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Joshua Cruce: Lessons I Learned From My Military Experience About How To Survive And Thrive During A Time Of Crisis

Remember, your mental mindset matters. — This is crucial. Not only does it matter to maintain a positive mindset and an empowering disposition, but we also have to remember that we are all human, and we must take time to process emotion and grieve if the situation calls for grief. We must be our biggest advocate and kindest friend to ourselves as we navigate an unexpected crisis.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Joshua Cruce.

Joshua Cruce was fortunate to find his life’s passion at a young age during his time in the U.S. Army — to protect and serve. After 4.5 years protecting those who cannot protect themselves, Cruce pivoted careers and eventually found his way to insurance claims, where he once again can live out that passion to protect and service. Today, he serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Brush Country Claims.

In his role as Chief Strategy Officer, Cruce leads the charge in the carrier-vendor relationship. He is passionate about leading a team of tenured insurance professionals that will take the time to discover pain points, solutions and pushing the insurance industry forward with innovations. In 2021, Cruce participated on behalf of Brush Country Claims in cohort seven of the prestigious Innovation Lab by Lloyd’s of London, the esteemed insurance market leader.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was a child born into a military family. I was born and raised outside of a military base where my grandfather was a senior officer in the Marine Corps. From an early age, I learned how honor, integrity, duty and discipline guided our life and how we can give back to our community and country. From an early age, I wanted to serve our great nation and since my time in the Army, I have navigated a professional career which serves those impacted by natural disaster. I like to think the work I do helps rebuild the lives of those impacted by severe weather and unforeseen disasters.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I am the Chief Strategy Officer for Brush Country Claims, a US based independent adjustment firm. My core role is to help build and grow an organization dedicated to providing the best adjuster resources to homeowners and businesses to help determine the amount of damage they sustained during a natural disaster and assist them with recovery from the storm.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I served 5 years in the United States Army. I was in the Engineer Corp, which helped develop the structure for the military to serve our nation as well as rebuild communities damaged by war. I was wounded in Iraq in 2008 and subsequently retired due to the severity of my combat related wounds.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

During my last tour in Iraq, there was a school outside of our base which taught boys and girls elementary level skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. These little kids welcomed us every day and we worked hard to build them a school they could escape the wartime environment and learn. I learned that regardless of the terrible environment these little children were born into, we can always do more to improve their tomorrow. I also learned the resilience of humanity, and how we should always see the human side of our world, regardless of the environmental circumstance.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

What I consider a hero is a selfless servant who gives more to those around them than they take. Whether it is in service to our country or a 3rd grade English teacher, those who give their life to the betterment of others are heroes. There are countless high-profile examples of heroism in the military, of those I have seen and experienced first hand, but I would say most heros I saw are everyday Americans serving their country silently, their contributions going unheard. If you ask most of the Medal of Honor recipients, they will tell you they do not like the spotlight, they did not do what they did for attention, they sacrificed themselves for the betterment of the soldiers around them.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

As mentioned, most of the heroic acts I have seen are just everyday Americans selflessly serving those around them. A hero does not look for attention, they silently give all so others around them have more. The movies show grand acts of valor and courage, and many military service members exemplify these acts, but the reality is the 3rd grade teacher who dedicates their life to shaping the minds of our future earn the title “hero” just as much as those brave servicemen and women who give themselves to the service of our country.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

I think my military experience has primarily shaped my desire for a professional career in service. We only live this life once, and I have found my deepest happiness when I have served those in need. From my beginning as an independent adjuster, to my executive role now, it is all in the name of helping others rebuild their lives after the unimaginable happens.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I would say my wife is the one person in my life who has helped me achieve so much in my professional career and personal development. I remember last year when I was working 20 hours a day in response to the series of devastating hurricanes that struck Louisiana. I would get about 2 hours of sleep a day and oftentimes forget the “why” behind the work we were doing. My wife would come into my office with a meal, give me a kiss on my forehead and remind me of all of the homeowners devastated by the catastrophic Hurricane Laura who need me and although they do not know what I am doing, their lives would be forever impacted because of the work I did. When I wanted to give up, her kind words rang in my ear, reminding me of my mission and how much others need my leadership. She is and always will be my rock.

We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in a crisis. How would you define a crisis?

One thing I learned in my years of responding to disasters is that a crisis takes many forms. A small leak inside a house after a strong storm is just as much a crisis to the homeowner at that moment as a wildfire destroying the house. A crisis is unforeseen circumstances which removes control and replaces it with uncertainty of outcome for those who experience the crisis. The size and scale of the crisis makes little difference to those experiencing it. If you think about it, being 15 minutes late to an important meeting can also be considered a crisis to the person who is stuck in traffic with no cell service…

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

There is a saying in the military, “train today so you can fight tomorrow”. This saying holds so much weight. Although disaster and crisis can strike without notice, rarely do any of us get through life without experiencing a crisis or two. Training and preparing for the most likely crisis scenarios ensures when or if a crisis strikes, they have a baseline plan and can adjust as needed through the experience. This includes a coastline business preparing for hurricane season or business leaders thinking through the mental health of their staff during COVID-19. Planning for the event and thinking through the reactionary steps beforehand takes that much uncertainty out of the equation when a crisis inevitably strikes.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

