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CH A P T E R 1

DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to my father, Lee “Joe” Flemming, and mother, Velma F. Moss. They worked tirelessly all of their lives to ensure that I had the best education and an upbringing that included family, discipline, and the strength of will to not only succeed but to think that anything is possible.

This book is also dedicated to my wife Michaela and daughter Shareice, who endured countless weeks, months, and years of separation while I served without complaint and now are stuck on this flywheel called Amazon.

It is dedicated to those I served with and will never have a chance to read it, and to those who have served, suffering their demons in silence and looking for the opportunity to do something more.




Table of Contents

Part I – My Journey................................................................................... 7

Chapter 1 – Family = Inspired................................................................ 9

Chapter 2 – Vision – The Story of Perception........................................... 17

Chapter 3 – Eating doubt like wheaties................................................... 25

Chapter 4 – Don’t do That.................................................................... 33

Chapter 5 – My First Year inReview...................................................... 39

Part II – Your Transition......................................................................... 47

Chapter 6 – Get Your Head in the Game................................................. 49

Chapter 7 – The Value of Age............................................................... 61

Chapter 8 – Power Networking............................................................. 65

Chapter 9 – ThePositive Effect.............................................................. 73

Chapter 10 – Fully Mission-Capable....................................................... 79

Chapter 11 – Define Your Grind............................................................ 85

Chapter 12 – Close, Closer, Closest........................................................ 89

Chapter 13 – Step one.......................................................................... 97

Part III – What Makes Amazon Exceptional................................................ 103

Chapter 14 – Lessons from the Best Company in the World....................... 105

Chapter 15 – Pillars of Development..................................................... 113

Chapter 16 – Hard-Won Scars fromAmazon’s Busiest Period.................... 123

Chapter 17 – Truly to The Best Company in the World............................. 129

Chapter 18 – Your Chance at Amazon Employment................................. 133

Chapter 19 – Paradigm Shifts.............................................................. 149

Chapter 20 – Invest in your day of rest................................................... 153

Chapter 21 – Set up to Fail.................................................................. 159



INTRODUCTION




The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.
~ General Norman Schwarzkopf, U. S. Army



It was a long, hard day. I sat in a grueling meeting that seemed to never end. Each time there was hope that the meeting would break and we might be freed from our self-imposed prison, someone raised a new topic that extended it another few minutes. I thought about my flight as the time inched closer and closer to the time printed on the ticket. There was a moment when I finally hit the point of no return where, even if I ran out the door then, I would never make it to the airport on time, nevertheless get through baggage claim and security, and actually be able to board the plane.


By the time I nestled into my newly acquired, uncomfortable airline seat, it was approaching 22:00. And when I finally walked through my front door shortly after 02:00, I felt like a horse that had been ridden hard and put away wet. And my alarm was set to go off at 05:15; I had to be at work the next day.


I arrived at work wearing the same energetic persona that characterized my many years of service, though inside I was road-weary. But I knew that the team deserved my A game. Sitting down at my desk, I prepared to face the mountain of emails waiting for me. One of them was from the military advising that my request for retirement had been approved and my last day in uniform after almost three decades was to be November 30, 2018. A little post-it math to take into account permissive TDY and accrued leave told me that I would need to set a retirement ceremony date sometime in September. That being done, I took the opportunity to set my final date in uniform as September 11, 17 years to the day from the act that changed the world.

Now, it was real, and the proverbial crap was about to hit the fan.


All of my big talk about belief, preparation, persistence, faith, and taking control of your destiny would all be brought to bear in real time in my life. If I had made the wrong decision to leave the military, everyone would know it. If I failed, everyone would be talking about it. If I fell flat on my face, plenty of folks would be waiting to poke at me about it. After all, only a few people agreed with my decision in the first place, including my wife.

But I knew I had made the right decision. I had a full 360-degree perspective on my life. I was thrilled with where I was. I had established myself successfully in the military. I was content with my personal life. I reconciled the past errors and transformed them into my present success. It was in the future that I saw potential issues. As I looked ahead over the next two to three years, I could not see myself continuing my military career until being asked to resign. It was time to bite the bullet (pardon the pun) and take a big step away from it all.


I had no short- or long-term goals for my future in the Army and, quite frankly, had accomplished everything that I set out to achieve. It was time.

