How to Move From “Can I?” to “I Can!”

Updated July 2021

How to Move From “Can I?” to “I Can!”  for Military Career Transition & Progression Success | USAA Member Community

The RAND Corporation, a well-respected research group, published “A Needs Assessment of New York State Veterans,” that described the mental, physical, emotional, and employment challenges a select group of New York State military veterans (Gulf War II) were facing. A common theme in the report was the lack of quality employment options and low employment satisfaction military veterans were facing upon their return from combat to the civilian world. 


One veteran stated, “One of the big misconceptions . . . coming off active duty [is that] you walk on water.  Companies are going to be coming to find you.  They’re going to be recruiting you.  [You] never really had that reality check, that . . . you’ve been out of the mix for years. And what you’re doing is not relevant to what’s going on in the civilian world. And they are more impressed with your Microsoft certifications than they are with your leadership time.”


The under employment rate, a tight job market for meaningful and purposeful work, and the overall malaise of the economy are incredibly hard realizations for veterans, especially for younger veterans. The challenge for veterans and Gulf War II veterans who returned or are returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is how to react to the negative information. There are three stark choices: (1) Do nothing, (2) be pessimistic and (3) understand and proactively act to apply military skills to what employers need.  Veterans need to adopt an “I Can!” mindset.


The transition from “Can I?” to an “I Can!” mindset requires an incredibly strong sense of acceptance and the ability to transform negative information to positive action for veterans as they transition, plan, and advance their careers. Veterans must understand the overall challenges of finding purposeful employment in the economy, which industries are ascendant and which are falling, and what skill sets employers require for the future. Mounds of negative economic information and a challenging career landscape can be daunting, that can easily lead to the “Can I?” perspective, self-doubt, and a lack of confidence. A “Can I?” mindset destroys career progress, career planning, and self-confidence.   


Harnessing negative career and economic information is essential to make a veteran’s career advancement into an “I Can!” success story. Veterans cannot change the state of the economy and employer hiring practices. Veterans CAN change their attitude and constructively plan to mitigate negative economic information. This ability to turn negatives into positives is essential for their career advancement. The “I Can!” attitude makes a veteran proactive in their career advancement.


Three Steps for Veterans to Make Career Advancement into an “I Can!”  Triumph:


  1. Networking is Essential to Understand the Industry and Make Connections. Everyone is frustrated with online job applications. Do not be an uncalled phone number in an electronic resume database. Make in person, phone, and snail mail connections with key decision makers in a company and/or industry that you want to work or learn about will make you a stand out and remembered. Networking is about discovering opportunities, finding mentors, and using your supporters to help connect you to great companies with even greater challenges.

  2. Learn from Other Leading Veterans in Business. Jim Murphy, a former US Air Force fighter pilot is the CEO of Afterburner, Inc. Afterburner, Inc is an industry leading consulting and education company that instructs Fortune 100 companies the world over in how to apply military leadership and planning methodologies to their operations. Jim is a fantastic role model for veterans from all services on how to translate military skills into understandable methods for civilian companies that allow them to win in the global marketplace.

  3. Use a Military Example How You Triumphed Under Adversity. Civilian employers love stories how military personnel triumphed under adverse conditions, especially while they were deployed. Develop a triumph over adversity skill set that shows your skills, determination, and “I Can!” attitude. As you formulate the story, place in a “S-T-A-R-S” format.  “S-T-A-R-S” is Situation, Task, Actions, Results, and Skills used. The “S-T-A-R-S” framework is a great way to tell your story, emphasize your skills and results, and further demonstrate your ability to triumph over diversity.

Military veterans need to make “Can I?” into “I Can!” to promote all they can do for companies. 


Have you been able to move from a “Can I?” into an “I Can!” mindset? Share your success story and advice below.


About the blogger:
Chad is the author of two books: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to Business Success.  Chad’s brand message is that organizations & individuals need to translate and apply military skills to business because they immediately produce results and are cost effective.  Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units.  He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States.  He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.   Chad is an adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.  In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics.  He has been published in over 110 different articles in over 85 separate publications including The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today.  He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.




[1] Terry L. Schell and Terri Tanielian, editors; “A Needs Assessment of New York State Veterans: Final Report to the New York State Health Foundation,” Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA; 2011.  Page 30.