking a backseat at that point, um, because of all the other survival, right? Yeah. All the other health issues that were concerned. We didn’t know at the time. Nobody really knew for sure how bad, how bad is this actually going to get?

And so yeah, everyone was taking precautions, staying away from other people. And you know, it’s just a, a really difficult, uh, thing to navigate when you [00:10:00] have, you know, so many people, uh, isolated, but then you’re also trying to help them with their mental health. It’s like the two competing things, like almost like a tug of war pulling, pulling in both directions, right?

Mary Polanco: Yeah, I felt for really fortunate to be in the office where our business was resilience. I feel like we had such a, an easier time, in my opinion, um, to kind of fall back on that and say, Hey, if we want this for everyone else, we need to practice it ourselves. And at the time I had a wonderful, uh, general officer who was our boss and, um, I was his chief.

And we had just a great team and we were working through that, but we were sort of laying the groundwork of what this could look like. And so that was really, really fortunate for me because it was also during the time when I was at my very, very lowest when it comes to mental health. And I’m sure we’ll talk, uh, dive into that a little bit, but it was just, uh, a blessing for me to be in that.

Place at that time, um, and to also, you know, go through that experience with that

Scott DeLuzio: [00:11:00] team well, and so th that’s actually a good transition here, uh, uh, or, or segue because, uh, my next question for you was going to be talking about your own personal experiences, um, with, uh, your own mental health and, um, you know, especially in your transition.

From the military, some of the maybe the psychological or emotional, uh, challenges that you faced during that whole process. Uh, and you shared a little bit, uh, with me, uh, a couple weeks ago when we chatted, but, um, would you be able to share your own experiences and during this timeframe and, and then into your transition?

Mary Polanco: Sure. Yeah. A lot of what I share can sometimes sound like there was so much clarity during it, but this is all through reflection of understanding the process as I went through. But, um, you know, I had been ignoring symptoms of anxiety. Uh, for years I think that my coping mechanism for depression and anxiety was to do more.

And I know that that’s not uncommon for a lot of people. It’s just the [00:12:00] busier I stay, the more productive I can be, and I can just avoid all the things I should be addressing. And so I had been doing that for. For probably upwards of a decade, um, of just constant mo motion and always throttling forward.

Um, and so when things, when I was assigned to the Hill, Capitol Hill, that actually was where it started. Um, we were not in, it was 2019, so we weren’t in Covid or anything. But, um, it was 2019 and I was. Only responsible for myself. So I went from a very high ops tempo job into a job where it was just me in the metro and drive, you know, going into work every day for an hour.

And I didn’t know what I was doing there. I was basically brand new. I had to learn a ton, which was fun. But, I couldn’t use that coping mechanism. I couldn’t run to save somebody in the day or help someone out or mentor somebody. And so I noticed that things started to get a little bit more difficult physically for me.

I was starting to manifest physical symptoms of [00:13:00] anxiety and depression. Um, increased heart rate pressure in my chest, un inability to take deep breaths, uh, constantly worried. Um, and so, I did like I had done in the P in the past, and since the Air Force wasn’t gonna keep me busy, then I decided to start a business and that was just the perfect time also to start my master’s degree and you know, all the things.

Which, um, you know, in hindsight I see where’s my problem, but, um, but then my business failed and I just, I couldn’t fight anymore. Um, and so I basically went into cog cognitive shutdown. Um, I wasn’t able to really function very well, so, I could do more, no more than like two tasks a day before I had to like sleep.

I was just, it was really, really difficult for me, uh, to function. And, um, yeah. Then the really, it brought me to the day, the day where my life changed, and that was when I couldn’t come up from the basement after, you know, working from home. And, [00:14:00] uh, I couldn’t do my normal routine, which was, you know, kind of gripe and complain with my husband and, um, tell him about the woes of the day, have my.

My alcoholic cocktail to ease the pain of anxiety. Um, I couldn’t do that that day. I, I could do nothing. I sat down on the couch and I just stared straight ahead and I was really numb, really numb. And then I kind of woke from that and became really scared because I work in the suicide prevention office and I was really scared of what was next if I was feeling nothing and I was.

