When I left service in June of 2013, people often asked me, “How was the transition?” with the assumption that it was difficult. Well, it wasn’t. Here’s why.
The myths we hear in the military about the civilian world come from people with different experiences, different perspectives, and different values. What works for one person may feel like a punch in the gut to another. So here’s the truth about eight myths commonly held by service members before they transition out of the military:
1. What I learned in the military has no applicability elsewhere. This is not even a little true. While lying in the weeds as a sniper for hours on end waiting for the perfect opportunity certainly has a specific “user audience,” it’s the focus, attention to detail, and hyper awareness of one’s surroundings that transfer over into civilian life. If you have ever planned a mission, built a watchbill, or dealt with conflict in teams, then you’ve also engaged in project management, human capital development, and succession planning. You received more leadership experience in the military than some corporate types will ever see in their careers, and nothing happens in this world without leveraging relationships (see #7). Don’t sell yourself short.
2. I’ll be rollin’ in cash and freedom on the “outside.” This may be true in some regards, but not everywhere. The reality is if your career so far has been solely military, then you will need to learn the language and culture to navigate the business landscape. Doing so will require a step back on your part. The good news is that employers know this. They realize where you’re coming from and what is expected of you — that’s why they hired you. The learning curve may be steep, but it will flatten out at some point (to a degree, at least).
3. I’ll have more time with family. Not so much. While deployments certainly add up and put a strain on families, the day-to-day workday stress in the private sector can be equally taxing. However, the flip side is that the time you spend with family will be quality time.
4. My annual salary will begin at $100,000 a year. Money may be a motivator for some, but there’s one thing associated with money that service members had the privilege of avoiding while in service: taxes. While your base pay in the civilian sector may be higher, your taxes will be, too. Tack on life, medical, and dental insurance to these unforeseen expenses and watch your annual salary slowly melt away.
5. The pace will slow down once I get out and I’ll have a better work/life balance. Work/life balance? What’s that?
6. If people discover my military background, I won’t make any friends. Rest assured that the majority of people support what the military does. They may not side with current engagements or conflicts, but the themes of selflessness, service, and purpose resonate with most. If anybody doesn’t, then you know who your friends are.
7. The business world is all touchy feely, and I’m not into that. Whether you like it or not, business is based on relationships. Even in the military, everything we did was in concert with other organizations, government agencies, and foreign nationals. Relationships were everything — and they always will be.
8. Civilians don’t know how to work as a team. While there’s certainly a different level of trust and closeness between service members that civilians may never know, there is still that intangible element that exists in organizations bound by a common purpose that truly defines teamwork. Whether it is military or business, life or livelihood, working toward a shared objective together through the open exchange of information is a defining characteristic of teamwork.
If you’re on the fence about getting out, the only person who can ultimately make the decision to leave is you. Gathering all the facts is helpful, but only experience will tell.