Dennis Volpe spent over 20 years as a Naval Officer, he’s the best-selling author of Transition on Purpose, and the founder of the Severn River Leadership Group, which is committed to the development of veteran and first responder-owned small businesses.
Links & Resources
- The Professional Certified Coach: dennis-volpe.com
- The Book: www.transitiononpurpose.com
- The Leadership Research Institute: www.lri.com
- Severn River Leadership Group: www.severnriverleadershipgroup.com
- Dennis Volpe on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/djvolpe/
- Team RWB: www.teamrwb.org
- Team Rubicon: teamrubiconusa.org
- The Mission Continues: www.missioncontinues.org
- American Corporate Partners Veteran Mentor Program: www.acp-usa.org/mentoring-program
- The Commit Foundation: www.commitfoundation.org
- Camp Resilience: www.camp-resilience.org
- Camp Southern Ground: www.campsouthernground.org/veteran-programs
- Creati Vets: creativets.org/programs/songwriting/
Scott DeLuzio 00:00:00 Thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast where we’re focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or 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 the Drive On Podcast. Today, my guest is Dennis Volpe. Dennis spent over 20 years as a Naval officer. He’s the best-selling author of the book Transition On Purpose, and he’s the founder of the Severn River Leadership Group, which is committed to the development of veteran and first responder-owned small businesses. So welcome to the show, Dennis.
Dennis Volpe 00:00:49 Hey Scott, thanks for having me. I’ve been excited about our conversation for a while and, absolute look looking forward to,
Scott DeLuzio 00:00:58 When we first got in touch I was kind of eager to get you on because it sounds like you have a lot of good information and stuff from your background in the military and what you’re doing in your training that you do. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dennis Volpe 00:01:22 Sure. Well, I’ll start with who I am now. I’m a husband, a dog dad, and I’m an outdoor enthusiast. I’m a recreational triathlete and a rugby and lacrosse fan. I’m a Traeger grill guy. I’m a bourbon drinker, I’m an author, I’m a songwriter, I’m a retired military officer, and I’m a certified professional coach who helps others get more focused, more aligned, and more fulfillment out of the work they do in the life they lead. And right now I’m a principal leadership consultant coach with the Leadership Research Institute.
Scott DeLuzio 00:02:08 That’s great. And you’ve talked about your military transition a little bit. I like to kind of hear a little bit about that. What your transition was like because it’s a topic that we discuss a lot on this podcast. Because of how difficult it can be, how many veterans struggle with transitioning. They see the light at the end of the tunnel DD214, that shiny object sitting at the end of that tunnel. And they’re ready to go and just snatch it and move on with their life. But then after getting out of the military, they struggle because of various things. They’ve lost the identity of being a service member, or they’ve lost a camaraderie with the other service members that they were with. And, they struggled relating with civilians or any number of other things. So we’ve heard a lot of these stories before, but what kind of advice would you have for people who are transitioning out of the military?
Dennis Volpe 00:03:09 So I’ve had the opportunity, Scott, to do executive and transition coaching. For the past five and a half years after I retired, I went through Columbia University to become a certified coach. And I’m now an international coaching Federation, professional certified coach. Where do I focus my efforts? I focus my efforts on emotional intelligence, on resilience, value-based leadership, and strength-based leadership and transition. What have I found over the past couple of years? Well, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a ton of transitioning military veterans, whether that has been through team red, white, and blue, whether that’s been through the American corporate partners, veteran mentor program, or camp Southern ground, or I’m on the board for camp resilience up here in New Hampshire. There’s been five kinds of buckets that I’ve seen people kind of fall into when it comes to transition.
Dennis Volpe 00:04:20 And the first one is self-awareness being able to identify how you have defined success, spending time and doing, doing that work. And I like to say doing that hard work that connects both your head and your heart and identifies first: your objective, how have you defined success for you and those who matter to you and then identify what really matters based on that definition of success, and then why it matters. So that way you can focus your energy, your attention, and your effort on those things. Because the first hurdle or the first bucket is a lack of self-awareness. The second bucket is a lack of self-management. Very often that definition doesn’t exist because we’ve spent time just getting after whatever we’re getting after that day. And because we don’t have that definition of success, and we really haven’t identified what really matters.