Convinced Scott that I would never feel joy again. Like I couldn’t even imagine what joy would’ve been like at that moment, and that was the day that I decided to make a call to mental health and see if I could have someone else help me. My coping mechanisms weren’t working anymore, and I couldn’t do this on my own, which was also a very difficult thing for me to admit as a.

Um, high functioning, used to be high functioning, [00:15:00] uh, go-getter, you know, what do they call a fast burner type of person? It was a really hard pill to swallow, which was you need someone else to help you out.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I, I think probably a lot of listeners, uh, can maybe relate to that. Um, getting to that point where, You’re, you’re feeling not yourself, let’s just say, you know?

Mm-hmm. Everyone feels certain things a little bit differently. They, they hit hit that moment at different points in their lives, but you’re definitely, you’re feeling like not you. Um, right. And I, I wonder, um, you know, how much of the work that you were doing, Um, with the resiliency, uh, side of things impacted, um, your outlook on things.

Was, was it, um, you know, was it seeing, um, all of this negativity, uh, all the time? Did that, did that maybe influence what was going on with you? Or, or was it something else, or was it, was it just that you, uh, Or maybe, uh, for [00:16:00] lack of better terms, like a ticking time bomb, like this was almost inevitable. It was just a matter of, you know, when, when it was gonna happen.

Mary Polanco: Yeah. I really appreciate you bringing that point up because I think it was little column, a little column B, so I think that I was a ticking time bomb, but then I was placed inside a fire. And so you’re absolutely correct on that. It was the, the heartache that I felt, um, I had never, I had heard statistics and heard numbers, but they’re numbers and they’re, they’re not people.

When you’re kind of out there and you hear, right? Sure. And now I’m in an office where I can. Not only just see a report, but the details of the report and, you know, the, the circumstances that led up to the report. And it just was a very difficult thing to manage emotionally. Um, but then one step further than that was that I just, I started to notice that my own values were sort of in [00:17:00] misalignment with the busyness, the tempo that is the Pentagon.

And I really just felt like I, we needed to like slow down and connect and, you know, figure this out, people to people instead of process to process. And that was really pulling me, making it worse cause I was becoming further out of alignment, um, which was really putting the flame to my own anxiety and depression.

So I I appreciate that you said that cause Yeah, it absolutely did.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Absolutely. Um, yeah. Difficult position to be put into. Um, and, and having, you know, all that going on at the same time. And then, then especially, you know, everything that was going on in the world around that time period, it just, you know, seems like everything kinda started to, to snowball.

But, um, We’re gonna take another quick break. Uh, when we get back, we’re gonna talk, um, a little bit more about your story and, and what you’re doing now to, uh, help bring some normalcy [00:18:00] to the feelings that people have, uh, during their transition. Uh, and. Calling all passionate patriots. The Patriot Box is a testament to our love for this great nation we call home.

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So Mary, when we spoke the other day, you mentioned that you wanted to, to chat a little bit about, um, how to bring some normalcy. To the feelings that veterans experience during their transition from the military. Um, so what, what is it about this transition? I, I know we, we’ve all gotten out of the military.

I mean, some people listening, maybe still in the military, but at some point we’re all gonna get out of the military. Um, whether we’ve done it already or are going to in the future. Um, We all feel certain things. Some people may be elated that they’re getting outta the military. They maybe they hated it and they’re, they’re loving the fact that they’re out.

Um, maybe they never identified as a soldier, airman, marine, whatever. Um, they, they just want to get out [00:20:00] and, uh, you know, be done with it. But, but other people, you know, especially if you’ve been in for, like, in your case, you’ve been in, uh, you were in for, for quite some time, um, and now, That sort of becomes part of your identity, like who you are and, and now you’re getting out, um mm-hmm.

How do we bring some normalcy to these feelings and, and this gets a better understanding, uh, so we can support the people who are getting out, uh, of the military. Yeah.

Mary Polanco: Well, Scott, you’re doing a fantastic job to start that or to continue that conversation cuz we have to talk about it. We have to talk about we have to.

