Check out SuccessVets' first guest blogger!
Jon Champion will be providing a variety of perspectives as a fellow transitioning veteran. In this article, he talks about facing the mental obstacles of your transition and the tools to push through them.
"A Lieutenant Colonel called me into his office and counseled me on all the ways I could be harming my future and my family’s well-being. "
This is a series of articles on the transition from military to civilian life. The intended audience is members of the military who are considering separation, or who have recently separated. The exception to this is those who are leaving military service and entering the same or similar job in a very short period. My congratulations to you, but you already have the tools you need to succeed.
Confronting the Fear of a Transition
This is the first article I will publish, and though it is an unpleasant topic, I want to make this the first topic I share with you.
The transition from military to civilian life is scary. The sources of that fear are many. If you want to succeed you will have to confront that fear directly, recognize the reasons and sources of those fears and persevere despite them. You will need to realize which of your fears are irrelevant biological reactions to a change in lifestyle, and which are legitimate anxieties-clues about potential pitfalls. I would not tell you this so directly if I thought my audience was not prepared to confront these fears and face them as rational adults.
As a military officer, I learned through my years of training how to understand the sources of my fears and press on despite them. I found myself in dangerous situations where my survival depended upon my actions, or could very well be outside my control. You did, as well, whether you were an officer, warrant or enlisted. Just as you fought your own biological fears then, you must fight them in this transition. Because you faced your fears in the past and succeeded, you can know that you are equipped to face them in your future.
The best tool you have to confront fear is knowledge. By understanding the environment you will enter upon transition, you can at least be familiar with the fundamentals that drive the people you will encounter. You must read. Books, magazines, and even technical manuals. The more knowledge you have a firm grasp of, of what you will transition into, will be valuable. If the opportunity presents itself, talk to people in the industry or business. Seek out professional organizations, and while you do that, practice communicating. Get in the habit of speaking in the language and terms of the people you will be joining. While doing this, keep focused on the goal of learning about the people, motivations and activities of your new life.
Another valuable means of protecting yourself from the stress that accompanies fear is to have a team, just as you do in military life. Unlike most military teams, you will likely have to build your transition team. Your family is an obvious choice, as in most cases, your separation is partly in their interest. Make sure they are on board and support you. Get them involved in all stages of it—the job hunt, the move, the financial preparation—you will need them to be on your team and working with you. There can be no greater source of stress than a family that does not want the same things that you do. Having no family with whom you are close is not a deal-breaker. Self-reliance is another trait you learned in your military career. Don’t let that be an excuse to face all the challenges on your own.
Other team members are available to you outside your family. There are many companies that specialize in placing military personnel into civilian jobs. I used one to great success, but it’s not for everybody. Do your homework here, as well, and make sure that its business is arranged in such a way that it is incentivized to help you find a job. If you can find such great teammates, use them! Also, do not turn your back on your military relationships. These are people with whom you have worked in stressful, demanding situations, and the bonds you have formed with them should be quite strong. They can be a source of mutual advice and support. Ask your friends for their honest feedback about your strengths and weaknesses, and seek their counsel as you make your move, keeping constantly mindful of the fact that it is ultimately your decision.
Upon separation, you will likely either be looking for a new job, or you will have one ready to enter. A very well-prepared separation may even allow you to start your new civilian job while you are on Terminal Leave. Whatever the circumstances, you will be entering a new job that has new demands. You must recognize many important dynamics that will be different than your military career. These dynamics may take a while to learn, which may be yet another source of stress and fear. The one thing that I can say that will lead to success in this regard is this: Treat all people, regardless of their duties or position, with the same respect you did in your military career. Be polite and smile. Even in the information age, people value friendly people.
The things that are valued in civilian life are different than what is valued in the military. Whether it was called “Mission Readiness”, “Operational Readiness”, or any of the other metrics that your military superiors measured, civilians value something different. They may call it different things, but at the end of the day, it can all be ultimately measured by profit. This may sound like it clashes with your military values, but I will address in a future article how it doesn’t. If it sounds scary, think about this: In your military career, success was rather one-dimensional. You were usually told the one way you could go about achieving success. In business, there are limitless ways to create value, and therefore, profit. Savor that Freedom! Follow your employer’s rules, but realize that the road to success has many paths, and they are yours for the choosing.
Finally, you will be leaving behind many friends and years invested in a career. This is probably the greatest source of fear and doubt. When I told my military friends that I was leaving, I was constantly reminded of the things that I would be giving up. I was told that civilians don’t value the same things that military do. I was reminded of the retirement I would be giving up, along with the guaranteed job and paycheck. A Lieutenant Colonel called me into his office and counseled me on all the ways I could be harming my future and my family’s well-being. Civilian life isn’t all roses. Nothing is. Not all civilians are honest, and many are out for their own self-interest. This is the same in military life. The difference is, your success in civilian life willbe what you make it. Your potential for success in a military career is bounded by government rules and political whim. Your potential for success in civilian life is bounded only by your own initiative, and the degree to which you can manage your life.
Your fear is a natural biological reaction to uncertainty. When you start to experience it, consider what is driving your fear, then challenge your fear. Take control of the circumstances. Gain knowledge! Don’t settle for what people say until you can find the facts to back it up. Take the initiative for your own education and training. The best weapons against fear are knowledge and the ability to use it. Seek out your knowledge, and practice using it. To use your knowledge, it helps to have a team that is working with you, so build that team while you have the chance. Embrace the changes that you encounter. Don’t fight them! The cultural differences help businesses generate value. Do share your knowledge! Society may have invested millions into your military training and experience. Let society continue to benefit from it. I can’t promise you that these will lead you to success. But they are necessary to succeed.
I will address several of the topics that I touched on in future articles. These include family issues, the culture of business, and the relevance of profit, among others. Your future is your own. Make it what you can!
About the writer:
Jon Champion is a 9-year veteran of the United States Air Force. He separated from Active Duty in July 2013 as a Captain after serving at permanent assignments in Ohio, New York and Nevada, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He now works as a project engineer at a chemical plant in Nebraska.