Dennis Volpe 00:05:27 We’re unable to focus our energy, our attention, and our effort on those things. And as a result, we don’t have the right boundaries in place. We don’t have the right support systems in place for us to manage our lives the way we want to. And very often we confuse change and transition. Changes. The fact is, 2020 has taught us that 2021 has taught us that. But also guess what? It doesn’t matter if you’re a private, it doesn’t matter if you’re an airman, a seaman doesn’t matter, or if you’re a general or an Admiral or whatever your time in the military is going to end. So that is a fact, whether it’s at two years, four years or 40 years transition the word we talk about all the time as a choice, how you transition from military service to your civilian life is a choice that you get to make.
Dennis Volpe 00:06:28 And then what military men and women, at least in my experience, are really good at. And I was good at it too, is confusing endurance or perseverance or grit with resilience, right? You hear the word resilience all the time. And very often people say, oh, it’s about having grit. Well, grit is part of it. And I’ve got a really good friend and colleague and she talks about, well, when do you need resilience? Well, it’s when your grit hits the fan, right? When your endurance, when your perseverance, and your grit are no longer serving you in a positive way, that’s when we need resilience, right? And resilience is all about leaning into change, leaning into adversity, leaning into those things that challenge us and be better on the other side. And when you think about, well, what do I need to think about to be my most resilient, self-clarity and focus, mental wellness, physical wellness, your mind, your body.
Dennis Volpe 00:07:37 And then I’d like to call it your tribe, your social wellness, your connection, your connection with like-minded people who are going to challenge you to be better today than you were yesterday and better tomorrow than you were today. Then finally your spirit, your spiritual wellness, and your sense of purpose, which goes back to your self-awareness, what matters to you and how you’re going to get after it. Because when you have that spiritual wellness, when you have that sense of purpose, you’re going to have mental toughness. You’re going to have the grit to keep moving. And then finally there’s always this. And I was absolutely guilty of it. There’s this innate fear to ask for support, right? Because I didn’t want to admit that I can’t do all this on my own. And guess what? Life is a contact sport. And I could say that as a former football player, a former rugby player, and a former lacrosse player, right. I understand context sports, but life is a contact sport. You’re going to get knocked down, whether it’s personally, whether it’s professionally or both, but life is also a team sport,
Scott DeLuzio 00:08:43 And without that, that team support, that tribe, the social support, the other people in your life you’re really only ever going to be as good as you are yourself and you can’t grow from just a stagnant position like that. And so if you’re looking to, move on and transition that were, or like, that change is inevitable, that things always are changing. If you’re looking to change in a positive way, you’re probably gonna need some support from other people who have been there and are stronger in certain areas than you are. And, it can help guide you in the right direction. So that way you’re, you’re not stumbling and making the same mistakes that they made maybe 20 years ago. And they’re able to help guide you in that right direction.
Dennis Volpe 00:09:46 A hundred percent. And it’s not probably us, we actually need support. And, I don’t know if you’ve read Sebastian Younger’s book tribe, and that was a really impactful book for me during my transition to really understand what that loss of connection that loss of comradery might do. And that’s why I got involved with team red, white, and blue. That’s why I got involved with Team Rubicon. That’s why I got involved with the mission, continues to have that comradery, to have that support. And that was five, six years ago. And I’m still connected with some of those people today,
Scott DeLuzio 00:10:32 . And those connections are not one of those ones and done. I made this connection. Okay. I used it for all it’s worth today. And, and now I’m, now I’m done. I can, and I’m great. And I can move on and go at it, go it on my own. Like you’re continuing to grow. Those people are continuing to grow and you’re going to continue to help each other out over time as well. I would imagine. Right.