We have to be okay. Know that it is okay that if you’re feeling weird about it, even if you hated your military experience, but you still feel like you miss. Something that you don’t have to, you know, have some self-fulfilling prophecy, you know, where you can’t ever admit that. Like you, you don’t have to feel that way.

You can simultaneously, [00:21:00] uh, appreciate what you, the service did for you or that, that part of your journey and be elated that you are gone. Like, I think that there’s a lot of, and there’s a lot of guilt that we sort of pick up along the way because for the Air Force, Specifically, one of our core values is service before self.

So from literal day one, you are taught that your mission and your service is ahead of every single other thing. Now we can, we can sit here and talk about how that’s not the intention, but words matter. And when that’s. Reinforced throughout your entire career based on the, you know, glamorization of the grind and people get awards for their consistent sacrifice at work and, you know, all of these things, um, then you can start to believe it that.

Everything is above yourself. So bringing normalcy looks like a us talking about it and sharing about those feelings when we’re transitioning and knowing that it’s okay. And you’re not alone. You are [00:22:00] not alone in how you feel with any of the emotions, whatever they are. Um, there are your veteran friends bonded.

In that same role, um, where, where we will experience the same. And then the other thing, which I think is the underpinned to this, is the acknowledgement of the deconditioning process. That’s not something I was ever made aware of, and it’s not something that we’ve ever talked about. It’s been, oh, you’ll be so happy when you retire.

And you’ll be, or separate and you’ll just be free and all of that and you’ll be rested. And yes, all those things can be true, but there is also a great deal of unlearning and deconditioning of some of the things that don’t serve us in our next role. And I think that also has to be part of the conversation that we’re having for transitioning members.

Um, some of the things you won’t even realize that you do. Post-military service that aren’t serving you where you currently are. Right. And I mean, we can talk about examples, but I think [00:23:00] that is the underpinned to that transition for folks.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I, I know for, from my own experience and that’s really the only experience that I have any sort of expertise on.

Um, but when I got out of the army, I. Was excited at first, but then afterwards it was, it was like a, you know, like a punch in the gut almost. Where, where it’s like, wait, I’m no longer in the Army. Like, I’m th this isn’t who I am anymore. I’m I’m I veteran. Like, what does that even mean? I, I don’t e To me it was like, Now I have to like reinvent or fi like kind of figure out who I am all over again.

Um, right. You know, and I may, I maybe had a slightly easier time at it than, than some people. I was National Guard, so, um, so I had a civilian, uh, job at the time that. It wasn’t like I was now. Okay. I’m no longer, I [00:24:00] don’t no longer have the safety net of the income and housing and all that kind of stuff that comes along with, uh, you know, military service.

Um, I already had all of that kind of lined up as I was getting out. Um, but I still, I identified as a service member at, at that point and, and getting out. Now all of a sudden I’m not, and it, it’s like, okay, well, Who am I now? You know, am I just, you know, regular whoever? And, um, you know, I could see a lot, lot of people having that kinda inner conflict when they’re, they’re.

Mary Polanco: Absolutely. Because think about it, you spend a majority of your time in service. You spend on focusing on someone else’s vision and mission. Yeah. I mean, every new squadron or unit you go to, it’s what’s the vision and mission and the squadron. And so you’re hyper focused on making sure that that’s at the forefront of your mind.

And the thing that gets put on the back burner is your personal life’s. Vision and mission, and we don’t, we don’t take the time to do. A lot of us [00:25:00] don’t take the time to do that, and if we are serving and taking the time to do that, likely we have a bit of an easier transition when we do separate. Sure. I, I truly believe that.

I’ve talked to people who knew that they were in misalignment, they. Did their contract, four years was up, they were ready to go and step into the next purpose that they had been building. Um, but when we don’t take the time to do that, and then we make this quick pivot, and what happened when you said you were related?

What happens is that’s the honeymoon phase. It’s like, oh, I’m so relaxed and I, I actually write about this and talk about this piece of it. It’s almost like when you’re sprinting and you’re on the track and you’re sprinting, it hurts. It really hurts. And then the moment you. Stop sprinting. You’re like, oh, feel so relaxed.

