Military careers can be valuable, not only because of the money and benefits, but also because of the skills they give you that can translate to civilian life; veterans bring discipline, organizational skills, leadership skills, and often technical skills to the table. However, despite these abilities and this surplus of experience, it can be hard to adjust to civilian life and start a new career in a non-military environment.
Adjusting to Civilian Life
First, you’ll need to readjust some of your expectations, and work to gradually adjust to ordinary civilian life:
- Pay attention to veteran programs. There are several programs in place to help veterans find their place as civilians after returning from the military. For example, there are VA-approved condos that serve as relatively easy-to-find housing, and special loan programs that can help you start a business or buy a home.
- Seek therapy. If you notice any signs of stress, trauma, or other mental-health issues, seek therapy immediately. These signs include things like a feeling of anxiousness or tension, apathy and depression, trouble sleeping, or dramatic changes in appetite. Therapy will help you cope with your stress and find exercises to use in your daily life.
- Get social support. You don’t have to do this alone. There are many veteran-specific organizations and community groups where like-minded veterans can come together and support each other, whether that means working through mental health issues, finding job opportunities, or just talking to one another and forming friendships. Be willing to accept help from others.
- Understand differences in outlook. Not everyone in your community, or in your line of work will have military experience, so be patient. Also, not everyone will have the same regimented viewpoints or discipline when it comes to work. At times, you may feel frustrated, or even lonely, but don’t dwell on these personal differences.
- Beware of unhealthy coping mechanisms. When you face the stress of trying to find work, on top of dealing with leaving the military, it’s natural to turn to coping strategies for help; however, not all coping mechanisms are healthy. Be wary of alcohol, drugs, and other forms of abuse that could end up making it even harder to adjust to normal daily life.
Starting a New Career
Then, you’ll need to work on starting a new career from scratch:
- Be willing to pursue education and training. In some cases, your military can or should be enough to qualify you for a new job, but to stand out in the competition, you may need some extra certifications or qualifications. Don’t rule out the possibility of going back to school, or training in a specific program; in fact, there are many classes, training programs, and apprenticeships available specifically for military veterans.
- Start at the bottom and be ready to grow.Even if you were a ranking officer in the military, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a high-level position willing to accommodate you. Instead, you may need to start at the bottom rung of an organization or career path. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it can give you more opportunities, since you’ll have more potential directions in which to grow. Be open to those possibilities.
- Try different environments. Your first job out of the military may not satisfy all your needs. You may find yourself jumping from position to position, and this might actually be a good thing—especially if you don’t have much experience in the professional world outside of the military. The more jobs and career paths you experiment with, the better you’ll understand your own needs and motivations, and the better adapted you’ll become.
- Refresh your career expectations. Corporate life will require a different set of expectations than military life; you’ll advance in different ways and at different rates, and there will be stark differences in behavior that’s rewarded and discouraged. Be prepared to revise your career expectations accordingly, possibly multiple times if you want to advance yourself.
Trying to begin a new role as a civilian, at the bottom of a new career field can be intimidating, challenging, and stressful. However, with the right mentality and a willingness to adapt, it’s possible for you to build the life you want. Rely on support systems throughout the process, and do your best to accept differences in perspectives, expectations, and situations.