Your Military Career Doesn’t Have To Be Your Only Career

Photo by Jason Johnston

What do you want to be when you grow up? Throughout our youth, this question was posed to you over and over and over. My answer to this question was, “Marine!” Though I am not a Marine, I am a former Army officer and a combat veteran, so in a manner of speaking, I have been there and done that, when it comes to living my childhood professional dream.

For most service members, even for those who served 20-plus years, your military service will come to an end before the age of professional retirement and you’ll have to find second, even third careers. The job market for former officers and most retired senior noncommissioned officers remains a steady source for employment. But, what about the enlisted?

Let’s not discuss jobs. Instead, let’s discuss careers, which is much more beneficial for all former service members, especially company grade officers, junior NCOs, and enlisted personnel. When I discuss this matter with my former NCOs and soldiers, I tend to lean heavily on two things about them: their level of interest in pursuing more education and their personal passions.

Level of interest in education after the military drives the conversation around a series of questions: What type of education, what school, what degree, etc. Are they motivated to return to school? With respect to their passion, I stress that soldiers ought to find a career that, no matter how much money they are earning, motivates them to get out of bed and conquer the day. Their passion may be a profession that can lead to them becoming financially rich, but it may also be one that only allows them to live a humble life. In the end, they must discover what they love, then make a plan to make that passion a way of life.

Case in point, I have a soldier who loves racing motorcycles. We had several conversations a few years ago about his future, and as I was looking at his Facebook pictures, I realized what he was passionate about. I asked him what he thought about owning his own motorcycle shop. He loved the idea, and had thought about it previously, but did not know how to go about making his dream a reality. Today, he is on that path, and I could not be any prouder.

Personally, I am a big proponent of entrepreneurship, but for those not leaning in that direction, and are more inclined to work a traditional nine to five job, my advice is different, but equally as pertinent.

Throughout my countless conversations with business and political leaders, what they all are looking for when it comes to hiring former service members are our intangible qualities. In my case, the seven Army values: leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Many service members have phenomenal tangible skills that translate in the civilian world, but as we all know, once we begin holding leadership positions, we become more and more separated from the hands-on nature of those tangible skills and rely heavily on the intangible. When applying for positions, search for the jobs and professions that are going to value appreciate those qualities, for those are the ones that will lead to higher level professional success.

Complacency kills, a lesson I was fortunate to only passively learn while in Baghdad. As many of us know, complacency, when it comes to one’s job, can also kill the soul; therefore, it is imperative that while in your position, always look for ways to professionally climb the leadership ladder in whichever company or organization you are in. The last thing you want to do is wake up every morning dreading going to work. The day you get this feeling is the day you need to begin planning your next move.

Living one’s passion can be easy, but it is like anything else you want in life; you can’t be afraid of hard work and sacrifice. The days may be scary at times, but as long as you are doing what you love in your career, you will always have peace. Everything else will work itself out.

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