Like I feel so much better. I can get a deep breath. I’m fine. And then you’re like, well, I’m gonna, A lot, what a lot of people do is like, oh, I’m gonna start sprinting again cuz it’s useless if I keep walking. No, sometimes you need to take that [00:26:00] walk, you know? And so I, what I also notice is a lot of transitioning members, they go from high ops tempo, sprint, sprint, and then they get out and they go on terminal leave, and that’s the only break they ever get.

Or maybe they don’t even get that. Sure. It’s right into the next grind. Right. Without stopping and evaluating, hang on, what is it now that I can design? You know, my Mary’s life, what does that actually look like? Because we’re all creating everything. If you, but if you wanna create your life, you gotta know what that looks like, right?


Scott DeLuzio: So, yeah. Absolutely. And I, I know a lot of people just through the conversations I’ve had with, with people through this show, um, and, and other veterans that I’ve talked to, um, a lot of veterans. Have this, this, uh, kind of depression as they’re, they’re getting out this loss of identity, loss of sense of purpose and, and meaning, uh, after leaving the military.

Um, based on your, your own [00:27:00] journey, the, the stuff that you’ve experienced and, uh, you know, other people that you’ve, you’ve seen and maybe worked with through, through your positions, uh, in the Air Force, um, what advice might you have for people who might be struggling, uh, as they’re transitioning?

Mary Polanco: I think that.

I think what you just described can happen to such a large majority of people leaving the service, particularly those who served at higher leadership positions. Uh, there is an identity that comes along with serving, uh, and being at service and for service of others for so many years. Um, And I w I also want to talk about that that could happen at different phases of someone’s life.

So for me, it actually happened while I was still serving with no idea I was gonna retire. I, when I, my depression hit, I felt a great loss of identity because I couldn’t function. And so it’s almost like if you have [00:28:00] an injury and you’re an athlete, you know, it’s like what am I, who am I if I’m not this high performing?

I. Person, if I’m not the go-to leader, who am I? I felt sure. I felt like, yeah, it was such a dip for me and that I, that was, uh, added to my depression. Um, so in coming back from that and answering your question, what I had to do and what I recommend for everyone to do is to strip all that away. Strip all away, all of the external labels that have been given to you, all of the things that you’ve been, you think you’ve been working towards.

And look, start looking at who you actually are. We are made up our own of our own values, of our own desires, our, uh, the things that make us happy, drive, give us purpose, make us wake up in the morning. Those are the things that make you, you. You have to understand yourself. So the, the journey of self-awareness must begin.

And when you do that, you’ll see [00:29:00] that, oh, that was just something I did with great meaning and great purpose, but it’s not who I am, which is particularly why, you know, if someone addresses me as chief, I kn I understand the sentiment. I really do. I, I appreciate the sentiment, but that is a rank I once wore.

That is not who I am, you know? And so identi making that clear identification of who you are as a person, individual, that is gonna help you in your transition because then you’re gonna design your life exactly around, you know, Susan and Tom and Scott and Mary. You know, like that’s how you’re gonna design your life, not based on what other people think you are.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, that’s true. Um, and, and, I’ve talked to people. Um, you, you were mentioning higher ranking, uh, people. I, I’ve talked to generals and admirals and I, I’ve talked to them and they’ve had, uh, similar, uh, sentiment to what you just expressed is that they have, uh, they’ve had this. [00:30:00] Identity at, at one point they were in charge of large groups of people, um, and then they take the uniform off, they retire, and all of a sudden now they don’t have that identity anymore.

Like, who are they? They’re lost. And, um, you know, this can, this can affect people. Doesn’t matter what rank you are. You could be, you know, uh, an E one all the way up through, you know, the general ranks and, uh, you know, like that. Is something that that happens and we just need to be aware of it. And I, I like how you’re working now to bring some normalcy to this conversation and, and coming on shows like this and, um, you know, doing the work that you do.

