Commander Kristenson, a native of Franklin, Massachusetts, enlisted in the
Navy on his 18th birthday. He completed nuclear power training and served
as a staff instructor until he began his officer training.
A three-sport varsity athlete at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, CDR
Kristenson graduated with highest honors in 2004 with a degree in
International Finance. He was commissioned through Enlisted Commissioning
Program within the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.
His early shipboard assignments include Auxiliaries Officer in USS BOXER
(LHD 4), Plankowner Navigator in USS KIDD (DDG 100), Operations Officer in
USS FORREST SHERMAN (DDG 98), and Operations Officer in LCS CREW 203
including tours in USS CORONADO (LCS 4) and as a Plankowner in USS JACKSON
Ashore, CDR Kristenson studied Chinese (Mandarin) at the Defense Language
Institute and served as an Olmsted Scholar (Class of 2009) in Beijing,
China. He was awarded a Master’s degree in the field of International
Development at China’s most prestigious school, Tsinghua University.
During his time at Tsinghua, he also served as a Visiting Scholar at the
John L. Thornton Center of the Brookings Institution.
Most recently, he commanded MCM CREW DOMINANT on USS CHAMPION (MCM 4), home ported in San Diego, California. During his time in command of
CHAMPION, she was the most-awarded ship of any class in the surface Navy,
including winning the Battle Efficiency Award. He is assigned as Special
Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander. Commander Kristenson is an
Adjunct Fellow with the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War
College and is one of two co-authors for the Navy’s flagship professional
book, The Naval Officer’s Guide (13th Edition), due out this fall. He is
currently enrolled in graduate studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher
School of International Diplomacy and Law.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
You cannot reasonably expect your life or career to be an unbroken string of successes. If you are not occasionally failing, there is a good chance that you are playing it too safe and not stretching towards suitably challenging goals. On the other hand, take care not to glamourize failure. There is a notion, particularly fashionable in Silicon Valley, that you have to “fail fast, fail often.” You should aim to fail as often as necessary, and no more.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Much is made of the six nevers that precede the often-overlooked second half of the quote about when it makes sense to quit. I think Churchill had it right—after six nevers, you need to give some thought to discerning under what conditions quitting is the most sensible course of action.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
My morning routine starts the evening prior. While making dinner, I prepare breakfast and lunch for the following day. I have a bedtime alarm set for 2200. On sea duty, I get up at 0400. On shore duty, 0500. The first alarm goes off on the hour. The second alarm is a tripwire, set for 20 minutes later, to prevent oversleeping. The first thing I do is some light yoga or mobility work. As my body comes alive and my mind awakens, I will hang out in a relatively forgiving pose and work through some language learning flash cards until the second alarm goes off. Next, I take vitamins and have one cup of coffee for ritual enjoyment and energy balance. No breakfast until after I workout. I spend the next ten minutes in meditation (with the Calm app) and another ten minutes in quiet reflection and prayer. All of the above; yoga, studying, vitamins, coffee, meditation, and prayer is what makes up the first hour of each workday.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO?
I have a four-step plan for success in the Navy. While I have no specific recollection of stealing this, the likelihood it is my original thought is undoubtedly quite low:
1) Be on time, even early. You are no good to the team if you are not where they need you, when they need you there.
2) Have a good attitude. If you have a positive attitude, it will take people longer to realize that you might not yet know what you are doing.
3) Do your job; master your craft.
4) Learn to do your boss’s job. Only after you are performing your duties suitably well, find ways to contribute at a higher level.
So, there you have it—be on time, have a good attitude, do your job, and learn your boss’s job. Do these things and you will likely find success in this—or any—organization.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
I am going to do something I seldom do and recommend a book I have not yet finished. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Road to Character” and was excited to read what is, in some ways, a continuation of that book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” by David Brooks. The prose is profound and eloquent and it is exactly what I need to be reading right now. I am burning up highlighters reading it and unless the ending takes a surprise turn, I suspect I will be recommending this book to my friends and peers who are at a similar mid-career point in life and reflecting on what their second mountain will be.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I have changed my internal dialogue and when I find myself saying “I didn’t have time,” I try to reframe it as “I did not make it a priority.” We make time for what we value. I am increasingly finding that it is more important for me to manage my energy than it is to manage my time though. For a number of years, I navigated my day with a 3”x 5” notecard. Within the last year, I switched to a discbound notebook ( Levenger Circa). I designed and printed custom checklists that work for me. The one-time investment in designing my own daily checklist has kept me focused on my goals in a way blank notecards simply could not.
What is your most effective daily habit?
No question—reading. In today’s media landscape, reading for pleasure can feel like a luxury we don’t have time for. As celebrated as the habit of reading is, it is still vastly underappreciated for its ability to transform the mind and life of the reader. In January, I set out with the goal of reading 52 books a year—one per week. I tend to read in parallel (many books “at one time”). When I have shared this with others, I have often been met with re-assurances that they do the same. Still, I am unclear if it has any benefits or simply reflects a lack of focus. I have 5 or 6 going as I write this. For 2020 though, I intend to read books in serial and assess how it changes the reading experience for me. The key, particularly if you
are the type that must see a book through to completion, is to choose what you read very carefully. The greatest expense of reading is not the cost of the book--it is the time you spend with it.
How do you define success?
My grandfather, Carl, was very successful. He was a humble stonemason, a valued member of his community, a man of deep character and Christian virtue, loved and respected by many. He was my best friend and is deeply missed; I hope to be half the man he was someday.
Thank you for providing this forum and the opportunity to share with one another. For anyone interested in continuing the discussion, feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.