As I was leaving the military, I was confronted with a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand I was excited, ready to move on to my next career. On the other hand, I was doubtful about my prospects and how I would approach this next phase of my life. I was facing this shift in how my life had been, and I wasn't sure how to approach it. If you are anything like me, I'm guessing you have many of the same doubts about your transition. While I don't want to delve into a frou-frou talk about feelings and emotions, I do think it is worth talking about your attitude in approaching this transition. Elite athletes use visualization and psychological coaching to get themselves to perform at their highest level during competition. The same methodology can be applied to how you approach your transition. In this post, I will go over some of the thoughts and feelings that you might be having that can be detrimental to your transition and how to supplant that with a healthier mindset. I will also go over the attitude that you want to have to attack your transition with to be successful.
Yes, I'll be the first to admit, as ready as I was to get out of the Marine Corps, I couldn't help feeling that I was leaving my family behind. I joined because I wanted to stand next to my brothers and sisters on the frontline out of a sense of obligation, patriotism, and fraternalism. I had become an officer because I wanted to lead similarly minded men and women, and to do so required setting the highest example in commitment. And now, here I was, declaring that I was taking myself out of the fight, while others would continue to serve and sacrifice. To be honest, and I know this won't be extremely helpful, but I still get this feeling somedays, especially when I read or hear about the heroic efforts of our service members in the news. All I can say is this. You served. You served in a time of need. And you did so to the best of your ability. If you're mind is looking to other challenges and opportunities outside of the military, it is completely OK. What you have done is all ready extremely admirable and you can count yourself amongst the less than 1% of the population who has served in this nation's armed services. It is OK to give yourself credit for this. And more importantly, it is OK for you to move on. Do not let your doubts or the doubts of others get in the way of your goals. You served to give others this opportunity, and you have just as much right to take advantage of this opportunity. And if this rationale is not enough, commit yourself to serving this country in other ways. Not all service needs to come through military service. I made a commitment after leaving to donate some of paycheck toward military charities like the Wounded Warrior Fund. I also volunteered my time as a committee member to raise money for social services provided by the YMCA. Friends of mine who also made the transition talked about how they reminded themselves that they were moving on from the military as a commitment they made to their family, so they could spend more time at home and provide for them on a higher level. Whatever your reasoning is, accept it as good and move on.
As you start to prepare for your transition, you will be inundated with information on everything from using your benefits to conducting your career search. Even with a year of planning, I still felt that I was not applying all the resources and knowledge toward my transition. It is just not possible. This is why it is important to sit down and do an honest assessment of your goals in considering your transition. As an officer, you've been trained to be an expert on risk management and decision-making. Take the same approach here. I would suggest that you take stock and make a list of your top priorities and concerns. Your priorities will be things like finding a good fit for a job/career, getting finances in order, or finding financing to start your own business. Your concerns might include ensuring that you get life insurance coverage now that you do not have SGLI, understanding what benefits are owed to you and how to apply for them, or planning a smooth move to your new home outside of the military. With a list of three to five priorities and concerns you will have more than enough on your plate. What you'll find is that some of your priorities and concerns overlap, which helps to narrow your focus. And while we all know that the best laid plans do not survive first contact, you will have something to guide your decision making and where you want to focus your efforts. As you check these things off your list, you can then address other concerns that come to light, and you can continue do so with the assurance that what was most important to take care of you and your family have been dealt with.
The transition will not be easy. I do not say this to discourage you, but to prepare you. There is a market out there in the corporate world for your skills and expertise. And there are myriad resources available to you. Yet despite what all the hire veterans commercials may claim, transitioning into the private sector is hard. You are entering a different culture than what you are used to and you will face a similar bureaucracy that will hinder an easy transition. Be prepared to face this and remind yourself that you have been trained to faced the toughest challenges and you have been successful in doing so. Do not fall into the trap of thinking anything is owed to you and take control of your own transition.
You have given yourself to others for the past several years now. And unlike many jobs in the civilian sector, you will not receive a severance package or any help if you do not ask for it, nay, demand it! While some commands and commanders will be understanding and do their best to support your transition, as they should, it has been my experience that in most cases, you are on your own. While some services require transition counseling and classes, it is up to you to schedule this. And for those with less supportive commands or are in a branch where this is offered but not required, it is up to you to bring up your rights. Tactfully suggest that you are rightfully owed these resources. In fact, it's what we preach to our junior enlisted service members. Better yet, offer a plan to your commander that shows how you are still committed to completing your assignments and are working extra hard to conduct things like your job search and final move around the operational tempo, but that you will need, at times, the ability to do so during working hours. Offering such a solution early on in your transition is my best suggestion. Give your command the benefit of time to find a replacement for you and the opportunity to work with you to ensure a smooth transition for you and them. And then be prepared to face a brick wall. Because not all commanders are so understanding. In cases like these, you will have to rely on the support of your fellow officers to help you – perhaps to cover you for certain assignments or to stand in when you are not available. Or you will have to be especially efficient at your work, carving out time to do things like telephone interviews. This is why it is important to be proactive in your transition and be OK with being selfish. You are all ready on your way out. By no means should you shirk your duties, but for me, I had to remind myself that the Marine Corps will continue without me, and it was important to take care of myself and my family. By the time of your transition you should have learned what is important and what is not in your day to day tasks. Don't spend time on life-sucking tasks that really make little difference in the grand scheme of things. And if all else fails, take your full amount of leave available to you, up to 90 days, and draw the line in the sand for your command. I do not mean to sound harsh here, but sometimes “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
You should be excited! You are embarking on a new challenge, a new opportunity, a new phase of your life. You are growing and moving toward achieving life goals. How awesome is that?!? You are the king of your castle and in command of your situation. While others mull about what to do next, you have made an aggressive decision and are moving forward with it. Use this commitment to further your resolve and move forward!
You have been an officer in the greatest fighting force in the world. You have been trained to lead the best, and you've come out the other side successful. In the military, you strived in a high stress environment of competition. Approach your transition with the same mindset. While I'd like to tell you the civilian world is a cakewalk, it is not. What you will find is that your experience gives you a fine foundation to succeed. Not many will be able to compete with your combination of adaptability, decisiveness, and work ethic. You will need to continue to draw on these abilities in your transition. You know that failure is better than not trying. No, you are not afraid of failing, and that is what will help you in succeeding. Where others may not even give an attempt, you will ask for that interview, get that sale, or add another person to your network. If you read sales books, and I suggest you do, you will know that you should always be closing, or as I'd like to say, asking for that next step. While such decisive action is bread and taught to officers, it is not something that everyone is able to do. Use this to your advantage! As you've heard many times I'm sure in your career, the worst that someone can say to your requests is, “No.” So what? Take strength in knowing that this is part of the process, and approach your transition with the same aggressiveness as you would in leading troops into battle. Remain self-assured and humble, and be ready to kick ass.
So I can't cover everything about what you might feel as you make this transition. I hope this post covers the major ones. To recap, your mindset begets your approach to this transition. You want to have the right attitude because it will support you when you face obstacles and it should motivate you to know that you deserve to be successful as much as the next guy. You just have to go out there and get it.