And we’re, we’re gonna get into that a little bit more, uh, in a little bit here, but, um, Actually, this is a good place to maybe take a quick break. Um, so we’ll, we’ll take a break now and, uh, stay tuned. We’ll, we’ll get more into this after the break. The hero company is more than just a brand. It’s a force of change.

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So, uh, Mary, we were just talking about the, the challenges that people have that dealing with that kind of loss of identity since purpose, things like that. After leaving the military, um, What are some of the challenges in that maybe you’ve seen, uh, that veterans might face when trying to find that new sense of purpose in, or, or sense of meaning or whatever you wanna call it, uh, in, in their second act, their, their civilian life after getting out of the military.

Um, and, and what are, what are ways that they can kind of overcome these challenges?

Mary Polanco: Well, it’s interesting that one of the most common things I hear when I ask the question, so what do you wanna do when you separate or retire? I have no idea that’s, that is the answer. I have no idea. Common, right? A lot of people feel that way.

And then the follow-up question of, well, [00:33:00] what are you passionate about? I really don’t know. And it’s just said, it’s said with such vulnerability and honesty, and it’s so true for so many people because again, they had not taken the time to. You would’ve asked me that three years before I retired. That’d been my answer.

I have no idea. Don’t know. What do we say? Don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up. Right. Like that’s what we joke about when we’re separating. And so one of the biggest challenges I feel that people are, that they face, um, is what am I supposed to be doing? Should I be doing the thing that I got my degree in?

Should I do the thing that was my primary job in the military? Um, I’m good at it. You know, it’s, I’ve got the certification. Is that what I should be doing? Um, what does my mentor say? And so one of the challenges is falling right back into that trap of. Taking advice and doing what everyone else is doing or, and it’s well-meaning advice, right?

People who care about us and are our mentors, they are trying to help guide and [00:34:00] direct. But there is only one person that can tell you if something is the greatest fit for you, and that is you. And you have to start listening to yourself. Um, and I’ll talk about how that, how you could do that for yourself in, in just a second.

But, um, and another one of. The challenges for folks when they’re separating is, believe it or not, is the feeling. Of silence, the feeling of the slowdown that is very uncomfortable for a lot of people. It hurts. It’s in the way that it’s like, I should be doing something more. I should, well, how can I possibly have nothing on my to-do list?

I spent, you know, 10 years with never finishing a to-do list and now I have all this time. Um, so it’s, you don’t know what to do with your time and there’s this, and it might. Like I said, there’s a honeymoon phase where you’re just like, ah, thank goodness. But then you start to think, and I went through this.

Then I’m like, okay, what am I? And I get right back into that, that, uh, [00:35:00] comparison mentality of, well, all my friends in this space are doing that and all my colleagues and I’m not doing enough. And so you kind of get wrapped up in that. So those are two of the challenges that I’ve seen, uh, occur with people who are, uh, veterans who, who separate.

And, you know, one of the things, and this is the simplest, it’s the simplest thing to do. Also for some the absolute hardest, and that is to sit in silence for five minutes a day. That’s it. Just, I would say any, the way that I was able to come through to the other side. Which now I can tell you, I, my life is filled with joy.

How I once thought I could never feel it again. I am, uh, just covered in joy from morning till night. And the reason I was able to find my way to the other side was because I just stopped all of the noise. I allowed myself first one minute a day, worked my way up to two, [00:36:00] three, just sitting in the quiet.

And of course when you are coming off of that sprint, your brain is, what do I hear most often? I can’t do that. My thoughts will just be running a mile a minute. Yeah, let them, let them do that. And then if you keep doing this two weeks from now, they’re gonna start quieting down. And then you’re gonna actually hear the under message that you’re supposed to be hearing.

Simplest thing and piece of advice to give, but also really difficult for folks. But it’s so

Scott DeLuzio: meaningful. It’s almost like that, uh, that sprint analogy that you, you gave before. It’s like right after that sprint, your legs might be burning and, and uh, you know, maybe. Maybe you kept moving, uh, it, it might not feel quite as bad, but if you’re sitting down, sitting still, uh, you, you’re gonna feel that burn.

