The long months of isolation imposed by Covid-19 have loosened our grip on the notion of time. It may not be the PTSD of Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, yet we all have days when we feel ‘unstuck in time.’
How a traumatic event like the pandemic of 2020 will impact a veteran’s transition to civilian life is hard to predict. It is normal, in the best of times, to feel anxious, even inadequate, when making such an important life change.
That’s all the more reason for a veteran embarking on this journey to take the time to reflect on who you are, on what you want, and above all to make haste slowly.
Testing the waters
A couple years ago, the first mentee I worked with through American Corporate Partners (https://www.acp-usa.org/) began our opening session by describing a ‘mini freakout’ over his job search. His transition from the Air Force was still months away, yet he had been ‘testing the waters’ by contacting prospective employers for the previous six months.
To his surprise, after the Thanksgiving holidays, he was inundated with phone calls. When we spoke, he had done ten phone interviews in the previous week. His voice was practically breathless. His mind was racing to make sense of what had happened.
My second mentee early this year began with a similar story. Transitioning from the Navy, his initial prospecting had yielded four or five interviews. Already, he wanted to know how to write a polite rejection letter. The job offers kept coming in, well after Covid-19 had flared into a global pandemic and most of us so-called professionals were worried about keeping our jobs, let alone finding new ones.
Positioning for success
These examples may be atypical. Still, they show what is possible when veterans choose to transition to civilian careers. Indeed, having more than one job offer at once can give rise to its own array of stress factors. To stay grounded while positioning yourself for success, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Take stock of your qualities. The military service you have performed has given you qualities that any employer would desire. Discipline. Rigor. Organizational. Attention to detail. Even the importance of your physical appearance. Passing uniform inspection may be routine in the military. The demeanor you gain from that is a strength, even a differentiator, in the civilian world.
Lean into your strengths. Perhaps you dream of a well-paid career in commercial enterprise, yet it can be daunting to take the first steps. It’s human nature to have doubts, and be overly self-critical. Maybe you lack a four-year college degree. Maybe you want to write software code, but have neither experience nor training. This is the time to lean into your strengths, not perceived weaknesses. Take stock of the military training and experience you have acquired. Logistics? Supply chain? Procurement? Team management? All are marketable skills. As for college degrees, the government will pay for you to pursue and complete them. And increasingly, employers are providing on-the-job training to close critical skills gaps.
- Recognize your value. Regardless of your grade or time in the military, you made the conscious choice to serve your country. You have given your talent, time and energy to the greater good. In whatever capacity you have served, you risked your life. At a time when many expect the government to do more for them, you have performed military service. That is your intrinsic value in the enterprise world. If you add to that your own hunger and hustle to seek new opportunity, you too could be inundated with job offers.
The Covid-19 pandemic that has suspended time may yet yield a silver lining. By keeping us in solitary confinement, we have learned the importance of life relationships. By remembering we have two ears and one mouth, we learn to listen more than we speak. And by taking stock of who we are, by realizing our resilience in the face of adversity, we know we can and will emerge stronger in the long run.
Veterans who contemplate a transition to civilian life have so much to offer prospective employers. So be kind to yourself. Look at your skills objectively and with confidence. Ask yourself not just what job you want to do next, but who you see yourself being five years from now. When you’re unstuck in time, while staying grounded in the present moment, why not project your dreams into a brighter future?
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