Once I decided to look in a completely different direction, I could see four or five distinct possibilities that were waiting for me. All I had to do was investigate, decide, and then plan.

Life is all about transitions. From the womb to infancy, from infancy to teenagers, from teenagers to adults, and finally into senior life, transitions mark every passing year. And, within the changes from age to age, there are shifts within the seasons of life. Some are joyous moments of marriage, parenting, and friendship. Others are less so, as we struggle through job loss, sickness, and death. But every transition speaks to who we are and who we are becoming.


The military is one of the best places in the world to learn about transitions because it is part of service. Not only do military people work to rank up, but there are also always transitions taking place. You might move from one base to another. You might be called upon to deploy. Superior officers come and go. Transitioning is the name of the game in military life.

Perhaps I was uniquely suited for transition throughout my 28-year military career. But when the time came to transition away from the military, it tested everything within me—what I knew, experienced, and believed about myself and the world. The one thing I could depend on in the military was change. Saying goodbye to that life meant figuring out what was next, making my retirement the biggest change I had experienced to date.


The day I turned in all of my military gear, it was apparent that a shift had occurred so massively that it would normally take weeks to feel the full impact and months to adjust. I had a few days—six to be exact— until I would embark on my biggest transition journey yet. But who was I? What was I supposed to do? And where was I really going? Some of the answers to those questions were clear. Others were still a bit murky. Nearly three decades of military service provided some specific skills that weren’t exactly useful in the marketplace. Or were they?


As I began to evaluate my military life against the new life I was creating, I discovered some stunning truths. Military life wasn’t just about fighting and conflict. It was about strategy, tactical decision- making, leadership, and team building. These skills were not just desired by the marketplace; they were coveted. I realized I could parlay what I had learned into a new career. Would it be easy? No! Would it be worth it? Most definitely!

For those making a major shift in life, I feel your pain. The future is wholly uncertain and fraught with challenges you feel you cannot anticipate and may not know how to navigate. You spent years training for one life; suddenly, a new life presented itself.


My name is Colonel Lee Flemming, and I made the difficult transition from 28 years in the military to a position at one of the world’s largest corporations, Amazon.

During my last 100 days in the military, the reality of leaving what I had known and worked for over three decades barreled toward me like a freight train. Was I really ready for such a major shift? Of course, many transitioning military men and women before me had set a solid precedent about how to move on after years of service. But I could not deny that several of them struggled after leaving the military, floundering in their attempt to reinvent themselves and having difficulty figuring out their next steps. And it wasn’t just people leaving the military. Lots of folks who had longstanding careers that they left for whatever reason skidded off the road of life and crashed.


In 2020, the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The devastation was earth-shattering, with the loss of life in the millions. But while we were still dealing with death and sickness, another tragedy was unfolding. Companies that were thriving in 2019 started closing down in 2020. Many people who lost their jobs found themselves confined to their homes, thanks to the social distancing requirements, and thinking about what the future held.


Interestingly, when the restrictions eased and it was time to work, many people thought twice about returning to the industries that had once been home to them. People started planning for a serious second career. But starting a second career proved more daunting than many expected. They hit pitfalls that were deep and wide, threatening their successful transition.


It became my mission to help people who are making big transitions in life. In the coming pages, I hope to demystify the transition process and illustrate that you can have a successful second career regardless of age or background.















P AR T I

MY JOURNEY

CH A P T E R 1

Family = Inspired





“I sustain myself with the love of family.”
~ Maya Angelou

I spent a memorable week with my dad in July 2010. We ate BBQ, laughed, went to church, and arranged his affairs. Dad was struggling with illness in his later years, and it was evident in his physical appearance. He had noticeably lost a ton of weight, but his eyes and spirit were strong. The same fighting heart was nestled at his core. And his never say die attitude was shining like a beacon. Hell, he still had a recovery plan; who was I to doubt him? He had already beaten his illness once. Who was to say he wouldn’t give it the smackdown a

second time?


Just two years earlier, he had flown to Madrid after famously ringing the Bell at MD Anderson Hospital—cancer-free! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as I recounted his trials during my promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. Looking out and seeing him, there was a comforting reminder of his constant support. My Dad had never missed a promotion or a change of command in my career since the beginning. He was there at my commissioning. He had flown to Fort Lewis for my promotion to Captain. I was lucky enough to be the honorable man and the only individual being promoted or recognized when he, my Mom, and my wife pinned on my Major Oak Leaf in Houston. And he attended my changes of command in Germany and El Paso.