Um, yeah. And so you might want be, you might be tempted to get up and go continue moving just to keep the blood flowing or, you know, whatever, um, the ca case may be. But, um, But sometimes you do need to sit down. You can’t just keep sprinting. You know, we’re not Forret Gump here. Like we can’t just keep going.

Right. [00:37:00] Um,

Mary Polanco: who is a fictional character, by the way. Right, exactly. Right. I know

Scott DeLuzio: to do that. Yeah. Don’t do that. Like, running across the country like that multiple times is not a good idea. Yeah. Um, but, but you mentioned how people just have no idea what they wanna do and how common that is. Right. Um, and the thought came to me when, when you mentioned that.

Is that when you have a group of people who are being told throughout their time in the military where they need to be, when they need to be there, what they need to wear, uh, when they can eat, when they can sleep, when they can do this and that, and everything is basically planned out for them. They really don’t have to give much thought to, what am I doing tomorrow?

Well, what you’re doing tomorrow is what you’re being told to do tomorrow, and that’s what you’re gonna do. Same thing with the day after and the day after, and the next week and the next month and next year, you’re doing the things that you’re being told to do until, um, Until you’re all the way at the, the higher, [00:38:00] the highest levels of of leadership.

But even then, you’re taking orders from somebody. You’re, you’re still Yes. Pretty much everyone’s taking an order from, from somebody some point or another. And so there’s not a whole lot of, what am I doing next? That, that type of thing. And so you, that muscle. Kind of doesn’t get exercised, uh, all that, that much, uh, I would imagine.

And, um, you know, I, I find, find when my kids are home and you know, I was talking about earlier, it’s, it’s hot during the summer. They wanna stay inside a lot during, during the summer and they end up playing video games and they’re sitting there playing video games and they’re not really giving a whole lot of thought to, what am I.

What am I doing? They’re not being creative. They’re not, they’re, they’re, you know, getting some energy out on the video game. And, and that’s about, about it. Um, and sometimes I, I notice like after they’re done playing, it’s like, okay, so, you know, what do you wanna do next? I dunno, you know, like, that’s kinda the answer that [00:39:00] you get.

And, you know, I’m not, not exactly a hundred percent correlating it to, to the military service, but I imagine it’s similar, told what to do next. You don’t really have to think about what’s next until do and.

Mary Polanco: Oh my gosh. You are, you nailed it. That’s exactly, exactly what it’s in fact, almost verbatim what I share and write about.

It’s exactly that, and we, that’s the, the conditioning part. That’s the conditioning part that we need to give, uh, a fair spot to talk about. We need to give it its airtime, if you will, as we are because you are a hundred percent right from the moment we sign the paper and we raise our hand and we enter from that moment whether you are 18 or you are, you know, an officer at 24, 23 24, right?

Doesn’t matter. When you [00:40:00] join you, there is a part of you that stops thinking. I. You are not a free agent and it doesn’t like, I love that you pointed out all the way up to the highest ranks cuz it absolutely is all the way officer enlisted all the way to the top. We are not, we really don’t have the freedom of movement, um, that we hope.

And I think a lot that one of the things that happens in service is for a lot of us, particularly for me. I just stopped thinking about what restrictions were on me because I knew it was a moot point. I was like, well, I’m gonna stay. I’m gonna retire. I might as well not worry about that. I’ll just, you know, yeah, sometimes I do want pink in my hair, but whatever.

It’s just part of the job, you know? You just gotta give it up. But I think that, that those personal identifiers, the more and more that gets stripped away, the longer you stay and the more you dive into this culture, this really the grind mentality of what the service is. Uh, the more you lose yourself.[00:41:00]

You can’t answer that question. You can’t say, yeah, I always wanted, I always dreamt of doing this with my life, Scott, honestly, like just being fully, fully transparent and and vulnerable Here. I picked up a, a journal from when I was 20 years old and I was going through my retirement stuff when I was my ceremony, and I.

