Here is the second entry in our contest about finding meaningful work after the military.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in this one. A psychiatrist I know who specializes in combat trauma says that after you have looked upon life and death, you have walked among the divine, and to come back to appreciating normal life can be difficult.
If you care to send an entry, just go to The Long March homepage and use the e-mail button on the upper left, next to the postage stamp photograph of me! —Tom
Fletcher Schoen writes: "I just recently celebrated my one year anniversary of getting out and I have been reflecting on life’s meaning after the military. The Army was the central aspect of my life for six years and it has taken some adjustment, but I have found meaning in a steady string of successes.
I got into grad school, started getting my writing published again, got married, went on a honeymoon, have succeeded test-to-test and semester-to-semester in school so far, and had a successful job hunt. Driving on and attacking challenges was the essence of my time in the military and even a simulacrum of that in the civilian world makes me happy. If that isn’t enough you can find me running my ass off or moving weight in the gym.
Family has also given me meaning in life beyond the intense comradeship of the military. I am lucky in that my parents and maternal grandparents live nearby and I see them often. They are everything from confidants to life coaches.
My grandfather, a Vietnam Vet, Army Ranger, and published poet, is a steady example of what a successful transition looks like.
Finally and most important to me are the quiet mornings and evenings I have with my wife who stuck by me as my girlfriend and fiancé through six years of moving around, professional ups and downs, and war. There is a profoundness even in the mundane details of our life together because they were denied to us for so long.
We build rituals, protect our date nights, and ham it up for holidays. As a vet I have been shocked by how craven, weak, and petty people are (but I found that in the military as well) and I have rued that my most terrible and exciting days are in the past.
However I have come to know over the past year that if you center yourself in a strong support network, commit to reinforcing all those relationships that were frayed when you were gone, and always pursue goals you will find meaning that transcends your warrior self-image and makes it a part of you and not your entire wellspring of meaning."