Dennis Volpe 00:10:58 I would argue that that’s the difference between networking and connection. Right, right. And, truly connecting. I reflected on my 2021 and concluded that I was really concerned or consumed about expanding my network, right. Getting five, 10,000 followers here, there, and everywhere. And what I neglected was connecting with the network that already existed and really diving deeper instead of trying to expand what was, what was there. And that’s my commitment to 2022 is to really connect deeper. So that way I can continue to be the best version of myself
Scott DeLuzio 00:11:52 And to help those other people that you’re connecting with to be able to become the best versions of themselves as well because we all are trying to help each other out. I would imagine in a lot of cases where, if you’re making these connections, you are, you’re making them for mutual benefit. ideally you probably shouldn’t be making them for a hundred percent selfish motives. Right, and so when, when you’re making this for a mutual benefit, keeping these connections open, even if you don’t necessarily have anything that this person’s going to offer to you in the short term,, you might be able to offer something to them. And then that just helps each other grow and grow and grow and grow. And then, additional connections can be made, down the line. And that just helps everybody. So I think those are really great points.
Dennis Volpe 00:12:55 So the thing that I really believe is that life is a contact sport. I really believe that life is a team sport, but I also believe, and I know you’re an army guy, but as a Navy guy, a rising tide raises all boats. You invest in other people when you take the time and you make the effort. Because the other thing I really believe is that deeds matter much more than your words do, right. Your execution rather than your intention is what matters. And when you invest in other people and when you connect deeper with other people, you’re going to not only make your life better, you’re going to make their lives better. And, as Pollyanna as it may sound, you’re going to make the world a better place.
Scott DeLuzio 00:13:36 Yeah, absolutely. So this idea of this personal resilience that you were talking about, how does someone kind of build that up in, in themselves? Is that something that, that they take away from their, their military career, or is that something that, that is, That they can work on, on their own, or, or is it something that they, they, like you were saying before that could use the help of others to build up that, that personal resilience?
Dennis Volpe 00:14:11 So Scott, what if I said yes? All those questions, we can rewind the clock for me., I’m a simple kid from Long Island who played lacrosse and I got recruited by West Point. I got recruited by the Naval academy and ultimately decided to code to the Naval academy. And, yeah, it was tough for me.t was really tough. The physical side wasn’t too bad, but the academic side was rough. and really just the whole environment. And what I mean by that is, to say being a big fish,in a little pond, just everybody that goes to the Naval academy, they were varsity athletes, they were class presidents or vice presidents. So the bar is pretty high.
Dennis Volpe 00:15:15 So you go from being that big fish in that little pond to just being a fish. And you’re like, oh, all right, not only am I just a fish, there’s bigger fish here. There’s faster fish here. There’s smarter fish here. I think going into a service academy, at least for me, was a very, very humbling experience. And then you couple that with the academic rigor and everything else that’s associated with it, and that I would say that’s where some of the seeds of resilience started up. But also I like to say that athletics, understanding what’s required to win, also plants those seeds. I had a very, very successful career, and got to do a lot of cool things. I got asked to go back to the Naval academy to teach leadership.
Dennis Volpe 00:16:13 You’ve got to hang out with the army. I like to call it my Navy appreciation tour because I was an operational planner with the army in Afghanistan. And then I got selected for command. So, military life absolutely makes us more resilient, because of the lifestyle. We have tough times and, but we probably don’t look at it that way. It wasn’t until I was in command, that I realized what it really, really meant to be resilient. What do I mean by that? I’m not a big, big fan of the Winter Olympics anymore. People ask me why, well, when I was in command, we got assigned to support the 2014 Sochi Olympics. And we were doing a national tasking mission and we were off the coast of Sochi and we were close enough that you could actually see the Olympic torch, in the foreground of the Sochi mountains.
Dennis Volpe 00:17:30 Close enough that the Russians were interested in our presence and close enough that. The highest levels of the military and civilian chain of command back home were interested in what we were doing. So professionally on top of a mountain, doing cool stuff, and what you were doing actually mattered. You fast forward a couple of weeks and we had a checkoff station and went to get gas and sailed across the Black Sea. And we’re entering the port. And we had an operational mishap and we ran aground,, and we broke the propeller and we were done, deemed non-mission capable, during a time of heightened tensions in the Black Sea region. So in a matter of two weeks, you went from being on the highest mountain. You could professionally go to the lowest valley personally and professionally because you’re a can-do guy, or you’re a can-do girl.