I picked up this journal and I read it and it brought me to tears. This 21, this 20 year old had so many aspirations, so much life, so much excitement for the world. Um, just personal, personal aspirations. And along the way of my career, I completely lost her. And I had none of that. I spent my time busying myself so that I can have that badge of honor and then I could, you know, look at other people and say, well, don’t you see how busy I am?

Of course I can’t take care of myself. And that became okay with me. When in all reality it is not okay for any of us. We are our number one priority.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:42:00] Right? And I think that’s important to understand is that, that we are our number one priority. I don’t care if you’re a parent, if you’re in a leadership position in the military, if you’re the CEO of an organization, doesn’t matter.

You need to take care of yourself first. Um, in, in order to be able to. Be effective in whatever position you’re in, um, as a, as a parent, as a, uh, service member, as a, uh, just a coworker or a boss or whoever you happen to be. Um, you know, and I’ve said this dozens of times on this show, but when you get on an airplane and they tell you if in the case of, uh, you know, uh, Pressure, uh, they, the cabin pressure, uh, uh, issue when the the oxygen mask comes down.

Put yours on first before you help. Somebody else. Um, and that might seem selfish, like of course I would wanna help my kids first, uh, in that situation. But if they’re struggling cuz they’re, they’re scared and, and everything and they’re fighting you off or whatever, um, [00:43:00] well you’re both gonna end up passing out and you’re, you’re gonna be useless to them at that point.

So you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people. Cause otherwise you’re not coming at it at a hundred percent.

Mary Polanco: Yep. Right. And I think, I think part of the reason so many of us get lost along the way and buy into that service before self and buy into everyone else ahead of me, I’m servant leadership is, you know, every, no, the reason we buy into it is because we’re getting something from it.

We, for me, it was the external validation, the external accolade, the um, you know, the real people relying on me. That was fueling me to continue that. Um, I was a people pleaser and I’m a recovering people pleaser, so sometimes I fall back into it, but, but I was, I was a p I could never say no. I could never say no to an opportunity.

I, you know, like these people were putting their necks out for me and I just was constantly going and I was the last [00:44:00] thing and it caught up to me. Like, it will catch up to you because the, my anxiety and depression is my greatest gift that has ever happened to me because it was, and I truly believe this for a lot of people, but mine was the inner me saying, okay, Mary, we’ve been trying to have this, this call with you, this discussion for a very long time, and you keep ignoring us.

And so what we’re gonna do is just go ahead and shut you down. Do a reboot and then we’ll see how you are when you come back too. Right? Like, are you gonna listen this time? That’s how I felt like the inner voice in me was talking to me like, all right, we trusted you. You can’t be trusted, Mary. Sit down.

And so that, that’s really, that really was my greatest gift for me to kind of had this awakening into my own life. I was a zombie, Scott. I was just walking through life as a zombie,

Scott DeLuzio: right. And. You, you oftentimes will hear service members being referred to as robots or as, you know, [00:45:00] things along those lines because you just go and do you follow orders?

You, you do as you’re told. Like any good, uh, service member would do. Um, you just go off and do that, and it’s not hard to follow orders. You just do what you’re told and I mean, That’s, that’s the whole job right there, is you, you just follow orders and, uh, you know, do or do as you’re told and, and you’re following the orders.

It’s pretty simple. Um, yeah. But when you don’t exercise that part of the, the brain with the, um, you know, using your brain to, to think about what’s next, how do I approach the situation, whatever the case may be, then, um, you know, it, it. It is hard to pick that back up. It’s just like any other, uh, muscle in your body, uh, almost where if you, if you don’t ever use it, you’re gonna start.

To get weak on that side of your body or that part of your body. And so you need to start exercising that and, and use it, uh, more and more, uh, in order to, to kinda bounce back and build some of that [00:46:00] resilience. Uh, we’re gonna take another quick break. Yeah. And, uh, when we get back, um, we will, uh, talk a little bit more about, uh, the work that Mary does and, um, and how she is, uh, you know, helping people, uh, through her work now.

So stay tuned.

