In St. Louis, MO there is a nonprofit called The Mission Continues that is not so quietly redefining the term “veteran service organization.” And for four months last year — including the period between 9/11 and Veterans’ Day — I had the privilege of working closely with their leadership team. Many returning veterans feel a profound sense of lost purpose when they return from war. The Mission Continues challenges veterans to utilize their skills and military training to continue serving our country at home through six month community service fellowships. In essence, The Mission Continues helps returning veterans rebuild their sense of purpose at home.
Leading the charge as COO for The Mission Continues is Spencer Kympton. Spencer is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. His unassuming demeanor acts as a counterbalance for a résumé that would leave even the most accomplished individual feeling like a slacker. Valedictorian at West Point, aviation officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot, humanitarian work, M.B.A. with honors from Harvard Business School, former McKinsey & Company consultant, and so on. In 2011, Spencer walked away from the for-profit world and joined The Mission Continues. I am so excited that he gave of his time to answer my Talking GOOD questions for this community.
The 10 questions
IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
Choose a path, walk it with humility, invite others to walk along with me, and hopefully leave some footprints in the sand along the way.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE YOU “EXPIRE?”
I hope to visit all of our National Parks with my family. I grew up in the Southeast, and until my wife and I took a two-month cross-country trip together, I had seen very little of our own country. We have tremendous, and diverse, natural beauty here. Gas prices might be an obstacle, but car trips are a great way to learn together and connect.
IF YOU COULD MEET WITH ANYONE (ALIVE), WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM?
It is hard for me not to choose one of our Presidents. It doesn’t matter which. I am intrigued by the process behind the significant decisions they make, and the challenges they must face to balance personal conviction and belief with collective good and individual interest. My question for any of them would focus on their thoughts immediately before making their most notable (infamous?) decision.
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE?
Metaphorical. My wife and friends and colleagues tease me about how frequently I use metaphors. It’s good fun trying to make connections between disassociated concepts. Sometimes I fail miserably, but every once in a while I’ll have a zinger or two. I hope that my own life, someday, and in some way, might be representative or emblematic or worthy of comparison.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU, IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE?
Hopefully my son! People say we look alike, but his energy and enthusiasm and appetite for life is so genuine and so much more robust than mine. I’d be honored if he played me. And, given that he’s only three years old, I’d have some time to assemble a few movie-worthy accomplishments.
WHAT IS A BELIEF THAT IS CORE TO YOUR BEING?
Every individual has the potential to achieve. An unfortunate reality in life is that some have many more obstacles placed in front of them. Given the right set of challenges, and the right motivations to face them, people will overcome.
WHO ARE YOUR HEROES?
I am inspired by individuals who have faced great challenges and may have struggled to face them initially, but ultimately attacked them with intensity and turned them into personal growth. Working with today’s generation of veterans at The Mission Continues, I see these heroes daily. Veterans like Anthony Smith walk the path from pain to wisdom and from fear to courage every day.
TELL US SOMETHING SURPRISING ABOUT YOURSELF.
I have awful motion sickness. (This bumpy flight that I am on right now might be coloring my answer.) As a former pilot, scuba diver, skydiver, and frequent traveler (see answer to #3 above!), it is an unfortunate affliction. Perhaps the fact that I can’t read a blackberry in the back of a taxi is life trying to tell me something about my priorities.
WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED?
Rich, I wish you’d ask me if I am fulfilled by what I do professionally. That’s a question I will never tire from answering. Unconditionally, yes. It is deeply fulfilling to be connected to the impact you are having in the world…to see it, feel it, live it on a daily basis. I wish it for everyone.