Perspective is reality. How we frame the situation creates a reality in the mind of those experiencing the crisis. At the end of the day, a crisis, regardless how big or small, is negative. We understand that. But if we can frame the situation as, “I have trained for this, we can get through it” it changes the feeling from hopelessness to empowerment. The crisis is still the same, but the mindset getting through it is completely different. Once they have framed the situation from a position of empowerment, we can recognize that others need us, then with a mental toolkit, we can enact the training with clear vision and become the “calm in the storm”.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

I am not sure if specific traits are required, but mindset is. We can either be a victim of our circumstance or a guide. It is completely dependent on our mindset. There is a quote by Jacob Braude, “Life is like a grindstone; whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of.” This same principle can be applied to crises. If we allow ourselves to mentally elevated above the circumstance, it clears our mind for even a moment which can make the difference between life or death in some situations.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I remember the 60 minutes interview with Elon Musk speaking about failure and perseverance. What many do not know is how many crises Elon Musk has encountered through his journey. He has seen failure after failure, many of which would crush the average person. His mindset is an example of what is needed to preserve through a crisis. It showcases how perspective can frame a terrible situation into an event for growth. His disposition inspires me to look at unexpected crises that impact my life as momentary roadblocks rather than life shattering moments.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I would say the largest setback in my life was when I was wounded in Iraq. I went from being with my team and “on top of my game” to being wounded and disabled. Within a blink of an eye I was retired and out of the military, on my own in a world I did not understand. Since I spent all my adult life at that point in the military, “civilian life” was a complete unknown. I was lost in the dark and felt useless. I felt so sorry for myself and thought my best days were behind me. One day I came across a peer in the military who exited the military and started a great career. I contacted him and asked him, “how”. He explained I had to build my own team. In the service all your teammates are assigned to you. You are assigned to a team. Now in civilian life, we had to create a plan, determine what outcome we wanted, and start building a team to help me to achieve my goals. This team included family, friends, medical professionals and professional mentors. Once I identified what I wanted to achieve, and built a plan and a team to achieve the goals!

Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Objectively analyze the situation — When a crisis occurs, there are many natural emotions that accompany our reaction to the crisis. The first thing we have to do when a crisis strikes is to step back and analyze, objectively, what has happened and what is the current situation. Removing subjectivity and emotion out of this analysis helps to paint a clear picture as to what exactly we are dealing with. For example, if a flood event caused 4ft of water in your house, you must step back and determine what has happened and what is damaged. Instead of “my life is ruined” it is, “here is exactly what is damaged on and in my home”.

2. Identify the outcome you want — Now that we have a clear picture of what exactly has happened and what the current situation is, we now must identify the optimal outcome that we want to achieve. Continuing the flood example, the optimal outcome could be, “ I would like my house to be restored back to prior condition and I would like to replace all of my personal items with similar items so I can get back to life”.

3. Create a plan that creates a roadmap to your optimal outcome — Now that we know what the current situation is and what we want to achieve, we can start building a plan to accomplish the optimal goal. I find working backward from the goal to the current situation helps me identify milestones I need to achieve in order to meet my goal. Let’s stay with the Flood example:
Current situation — House is flooded and personal property damaged.
Optimal outcome — House restored and personal property replaced in 6 months.
Plan
Allow water to recede — contact the insurance company.
Remove damaged property, and remove water damaged building materials.
Work with insurance to get funds for repair/replacement
Source and contract with the contractor
Begin rebuild
Once a house is restored, purchase and replace personal property.

4. Identify resources and support you need to activate your plan — Now that we have a plan in place, we must review available resources or team members we can attain to achieve the goal. In the flood example, community organizations, FEMA, property insurance, family, neighbors and friends are all resources and team members one could need to reach their goal.

5. Remember, your mental mindset matters. — This is crucial. Not only does it matter to maintain a positive mindset and an empowering disposition, but we also have to remember that we are all human, and we must take time to process emotion and grieve if the situation calls for grief. We must be our biggest advocate and kindest friend to ourselves as we navigate an unexpected crisis.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We are one. We are humans, and we must realize that regardless of our life experience, we are so similar. It hurts me to see the divide in our country. There are so many reasons why we are here, but the only way I can see us coming together and addressing our collective needs is to remember, “we are one”. Your problem in our society is my problem too. My problem is yours. We all serve each other better by forgetting about the politics, or other driving factors, and remember we are all neighbors. We are one.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would be honored to have lunch with Gary Vaynerchuk. He is a great example of a manifestation mindset. His journey is very interesting to me as through his life he never thought, “the best years are behind me”. His motivational mental drive is something worth sharing, and he knows that. I think the lunch would be engaging and fruitful.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best way to follow me online is on LinkedIn. linkedin.com/in/joshuacruce. I use this medium to share my content on a regular basis and would love to network and meet other professionals!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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