Walking away from my military career had implications far beyond my own life. It had become an integral part of my extended family and was a source of bonding for my father and me. My Dad was noticeably very proud of me and my military career. Some would say that he was living vicariously through my success. He certainly had the battle scars to prove it, as he helped me move every two or three years. He had done hard duty, driving U-Haul trucks, cutting high grass at the new house, and helping to unpack the endless sea of boxes repeatedly. He spent more of his vacation time in torn jeans and old t-shirts with sweat pouring from his brow than he did on the beach of some lovely resort location. He did it all because he wished to be there for me—for my family—every time we changed stations.

Over the years, we learned to look forward to moving because it always brought Papa to town. We knew we would have the joy of his presence, the jauntiness of his laughter, and the warmth of his smile for a longer time if we were moving because he would not leave our side until we got settled. It never mattered how old I got or how high I ranked; there was a childlike comfort in seeing him walk through the door.


A favorite irritation of mine occurred when he would highlight some features of the house he didn’t care for. He loved giving his opinion on things, especially how I needed to cut the yard, which shape to trim the bushes, or how to set up a room. And I never had the right equipment for the job at hand, as far as he was concerned. I am positive that he and I helped Home Depot register quarterly profits during our moves as we walked in with that big, empty, orange cart and a pocket full of plastic and walked out with the cart full and the credit card smoking. Together, we raked leaves, painted, pressure-washed, and laughed ourselves silly.


Sometimes, I wondered if my advancement and success meant as much to him as it did to me. I know that it would have been difficult for me to share with him that I was transitioning, but unfortunately, he did not survive that second bout with cancer and passed in the fall of 2010. It would have been a difficult thing to say… but he would definitely have understood. Because leaving the military was not something he was unfamiliar with. My Dad had served as a Marine and deeply loved that eagle, anchor, and globe. The emblem, which had donned his dress blues. He proudly served from 1961 to 1966, during the times when service in the Corps wasn’t just physically tough; it was mentally taxing. The reality of war seemed to be immediately followed by the threat of war. And, as the bombs fell, another war was raging between the races, leaving him decidedly exposed as a man of color. But he developed the tenacity needed to endure it all.


I proudly display his boot camp graduation picture, where he and his bunkmate were noticeably out of place because of the color of their skin. But if I were to say that his race defined his service, it would not accurately portray his deep feeling of belonging and the unwavering camaraderie that he felt with his fellow Marines his entire life.

He was a member, treasurer, deputy commander, and commander of his Disabled American Veterans chapter for over three decades. That


five years of service can garner a lifetime of dedicated commitment and says something about the Marines—I have to give them that. His service sparked my own reasons for wanting to overcome all of my childhood fears and insecurities to become an Airborne Ranger. I think I also get my drive to strive from Dad. He was never still; he was part of a prison ministry, and he owned a non-profit that employed disadvantaged youth and ex-convicts. He also transitioned, leaving the military for a corporate job at ATT, where he worked for thirty years in various jobs. People still approach me to tell me how he impacted their lives. He was the kind of guy who gave his time selflessly.


I made an annual trip to see my dad, acknowledging joyfully that it was my turn to be the one to come through the door and inject the same flavor of hope and cheer as he had brought us for so many years. Those trips continued until, sadly, he lost his second fight with cancer in October 2010, just weeks after I called him and exclaimed that I had hit my 20-year mark of service. He had been with me from the beginning until the end. A few months after I saw, hugged, and cried with him in July, he was gone.


Memorial Day for me means that no matter what I am doing and no matter where I am, I get on the road, board an airplane, hop on a train, or walk to my dad’s burial site at the National Cemetery in Houston. We have flown there from as close as El Paso, San Antonio, Washington, DC, and New Braunfels and as far away as Belgium. We do this to remember him and his service; we do it to remember the times when he was there for us, and we do it because we know that he would absolutely have done it for us.


The love and support of my family have been a stabilizing force in my life. My almost three-decade career in the military provided me with tremendous opportunities in terms of being a forthright and moral leader. It also provided an almost unlimited capacity for service and volunteerism.