Dennis Volpe 00:18:31 Who’s been doing the deeds. Who’s been in the arena for 18 years and doing really good stuff. And then two weeks later you get relieved of command and you have to figure out who you are. You’ve got to figure out what matters to you and what you’re going to do about it. That’s when I really embraced resilience and really embraced what mental clarity meant, what focus meant, what alignment meant, and what it really meant to take care of your body, because the stress of being relieved of command and trying to figure out your life is, it’s tough. And then it truly cemented what social wellness was all about and what connection was about and what it meant to really be energized by people outside of yourself. Then having that sense of purpose. Probably a very, very long answer to a very short question.
Scott DeLuzio 00:19:32 It’s good to have the background to see the highs and the lows and how that all happened in a very short period of time where you are at the top of your game and then literally run a ground. It kind of turned everything upside down for you and being able to bounce back from something like that is the key. Not just letting that be the thing that defines you. It’s like, oh, well, I’m on this terrible, I screwed something up and there’s no hope for me, there’s no future, I, can’t bounce back from this, but that’s not true, in, in a lot of cases where, there’s things that can be done to bounce back from this.
Dennis Volpe 00:20:33 And I want to, I actually want to change a word that you’re using if that’s okay.
Scott DeLuzio 00:20:38 Sure.
Dennis Volpe 00:20:38 Bounce forward from it. ,
Scott DeLuzio 00:20:41 Sure. Yeah.. Actually, that’s a lot more sense. Yeah. It’s not bouncing backward going back to where you were, because bouncing forward to where you want to be.
Scott DeLuzio 00:20:51 Exactly. Yeah that makes sense. And, thinking about the language is probably important as well. So that way you’re thinking about it in a different mindset. So you’re thinking I can’t change the past. I can’t make that thing that happened go away and just forget that it even happened. What can we do to change the future?
Scott DeLuzio 00:21:17 Right. The lessons learned from the failures in life, which let’s just face it, we’ve all failed at something at one point or another. The lessons that you’ve learned are the things that help get you to where you need to be in terms of your own growth and development.
Dennis Volpe 00:21:37 A hundred percent. Sometimes I get asked why coaching and why should I work with you as a coach? And my immediate answer is, well, I know what success is, and I know what success looks like. I know what success feels like, and I know what it is that’s required to be successful. And I also know what it feels like to fail, but I also know what it takes not to be a failure, because all of the things that you talked about, all of that self-doubt, all of that questioning, all of that stuff. Yeah. I was on that road. I was in that Briar Patch and, with the help of others to include some coaches that I worked with, I was able to move in a positive direction like to say that the awesome part of, and I didn’t get all the way there, but, the awesome part of rock bottom is that it provides an amazing solid foundation to move in a positive direction.
Scott DeLuzio 00:22:48 It’s at rock bottom. The only direction you can go is up. Right. What’s the choice that we make, right? I mean, I suppose you could also pull out a shovel and keep digging, but that’s not, that’s just going to be, yeah. That’s, that’s just self-sabotage and, and you’re, you’re not helping anything at that point. And Hopefully, you’re not going in that direction, but, but it does, it does give you a good launching point to propel yourself further and better off than you wonder for. As far as that foundation goes, you think about all of the mistakes that you’ve made in your life. And this is for people listening and you as well. But when you think about all of the mistakes that you’ve made in your life, how many of them are really as completely devastating as we make them out to be in our minds because maybe they were embarrassed or they changed the trajectory of your career. If you use those things for what they’re worth as learning lessons, even if it does get you fired from a job or demoted or whatever, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and grow from that and become a better person from those things, if you allow that to happen.
Dennis Volpe 00:24:18 A hundred percent and why do I get on podcasts? Well, interestingly enough I was kind of in that little, I’ll call it the pity prison of, oh, I failed. And everybody knows that I failed. Well, one of the key takeaways, from my crucible experience, is that we actually think we’re more important than we are. I let myself sit in that little pity prison probably for two years, arguably, where that self-doubt was there. That literally questioning where you’re going and why you’re going there. And I assumed, right. And we always hear, well, what happens when you assume that everybody knew what happened? And funny enough, I didn’t talk about it either. And it wasn’t till I was on a podcast. And, it would be Jeff Hancher, it was the first time I talked about what happened to me and how it affected me and everything else. And fortunately, or unfortunately, it was like the most viewed most commented upon post that I made on LinkedIn ever, about me failing and
Scott DeLuzio 00:25:54 That you wanted to have, right.
