It’s not easy to leave the military and transition into civilian life. Many of us find ourselves feeling lost and disconnected, both from the civilian world and our fellow veterans. It can be tough to figure out how to fit in. But don’t worry, you are not alone.
In this guide, I’ll share how you can become an exception to the rule. You’re different and that’s your greatest strength.
Embrace the exception.
In 2015, I was 4 years out of the military and having lunch with my CEO who was also a veteran. Leading up to that moment I had already dropped out of college twice as I struggled to find what I wanted. Everywhere I went, I felt as though I didn’t quite fit in. The majority of my peers seemed far ahead of me in terms of professional knowledge and most feedback I received regarding my military service was a “thank you for your service” and even at times, a perceived fear that I may have aggressive tendencies.
Due to this, I did almost everything I could to hide the fact that I was a veteran. While I thought this was helping me advance in the civilian world, I was doing a great disservice to myself and carrying over some bad habits from the military without even realizing it.
As my CEO and I discussed the issues within the veteran community, I shared some of my viewpoints on why transition was so difficult. I talked about being misunderstood by the civilian community and the sometimes offensive assumptions that people make. What he said to me was a true “a-ha” moment. “It’s okay to be the exception. Prove them all wrong.”
He went on to explain that barely 1% of the U.S. population raises their right hand to serve the country. The odds that any civilian will truly understand a veteran are slim to none, and for some of them, I will be one of few examples of a veteran in the civilian workforce. Rather than blame society or Hollywood for how we’re portrayed, he expressed that I should celebrate every time a civilian says to me, “You’re not what I expected a veteran to be like.”
He may never understand how impactful that conversation was to me. It isn’t society’s obligation to learn everything about such a small populace and cater to me. It is my job to utilize my unique background and be the best version of myself. I’m the exception and so are you. That’s a good thing.
Find your soft skills.
With this new mentality, I decided it was time to really apply myself. When I first entered the workforce, I had grand delusions that in a meeting or during a tough work project, I would have some amazing battle plan based on my background and the entire company would quickly realize my value. This rarely happens.
While our military skill sets are great, they’re a bit more nuanced than we often expect them to be. During our time in uniform, we were focused on the hard skills that got us promoted: Job proficiency, physical fitness scores, and rifle qualifications. You need to look deeper than the surface level accomplishments of your service in order to find skills that companies love. This could be your ability to motivate and lead a team. The majority of our time in service is filled with mundane tasks that absolutely kill morale. How many times did you have to break bad news to your team and then found ways to make it fun? You may not have known it at the time, but you were honing valuable skills like communication, motivating a team, and mission-focus.
Find a mentor to help you.
The hardest part of the military-to-civilian transition, in my opinion, is finding the right mentor to help you through. There are countless veteran support groups offering help, but if you’re like me, you struggle to find one that works for you. I often find it difficult to fit into the veteran stereotypes created by our own community. I’m not the cool bearded operator with a massive truck and a killer workout routine.
While I see nothing wrong with that lifestyle, I had to find veteran mentors that better suited me. I began by simply asking around, searching LinkedIn, and reaching out to different universities to see if they had any veteran alumni groups. What I discovered was a large world of like-minded veterans who were more than happy to help me. They reviewed my resume, helped me better identify my talents, workshopped how to present myself, and even made some of the impactful referrals in my career.
While there are only a few of us in society, companies that value military experience will have other veterans you can connect with and learn from. Often, they will become your greatest advocate.
Find the organizations that are looking for you.
Now that you’ve taken these steps, it’s important to find support groups that are great at what they do. Whether you’re looking for your first job or considering a change, you need a group that recognizes your unparalleled skills and can match your own drive to improve.
RecruitMilitary is passionate about empowering veterans, transitioning military, and military spouses. With over 30 years of experience, they partner with top organizations such as USAA and groups like American Corporate Partners and Veterati to help you find the right fit. Remember, you’re not like everyone else and that is okay. Your unique experiences make you stand out from the pack, so embrace it! Don’t try to fit into some preconceived notion of what it means to be a veteran—find your own path and turn to the experts to help you get there. Check out RecruitMilitary today and take the next step in your career.
Made possible with support by RecruitMilitary.