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Military veterans often feel they have lost their sense of purpose when they leave the military and begin new careers, jobs, and lives outside of the military. A common point of discussion with military veterans is that they miss and / or struggle with how to replace the sense of mission and sense of purpose they possessed when they were in the military.
Military organizations and military missions are ideal at finding and relaying purpose and a sense of mission. You have great people, solid equipment, a shared sense of commitment, a shared sense of overcoming (or sacrifice – especially on deployments) and common training that all work towards establishing, maintaining, and creating a shared sense of military purpose. Then, when you leave the military, sometimes, there is suddenly, nothing.
The point that military veterans are forgetting is that all their positive elements of their character, their military experience, and their great value to civilian society are there. Veterans have to take additional steps to recapture that sense of purpose and sense of value in civilian society.
(1) Don’t Expect Your Job to Be Everything. In the military, our job was often times everything to us and we self-identified with what it meant to be a pilot, an infantryman, or an armored vehicle driver. That is great for the military but it is rare for someone of any profession to get 100%+ of their self-identification from their job. Military veterans need to let their job be their job and not hate their new career because it does not fulfill 100% of their self-identification needs.
(2) Go “All In” With Your Employer. I remember one of my first days at Ranger School. It was 3AM, a cold driving rain, and we were running around in a massive sawdust pit practicing hand-to-hand combat. I thought, “How can I make 9 weeks, if I’m not sure I can make it to breakfast?” The next moment, I decided to go “All In,” and give my best to every moment, to make a 100% commitment to be the best that I could be. It worked. Don’t worry about what your employer isn’t, find ways to give 100% to your employer and discover how you can make the company better.
(3) Find Other Ways to Lead. Schools, little league teams, not-for-profits, and other organizations desperately need people who can organize, lead, and make a great difference for society. Leading a squad for a night raid is an amazing experience, but so is tutoring a group of children after school to improve their math skills. The country needs your leadership in the smallest areas of society. You will feel incredible value and reward by leading and helping others.
(4) Create a Written Path to the Future With a Daily Plan. A written, daily guiding schedule is vital to the military. When to wake, what you will be doing, with whom, and why were vital on a daily basis to establish your purpose and to make you feel engaged. Create your own daily schedule to wake early, exercise, set tasks to meet your goals, make daily steps to meet your career goals, and build a future. When we know the daily purpose of our activities and what they are leading us towards, we are engaged. Write it down to ensure it gets done.
(5) Find Something Hard to Do & Achieve It. Make a really hard personal goal for yourself and achieve it. Make a pledge to develop and teach a class, go back to school and complete a degree, compete in an adventure race, run a half marathon, or become rock solid in the gym. Achieving greatness through struggle is a hallmark of the military experience and often times you have to go out of your way to find it in civilian society. So, go find it, they key is to find and daily make yourself embrace this decision to endure and grow. And, when this is done, go find the next challenge.
As military veterans, our time with the military may be done. As veterans, we want to retain and grow our sense of purpose and sense of mission to meet all the challenges of the future.
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Chad Storlie is the author of two books: Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success. Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. An adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, NE. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer 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’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. 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 The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.
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Great Article! I've been out for 13 years and still don't feel like I fit in. My non-military family and friends just don't understand.
Fantastic Article I will be sure to send this one out to anyone I know making the transition. I had a tough time of it until I found my career here at USAA. I can vouch for leading in another role helping tremendously. I started being a den leader for the cubscouts and it served me twofold, time with my son and the purpose of teaching the next generation of men!
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