Leaving the military is a very strange experience.

Finding a job, insurance, and a place to live on your own is all new for many of us, but once that gets settled, military transition is still just plain weird.

In the military, you have purpose. It’s built into the job. There’s a mission to perform and standards to meet. If you’re like me, you looked at your civilian friends’ pursuit of a purpose and are incredibly grateful that you at least had one. One that you griped about and found intrusive, but you had it nonetheless.

Once you begin your military transition, that sense of purpose vanishes.

You are suddenly left adrift just like everyone else who’s trying to figure out a reason to do things. Why make yourself get up and workout? Why push yourself in your job?

Military Transition

There have been many times after my military transition when I have paused and asked, “What am I doing with my life? Why am I doing things like this?” I’m not sure I’ve found a straight answer to those questions. While my hip might ache on occasion and my spine makes some interesting noises, I’m not done yet, and my life will continue to change. There will be new reasons to do things, some material and some spiritual.

What I’ve learned to do is find peace with the aimlessness, or rather, to find the bright side of it. In the Army, I let my job consume everything. It’s expected, frankly, especially for officers. I did things because it was expected and I had no say in what a lot of those things were. I lived in the city I was told to live, I went on vacation when I was told to, I deployed when I was told to.  

My life was governed by someone else’s rules and standards.

Military Transition

It’s not that way anymore. While this can be hard—it’s so much easier not having to make a billion different decisions on your own—it’s also freeing.

I went to Hawaii shortly after I got out. I’d wanted to go for a long time. My job was such that I’d never get stationed there and the small novel of paperwork I’d have to fill out to go on leave there was discouraging.


While there, I talked to people, including drivers, bartenders, and hotel staff. A lot of them were from elsewhere. A fair few were veterans.

I asked how they ended up here in this amazing place, and they told me they had first come on short trips to visit friends or to surf or to enjoy a vacation like my own. They’d realized that, “hey, they were adults.” They could figure out some way to get a job, make rent, pay for food, and everything else that would be required to stay in Hawaii.

Military Transition

They could decide. I could decide. You can decide. All the choices that I’d handed over to the Army were now mine to make. The sky’s the limit. I have not as of yet moved to Hawaii, but it’s an option on the table that had never occurred to me before. I could move to Vegas, or Tahoe, or any other place I’d like.

The same is true of jobs, exercise or hobbies. I can now decide the path I’m going to take. It won’t be easy, but it wasn’t easy when I wasn’t making these decisions, either.

This doesn’t mean I regret any of my military experience or view it as wasted time; quite the contrary, actually. When I started out in the Army, there’s no way I would have been confident or adaptable enough to be able to feel comfortable with my own ability to succeed after I made decisions. My time in the Army, while not always a picnic, taught me just what I was capable of. I wouldn’t have had the ability to figure out how to make things work without the lessons I learned during my service.

Military Transition

Once you begin your military transition, it’s easy to feel like you’re lost. Your sense of direction might vanish, especially if you don’t have a spouse or children of your own. Figuring out your new reason to do things is important, but you should also embrace the freedom you now have. You have both soft and hard skills, as well as lot more experience than you had when you were an E-1 or O-1.

You can now apply them to live how you want. This is a very empowering idea and offers a great start to helping you get through your transition.

Kathryn Zurmehly served as an Army Officer for five years, reaching the rank of Captain (O-3) and learning a bit along the way.