When your buddies ask, ‘What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?’
Your thoughts start flowing.
For those of us who have served in the military, this is the conversation that gets our imagination flowing. We remember and consider all the great things that will happen when we are out of the military and living the ‘cushy’ civilian life.
But if we slow down and really think about it, our future ideas are based on how we remember what life was like before service.
We are also envisioning what we want to happen. How to make our vision happen is a totally different conversation.
When it comes to rejoining civilian life, the “want” is easy to envision. You have probably been imagining what it would look like since your service began. The going home conversation is a time-honored experience enjoyed by generations of soldiers as they get closer to the end of their military commitment.
Reintegration is about restoring your old life. Like anything, we restore we need to do some touch-up and make some improvements to accommodate the current environment and the changes in ourselves. Additionally, restoration means that we will need to upgrade some of our ‘original parts’ to perform better under our new operating conditions.
For example, when I returned from my second tour in Vietnam, I was struck by how things and people I knew had changed. However, what I was missing was how much I had changed. The change was not bad; it was just different. And because of these differences, I learned that adjustments were needed to live the life I envisioned for myself.
From my experience and from working with veterans over the past seven years, here are five keys for making the most of your transition to civilian life.
1. Today, about 0.05 percent of the American population has served in the military. It is a small club that comes with its own rules, experiences, and perspectives. We have traveled the world and experienced things that most people have never seen or will ever understand. We have lived in a culture of personal accountability and developed experience navigating challenging situations. Through our experiences, our values, disciplines, and leadership characteristics have become a part of us. As we return to civilian life, we need to learn how to communicate and apply them to civilian life. Functionally this can mean having to translate ‘our club’s’ language and customs to civilians who might find it confusing. Since our language is our own, we need to become skilled translators to express our value to employers and network with others effectively.
2. Point of humor grounded in fact: Now that you are home, you will have to remember your first name again. For years we lived on a last name basis. This little example points out that relationships in the military are formed differently compared to the civilian world. Now that you are home, it is time to develop a network of people who are aligned by shared values so that you can work within a community of people to obtain the life you envisioned for yourself. Like Norm in the old T.V. show Cheers, it is time to go where everyone knows your name. (Your name and accomplishments will not conveniently be sewn on the front of your shirt anymore).
3. Remember the reasons you joined the military in the first place? It was for a purpose, and it was an intentional decision. This decision is reflected in the oath you took as a member of the armed services – it is a statement of your intent. Now that you are back on the outside, it is time to solidify your purpose and intent in your new life. Finding work and connecting with people who share your values and purpose can provide you the opportunity to find direction, fulfillment, and community in your next career.
4. One thing about the military is that it has a structure, and that structure makes just about everything very predictable. Civilian life is far less structured, which means less predictability. There is no chain of command and no morning formation to get the day moving. The lack of structure means that you will have to work hard at creating your own system, habits, and disciplines. Relying on your training will help you to design a structure that you can put in place. A structure can serve as a daily reminder of who you are and what direction you are going in life.
5. Civilians talk team but operate individually. This means that you need to be prepared for less personal sacrifice for the sake of the team and more individual recognition. While civilians talk about wanting someone to have their back, the concept of ‘leave no man behind’ may or may not be S.O.P. depending on the stakes and the payoff. Prepare for the individual culture. What may seem like a flock of blue falcons are just people accustomed to being less team and more individually oriented (note bullet point #1 regarding language). Once again, it is not a bad thing; it is just different and not what we are accustomed to having in our operational environment.
Now here are some bonus tips that I found to be true from my personal experience:
• Your story is transferable. The problem with being part of the one percent is we have our own language. Understanding how to tell your stories using a hiring manager’s language will allow you to share how your skills can translate into being a valuable employee.
• You learned more than you think. Take a second and look back into the rearview mirror to see how far you have come from day one in basic training. Being called a veteran should conjure up more than military experience. Your service has also provided you the experience of being a veteran of critical thinking, team building, thinking on the fly, and more. These attributes are of value to hiring managers, and by reflecting on your story, you will be able to give hiring managers a reason to appreciate what you bring to the table.
• Reach out to your network of friends and family. Most of these people have been at home for the years you have been in the military, and these old friends and family can be priceless resources. Some of your contacts will know people who are able to mentor and coach you as you begin a new successful career. Look at how these contacts could align to help you reach the goals that you are developing in your new life. If they do not fit with your objectives, it makes sense to find others who share your values and can assist with your transition.
• You have what it takes to make the transition – skills, accomplishments, goals, and values that produce action. Military veterans are known for their precise communication, individual accountability, impeccable execution, and leadership. Do not forget to showcase these when speaking with people in your network. The more they know, the more they can help you. Your skills are in high demand, so give yourself credit for the many strengths you have that non-military job candidates lack. Other essential skills to play up: poise, ingenuity, and ability to handle stressful situations well.
A problem can be defined as the difference between what you have and what you want. You know what you want – it is been a topic of discussion since you saw the end of your military service as a reality. Take stock of what you have and understand how to deploy your skills and capabilities in a way that civilians can understand and appreciate.
If you are looking to chat with someone who has experience handling the transition back to civilian life, click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to helping your future employer realize the immense value you bring to the table.