Dennis Volpe 00:25:56 Oh, interestingly enough, Scott, the reason there were so many comments was because so many people didn’t know, they were like, and these were people that were in the Navy. These were people that were my classmates from the Naval academy, who I thought knew and who I thought judged me and who, all of that stuff. None of that was true. And that literally, that one, I don’t want to say that one event, that one podcast opportunity, unlocked some of my human performance. It absolutely did. Right. And that’s what coaching is all about. My coaching is about unlocking human performance. I don’t care if it’s on a rugby pitch. I don’t care if it’s on a lacrosse field. I don’t care if it’s in a boardroom or in a manufacturing facility. If you’re a coach, if you’re trying to get somebody to that next level, it’s about unlocking human performance, and sometimes to unlock human performance, you’ve got to help that person, whoever he or she is, get out of their own way. And that’s what the coaches that I worked with helped me do.
Scott DeLuzio 00:27:09 And a lot of times we can be our biggest critic, our biggest enemy in terms of sabotaging our own success and, and future. We know the things that have happened. We know the things that, maybe we made a mistake and we screwed something up or whatever. We’re filled with that self-doubt where we’re like, okay, I’m just not good enough for whatever this is because, well, I clearly screwed this thing up before. And so how could I be good enough for that. But you don’t grow with that kind of mindset and attitude.You don’t get past that. You basically just get stuck and stagnant and you don’t ever move forward, with that kind of mindset. I think a coach or somebody who can help get you out of your own way is definitely a great thing to have when you’re feeling stuck, whether it’s in your career or personal life. Right. Yeah.
Dennis Volpe 00:28:18 And that’s why that social wellness piece, that tribe piece is such a huge part of personal resilience, right? Because we need to have, I call it your personal QRF, right. And our military men and women on the podcast know what that means. The civilians who might be listening, a QRF is a quick reaction force. Those are the men and women who are on call, who are standing by with the right tools and the right training to help you get out of a jam. And we need to have that. And if you’re listening to this podcast and you don’t have your personal QRF established, those three to five people that you can call any time of the day and say, I need your support. That is the one thing that you could do today in order to help you move in a positive direction.
Dennis Volpe 00:29:17 And once you have that QRF established, that’s when you start expanding that personal success network, that success network, that includes the people Scott, that you’ve talked about, right? The mentors, those people who have actually done what you want to do, and you share similar values with, and similar priorities with right, they’ve done what you want to do in a way you want to do it, and they could show you the way. And then you’ve got sponsors very similar to mentors, but a little nuanced shared values, shared expectations, and they could show you the way, but they also can clear the way for you and provide opportunities. And then you’ve got everybody needing energizers, right? Everybody needs that person in their life where you can just call them on the phone or you get a text from them or whatever it is. And it just provides that boost of positivity that you need in your life. And then, and then you’ve got the trusted colleagues, those people that, like, and trust, and you can have real conversations about real-life stuff. So you’re never going at it alone.
Scott DeLuzio 00:30:35 Yeah, for sure. Having all of those in place, I think makes a ton of sense. It really does help. Like you were saying, energize you and help you to move forward and, and get out of your own way. BEcause my gosh, we get in our own way sometimes, right?. Now the reason why I started off talking about a transition in getting out of the military is your book, and I want to give you the opportunity to talk about your book, Transition on Purpose. It talks about transition. Tell us what the book’s all about and also make sure you let people know where they can go to find it. But, definitely let’s talk about that book and hear what that’s all about.
Dennis Volpe 00:31:24 Well, I knowI know that you’re an author,I know your book just came out too, Surviving Son and your story. In the story of being a gold star brother and how that has impacted your journey and transition on purpose. It’s about my journey and it’s kind of in two parts. Part one is kind of what I talked about already. this is who I am, this is where I was. And then this happened, and trying to find out who I was, what mattered to me, and focusing on my values and what I valued. And I think very often military men and women in transition lean on the core values of the service, right, whatever service they were in.
