Friday, July 12, 2013

The Having it All Project: T.J. Pope

I'm honored to have my former high school locker buddy (our lockers were assigned alphabetically, and my last name was Pollock back then) here on The Having It All Project today. T.J. was ahead of his time--captain of the football team and a member of our school's show choir at a high school in Ohio. Today, that's a cast member on Glee. But seriously, it was always clear that T.J. was destined for great things, and he's lived up to that. Here's how T.J. is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
After serving for almost 10 years as an active-duty Army Officer and UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot, I decided (while my wife was pregnant with our first child no less) to leave the job security of frequent deployments overseas and frequent family moves to the chaos of an MBA program and life in corporate America during a down economy.  I pursued my M.B.A. at the University of Chicago and took a job with a large Midwestern company. We now live in Indiana, and have our first home and a second child.  Not only do I work as a Sr. Strategy Manager for my company, but also decided to continue my military aviation career as the Deputy Commander of the UH-60 Blackhawk Battalion for the Indiana Army National Guard.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  There are too many things in our daily lives that cause stress if we let them, but are truly not worth worrying about.  I have an ‘@$$ on fire’ test I use to check and see if I should get spun up on an issue or not – as a helicopter pilot on a tour in Baghdad, Iraq, I was once on fire while flying over the worst part of the city.  I had to shut one engine down and fly back to the northern suburbs and a US airbase at a very slow rate of speed which left me vulnerable to further damage.  This event defines “stressful” for me so if I look back and my @$$ is not on fire, then I can remind myself of that day and know I have no reason to get worked up over normal life issues. 
  • Digital Connectivity – everyone in our household has a digital calendar and they are all synched to be viewed on one master calendar.  The boys are young now, but this will be crucial as they get older and have more things going on
  • Make time for friends and family – very important sanity check and great way to re-charge your batteries 
  • Health and fitness – I’m by no means in prime shape, but when I feel myself dragging I know it’s more important than normal to skip the donut at breakfast and hit the office gym at lunch time.
  • ‘It gets better’ – even on the days where things go horribly wrong and you do feel like you’re on fire, know that it is only temporary and as quickly as trouble came, it will pass. We lean on our faith in both the good times and the bad and know that we live this life one day at a time.

Please share a moment when it all broke down, and how you got through it.

I was recently in a minor car accident during a time where there was a lot going on at my day job, I had to fly some high profile missions for my Army job, and my wife was trying to do some networking and interviewing in preparation to re-enter the workforce after being a stay at home mom.  We had competing priorities, plus a need to make trips to the repair shop, carpool to work, set up alternate transportation for our oldest son to his various lessons, and manage other daily activities.  To top it off, our home was being used in a commercial that will soon air nationwide.

I avoided getting a rental car even though it is included in my insurance policy because I thought it was an unneeded hassle.  Soon things fell apart and we were making stress out of a situation that needed not be stressful.  Sure things weren’t going according to plan and we had some extra requirements thrown on an already precariously full plate, but there was no reason to stress over it.

I handled this by eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time – get a rental car, re-scheduled anything that has flexibility, breathe, relax, and move on.  Minus the rental car, I think that is the barebones formula for any situation.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn’t work for you?

I actually had the opportunity to intern for Gen (ret.) Colin Powell while I was a Cadet at the United States Military Academy.  This man is truly the epitome of balance and is an excellent example of how to serve your country, run a business, be a strong husband/father for your family, and change lives in the local community all without breaking a sweat! Although I know I lack some of the tenacity and incredible presence he has and which allows him to influence situations much more easily than the rest of us, I do my best to emulate his behavior every day.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

At 18, I quite honestly lacked the vision to see out to 35.  I would’ve assumed that I would stay in the Active Army until I was an old man and they rolled me off of the base in my wheel chair never to return.  Other than that I’m honestly not sure how it compares.  I do know that I have to thank God every day because the reality of this life is better than anything I could have imagined had I tried to do so!

Relate to what T.J. is saying? Leave him some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at!

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