Mary Polanco: This message is from

Scott DeLuzio: the US Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Note

Mary Polanco: the upcoming August 10th date to apply for PAC Act benefits. The law expands benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and toxics while serving. If you apply before that date. And VA grants, your application VA will likely backdate your benefits to the date of the bill signing August 10th, 2022.

This means VA will pay you the amount you would have received from August 10th, 2022 to the date we grant your application. If you’re not ready to submit a claim, by [00:47:00] then you can submit an intent to file and still receive the same effective date.

Scott DeLuzio: Learn

Mary Polanco: more at va.gov/pact.

Scott DeLuzio: So Mary, you’ve been great coming on the show, sharing your own personal experience. With your transition, the time, uh, you know, struggling with anxiety and, uh, the, the issues that you are dealing with being vulnerable enough to come on and, and share that. Um, I wanna give you a chance to share the work that you’re doing now and, and where people can go to find out more about what it is that you do.

Mary Polanco: Great. Thank you. Yeah, so my, uh, part of my transition process was to really uncover, uh, dis rediscover, I should say, rediscover my purpose, my values and things that I’m drawn toward. And that is definitely connection with [00:48:00] people. Um, but this, this, uh, Alarming message that I received quite loud and clear, which was your analogy of putting the mask on first and self prioritization and self health before anything.

I knew that I was a good leader. I knew I was a good mom and a good friend, but after really cracking the code on prioritizing my own health and wellness, I now know I’m great at those things. I was working with one hand tied behind my back previously, and so I’ve been pulled heavily in the direction of, um, talking about that.

I have a YouTube channel, um, called Live Well if you, um, If you YouTube or Google me on my name, I also have a crafting YouTube channel, which has grown quite a bit and I mentioned that because that’s probably what pops up first. But hobbies are part of wellness, right? So that is something I advocate for.

Um, but I also, um, as far as [00:49:00] more of a professional side of things I’m doing after retirement, I started, uh, my own company called Live and Lead. Well, I have my. Expertise, my experience and expertise. My formal training is in leadership, management, uh, development, training, curriculum, and I, through the discovery of all of this and, and my transition out, I realized that there is a gap when we do leadership training.

I believe when we are training leadership, Uh, it is about how we te treat other people. And there the gap that I’m finding is the lack of discussion of how we treat ourselves. I feel like we will show up as the best version of the leader we wanna be when we do all this inner work. When we do, uh, I’m, I am an assessor for emotional intelligence assessment, so I’m, uh, certified in that.

And when we go through this self-awareness process and we really are willing to look in the mirror. We uncover so much, and then when we know ourselves best, we can show up for others [00:50:00] best. And so that’s why the name of my company is Live and Lead. Well, I believe Living Well is the, the catalyst and the foundation to everything we do.

And so, um, so yeah, so I, I do that for my, um, personal or my professional job. I also do a lot of, uh, social media. Creation content creation. I’m sharing constantly on LinkedIn and Instagram and, and Facebook. I just, I love social media for that piece of it where we can share ideas. Um, and I am writing a book like you mentioned, and so that will hopefully be out by Veteran’s Day.

I think that’s a suiting or a fitting day rather, um, suitable day for the release. And so, um, yeah, we’re, I’m just out here excited.

Scott DeLuzio: Well, that’s awesome. And I, um, I’m looking forward to when the book comes out. Um, maybe having you back on the show. We could talk a little bit more about the book and, uh, what readers can, uh, can gain from, [00:51:00] uh, reading the book.

Um, but again, Mary, it’s been. Uh, a pleasure having you come on, uh, sharing your story, sharing some, uh, you know, resources and, and the things that, that, uh, helps you along the way in your own transition, hopefully, uh, to help some other people who are, um, maybe struggling or about to get into their transition and not really knowing what that next step is, is gonna look like.

Um, and so I, I really do appreciate you taking the time to come on the show and sharing all of that with us.

Mary Polanco: Oh, thank you Scott, and thank you for everything you’re doing with the show. I mean, it, it matters. It’s all connecting and it matters. So thank you for that and thanks for

Scott DeLuzio: having me. Absolutely.

Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

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