Dennis Volpe 00:32:23 And for me, honor courage and commitment that makes me who I am, but that doesn’t help me make decisions, right. Particularly about career and life, so part two of the book, like I said, I went through the Columbia coaching program and there’s three parts of the Columbia coaching methodology. And it’s what’s up in terms of context, let’s talk about what’s going on. and then it’s content, right? What really, really matters. And then it’s conduct, what are you actually going to do about what really matters? So it’s kind of a nine-step process to help you through transition. And the first part and this goes back to those stumbling blocks of personal and professional success is self-awareness identifying what matters to you, identifying what your values are. So that way you can make better and more informed decisions about the work you do in the life that you lead.
Dennis Volpe 00:33:27 And then it’s about exploration, and self-management identifying your priorities, identifying your boundaries, identifying what energizes you and needs to be part of your reality moving forward. And then it’s about action. It’s about identifying that personal success network. It’s about having that transition toolkit of personal resilience of mindfulness, of physical wellness, of social connection, and spiritual wellness. And then finally, it’s about planning, right? Military men and women. We’ve got a military planning process, right? There’s a way to plan and utilize the military planning process that we all know, and some of us knew it more intimately than others, but you don’t like sizing, those tools to play in your life, knowing that guess what change is a fact. And just because you have a plan doesn’t mean that it’s not going to change, right, but General Eisenhower talked about it. Plans are useless, but planning is essential.
Scott DeLuzio 00:34:40 It is. And, and having, a plan for the inevitable change that’s going to happen is important, just as important as having your initial plan for whatever it is that you’re, you’re trying to do, knowing that things are going to change at one point or another is important to do, because otherwise, you’re, you’re setting yourself up for failure when something inevitably does change.
Dennis Volpe 00:35:09 You know how you have defined success and why you’ve defined success that way, and what you truly value, it’ll be easier to make decisions about whatever that path is.
Scott DeLuzio 00:35:25 ,For sure. It definitely will be. That’s kind of the gist of the book. Obviously, we don’t want to give everything away and give all the tidbits away. We want people to go and grab a copy of the book and read that for themselves. Where can people go to find the book?
Dennis Volpe 00:35:44 So you can go to my website, which is Dennis, dash volpi.com, or you can go to Transition on Purpose.com or you can go straight to Amazon. . And Transition on Purpose. For all those military men and women out there all the proceeds of my book, go to Camp Resilience, which is a veteran transition program up here in New Hampshire that utilizes the outdoors of the lakes region of New Hampshire to help military veterans and first responders bounce forward in mind, body and spirit in order to successfully transition from military or first responder service to, to their next chapter of things.
Scott DeLuzio 00:36:32 . It sounds like a great organization. And one that’s definitely worthy of that, that type of support. So for everyone out there listening, go check out the book, Transition on Purpose. Not only are you helping yourself, by reading the book and learning some of the lessons contained inside of there, but you’ll also be helping out camp resilience and, and all the great things that they’re doing as well. I think that that’s definitely great. And I’m glad that you’re, you’re doing that and that you have that book out there for people to read. Where can people go to get in touch with you and find out more about your coaching and everything else that you do?
Dennis Volpe 00:37:14 Sure. The best of the best places to get a hold of me is through my website, dennis-volpi.com or via LinkedIn. And if you can’t get a hold of me, either of those two places, you can go to the leadership research Institute, which is L R I Lima Romeo, india.com.you can get a hold of me there.
Scott DeLuzio 00:37:39 . Great. And I will have links to all of these websites and your social media,LinkedIn, in the show notes. So anyone who’s looking to get in touch with Dennis, definitely check out those show notes and you can click through on there, saving you the time of having to look all that stuff up and everything. So, it’s all in one place. So check that out, get in touch with Dennis, if you’re interested in what he does, or if you want to grab a copy of his book, all those links will be available there. So, Dennis, again, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing your story and a little bit of your background. I’m sure we could, we could probably go on and on and dive into a whole lot more, but maybe we can save that for another episode down, down the line, but it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today andI thank you again for, for joining us,
Dennis Volpe 00:38:31 Scott, thank you so much for the conversation and thank you so much the Connection
Scott DeLuzio 00:38:35 Absolutely. Thank you. Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website driveonpodcast.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at Drive On Podcast.