Your military-to-civilian career transition is an exciting time in your life. The world is your oyster, and the possibilities of new adventures lie before you. And while transition can be an amazing journey, change (in any form) can also be a tough pill to swallow for most. Along with the tremendous highs of the process, you may face some unexpected lows that will challenge your beliefs and evoke undesirable feelings within.
Each person’s career transition is a personal matter, and we each experience change in our own way. It’s important, however, to check in with yourself and gauge the emotional climate as you move through this journey. Since the psychological barriers to career change aren’t always so obvious, let’s highlight some common obstacles to increase your awareness to recognize the behaviors in yourself and others.
The Identity Crisis
People often develop a strong identity attachment to their careers. When you think of yourself, you might think “solider,” “serviceman,” “active duty member,” and the list goes on. When others see you in uniform, they take notice and respond accordingly.
But what happens when the uniform comes off for good? As a transitioning service member, you may ask yourself: If I’m not (insert rank and name) anymore, who am I and what do I do now? What does that look like, and what does that mean for me?
Venturing into the unchartered territory of the civilian workplace may cause fear and uncertainty to rear their ugly heads. Your sense of self may be challenged, leaving you feeling confused as you find your way to your new professional identity.
Remember, you are not your uniform. You’re a multifaceted being who has a number of significant roles in life. Your life as a service member was only one chapter of your story, but there are still so many more chapters left to write in the Story of You.
A Sense of Loss
In your military-to-civilian career transition, you can feel a sense of loss: loss of the life you’ve known, loss of your military family, loss of privilege, loss of choice (if the transition is involuntary) and more. It may feel like life as you’ve known it is over, and the idea of adjusting to an unknown “new normal” can be uncomfortable.
For some, the impending end of your military career may feel like a death of sorts. As you mourn the loss of the career you knew, it’s not uncommon to experience the grief cycle developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:
Understand that your career transition grief process is unique. Your process might not be linear, and you might not experience every stage. If you find that you’re in the midst of one of these stages, the best thing you can do is acknowledge and feel your feelings. Don’t try to stifle or avoid them because no matter how far you run from them, they’ll always be waiting for you.
The Job Search Emotional Roller Coaster
In today’s economy, there are no guarantees that you’ll immediately fall into you dream job upon your departure from the military, and at times, the job search process can be daunting, time-consuming and downright exhausting. If you’re not mentally prepared for the potentially lengthy process or the rejection that may come along the way, the result may be:
- Doubting yourself and your abilities.
- A wounded ego.
- Low self-esteem.
- Negative self-talk.
- Anxiety, panic and/or worry.
When you find yourself in this place, take a break and clear your mind. Take your mind off your employment woes by enjoying life (i.e. meditate, travel, get a massage, etc.), and come back refreshed, refocused and recommitted.
As you make your transition, keep these things in mind and know that you don’t have to go it alone. Lean on your comrades who have been through the process, as well as your family and friends. If you need professional assistance, utilize your resources and get referrals for a counselor, psychologist and/or career coach.
Challenge: Check in with yourself right now. How are you feeling? Acknowledge and write down those feelings. If you’re experiencing any negativity, get to the root of the problem to stop it in its tracks.