You’ve been living in an honor-based tribal culture during your time in service. It’s tribal in the sense that the military community is built around the group and there is no individual. You fight train and survive because you are part of a unit. It’s ingrained, it’s integral, and now it’s a core component of who you are.
You are so accustomed to looking at the needs of others before your own, that shifting to a civilian lifestyle is going to come as a shock. The civilian workforce is much more opportunistic and based on the individual instead of the team.
When you transition, if you haven’t given time to consider your approach to this new lifestyle, you might find it overwhelming and daunting. It’s like a switch is flipped somewhere and instead of having a battle buddy to lean on for just about everything, you find yourself just treading water, trying to stay afloat. In the civilian sector, the group mindset is so far removed from the every day that you’re going to struggle to find anyone besides other service members who understand.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to have to go it alone. In an earlier post, we talked about the benefits of having a mentor. Networking events will help you transition too.
Aside from relying on others, the most important thing you can do as you begin to enter into the civilian world is prep for the change. It’s literally going to be like living on another planet. Gone will be the days when you could speak full sentences in acronyms and have everyone understand. Civilians aren’t going to get it when you say you need to hit the commissary before heading home or what a Class 6 shop is. That doesn’t mean your new reality should be awful or impossible to navigate.
Just remembering that it’s going to be different is the first step in a successful transition. Rely on your support network, reach out to your battle buddies (those that are still in and those that are out in the civilian world) to talk about your experiences as much as you can.
When you do land your first civilian job, be prepared for a few changes around the office. You might not be imbued with the same sort of determination and purpose that you found during your time in service. Civilian workplaces tend to be much less structured and hierarchical than what you might have experienced in service. There might be some defined lines on how to move ahead, but the standard promotion schedule isn’t going to apply.
None of this is to deter you from your new chapter or to make it seem like an impossible challenge. It’s merely to set the facts, so you know what to expect. The more you can slowly dip your toe in the water of the civilian world as you begin your transition, the more likely you are to be successful in your new endeavors. Differentiating between the tasks at hand (stability, getting a job, making a smooth transition) and the overall mission (becoming a civilian) will help you take it one step at a time.