From my father, I learned responsibility, patriotism, and family loyalty. From my grandmother, I developed a different love: the love of organized tournament poker.

As a commander and senior officer, I often held my hobby closely and my vacation time private. My direct superiors and a few close friends always knew of my plans, but that was the extent of my sharing. I had grown as a player over the years and earned the confidence to play at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). I cannot overstate how important it was for me to participate. I sacrificed and saved all year for the entry fees to participate in a few select tournaments, and I looked forward to them with the anticipation of a schoolboy. I was thrilled to be working at Amazon and very proud of my many accomplishments there. But I embraced my hobby fully. Nothing compared to poker. It was a world unto itself. It was another place in my life where I could express a side of myself. Thanks to the military, I was able to apply the personal discipline that allowed me to limit my activities in the world of professional poker tournaments to a few short weeks per year.


When people find out that I play poker either through word of mouth or an internet search, they often ask the genesis story: “Where did you learn to play?” If I am running short on time, I say that I am a self- taught, experienced amateur. This is a true statement, though

incomplete. If I have more time, I proudly tell them that my grandmother (my mom’s mom), Verna Lee Lewis, taught me the game.


Grandmother Verna specifically taught me 5-Card Stud, a derivative of No-Limit Holdem, with the exact same hand combinations. She also taught me Spades, Gin, and Bridge. She was a true card-game connoisseur. In fact, I spent all of my formative summers battling my sister (Katherine), cousins, and grandmother in strategy games. If we wanted to bet while we played card games, we would have to raise money. To do that, we collected cans, often taking our meager earnings to play bingo. To say that I grew up competitive is an understatement akin to saying that my German wife sort of likes beer. I absolutely loved competing and have grown to love the WSOP as an outlet for summers long past.

Common questions for non-poker enthusiasts are lobbed at me from time to time:

“Will you be on TV?”


“How many tournaments have you played?” “How much can you win?”

At any given time, there are 6,000 to 10,000 “runners,” a poker term for players, at the Rio Casino and Resort and now the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, playing everything from tournaments to live cash games and satellites (turbo tournaments meant to provide opportunities to win entry fees to major tournaments). As a matter of fact, I had my best showing in the World Series of Poker in 2013; the tournament hosted the then-largest non-Main Event field in the history of organized poker when 6800 entrants played a $1500 entry game called “The Millionaire Maker.” The game generated over $8.5 million in prize money. Although the most popular game is No Limit Holdem, there are numerous game variations that are played during the series that afford players the opportunity to win a coveted bracelet and life-changing money. There are literally 70+ bracelet tournaments, but hundreds more non-bracelet events are played between the end of May and the first week in July.


As a present for my 50th birthday, my wife sponsored me into the Main Event. The Main Event is the show people often see televised, where the winner takes home over $10,000,000. The Main Event has been played since 1970 but was popularized in 2003 by Chris Moneymaker, the first amateur to win the tournament and often credited with the current poker boom. I played in the Seniors, which was open to players who were 50 years of age and older, as well as two other No Limit games. I also played in several one-day tournaments called Deepstacks and a satellite or two. That was an awesome year!

I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to play a game where the difference between me and a pro is not readily discernible, although I can pick out the less experienced players in the field, myself included. I am lucky to have the means to play, to have learned the game at such a young age, and to have the support and indulgence of my family. Frankly, I could not play without the love and support of my wife Michelle, daughter Shareice, and mom Velma, who have spent countless vacations casino hopping, watching shows, and shopping to pass the time while I spend 10-12 hours a day at the tables.


I no longer feel obliged to conceal my poker playing from my colleagues or my Amazon affiliation from my poker friends. It pays homage to my grandmother, who taught me a game that has given me a life-long passion and desire to succeed and win. It is a game based on skill and strategy, for sure. But there is also a bit of luck involved. As for me, no luck is needed; I am already the luckiest man in the world. I have a family that loves me, a job that fulfills me, charitable work that extends my reach into the world, and a hobby that lets me engage with people around the globe in a game I have loved all my life. How lucky can one guy be?

Én kommentar


This kept me riveted. What a refreshing combination of family and hobby. The only question left to be asked is; "Will you be on TV?" 😁


This is a great read. Excited to see what comes next. Cheers.

Lik
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