"So what's it like to deploy overseas?"
It's a question we veterans have all likely heard before from civilians. How do you answer this question? Your mind flashes to traumatic events, but you don't want to relive those things much less provide specifics to a stranger or acquaintance. There are times when having a ready response to this question would come in handy. Conversely, stumbling over your words or seeming gruff can run counter to your efforts.
You could be a prospective employee in a job interview or a small business owner making a sales pitch of your product or service. Maybe you're on a date trying to make the best impression you can. Whether personal or professional, it's easy to give the wrong impression when you don't expect a question like this.
Here is my approach:
"Imagine walking through a park toward a merry-go-round. You're with your family and loved ones. Life is normal, and life is good. They walk with you as you approach the merry-go-round. They help you gather all your things and prepare to get on it, and you all promise each other that you'll always be there for each other. Your family will be waiting for you on the ground, and you promise you'll wave every time you pass them on the merry-go-round.
Now you're not alone on this merry-go-round. You're with people who have helped you through many trying times, and you know they'll continue to keep you safe in the tough times to come. You're all excited as the merry-go-round slowly starts to move. You look out and see your family still waving and embracing each other as you pass waving and smiling back at them. You see them clearly and can communicate with them easily. Then the merry-go-round slowly picks up a little speed.
There is now a lot happening on the merry-go-round that demands your attention. You and your friends must concentrate and work together to overcome great challenges that are physically, mentally and spiritually demanding. Good things happen. Bad things happen. And, before you know it, you look out into the park and realize your speed has picked up significantly. It's a little more difficult to spot your family. They're still there, just a bit fuzzy. And you don't have much time to focus on them. The challenges on the merry-go-round now demand your undivided attention.
Time on the merry-go-round is compressed. It seems like no time at all passes before you once again look out to communicate with your family and find that they're not where they were. It's more difficult to connect with them as you're spinning, now, at such a high rate of speed that everything is a blur on the ground. And you don't have time to remain focused out there. You have to get back to business on the merry-go-round in order to stay alive and keep your fellow riders safe.
So much happens on the ride that you'll never be able to remember everything. The operational tempo of your day-to-day activities is unceasing, and there's a cadence to it. Do the first thing, then the next, the next, the next, the next....your tasks truly never end. You see horrible things. You may even do terrible things. These things you've experienced cause you to reflect inwardly in a way you've never done before. It's as if you face yourself for the first time and demand clarity or explanations that simply aren't there.
Your time on the merry-go-round is almost up. You're excited! You've made big plans back home, but they feel a bit hollow now, no matter how splendid the plans were when conceived or how much you love your family. There is no doubt that you can't wait to get home and be with your family. But there is this inner voice you can't quite put your finger on that gives you the feeling, perhaps subconsciously, that things will never be the same, that life has lost flavor in its taste and color in your perception of it.
Your time on the ride is up! You look out to the ground and realize that the merry-go-round is spinning so fast that you can't recognize anything. There is no slowing the merry-go-round down. You and all your fellow riders jump and land in all different directions with such velocity that you have to run fast and hard while dodging people and things to avoid crashing or running into anything or anyone. And even when you've managed to slow your body to the pace of everyone on the ground, you find that the pace is unsettlingly slow. You're ready to go, go, go! But many of the doors you try to go through are closed to you. So you back up, try another door, and it, too, is locked. You know you have to keep moving. Those that don't keep moving become complacent and lost. You hear of your fellow riders committing suicide, and you can only imagine what goes on in their heads during those painfully quiet moments of contemplation and reflection. So you go, go, go!
Nothing is as it was. Even if people seem the same or places look similar, they're just different in a way you can't quite explain. Colors are faded and your senses are dulled. Your entire head is abuzz with a ringing that acts as a filter that prevents you from seeking sensations you once enjoyed. There is a numbness to your interactions as you keep moving in circles around others. Things are unsettling, and you're a bit on edge. The best thing your loved ones can do is not acknowledge the changes in you because, when they do, it's not often in a pleasant way. This leads to miscommunication, arguments and estrangement...."
But you can't say all that, can you? Pick and choose from this as appropriate for your situation and audience. Most importantly, bear in mind the bigger picture here. Anticipate uncomfortable scenarios and prepare yourself mentally so you're never taken by surprise or made to behave foolishly.
"The words you choose determine how others perceive you. Choosing the right ones lead you to success and happiness, but blurting out the wrong ones leads you to failure and misery in a way that you'll never be able to discover the root cause of your unhappiness. Because, if you lacked the ability to recognize the importance of your words, then you clearly don't understand how those words impact others and negatively affect your relationships with them." - Jason Waller