This is the question that faces every veteran when they begin their journey transitioning back into civilian life. Chances are it has been asked many times prior to getting that precious DD-214 in hand, by your command, your buddies, and of course yourself. Everyone has a different plan (or no plan at all), and a different set of circumstances. No leap into the post-service chapter is going to be identical, but many will share the same sobering answer to the above question:
It’s a tough pill to swallow, and many veterans will fail to accept it. We all know that guy or gal who had grand visions of what life after the military would hold. Many of us were that very person ourselves; I certainly was beaming with optimisim. Eager to show the civilian sector what you bring to the table and make a bump up from that modest military paycheck, you browse the job sites and local businesses for openings. You find all sorts of perfect positions, maybe even something that seems like your dream job. You whip out that resume—full of your exploits and accomplishments in uniform—fill out the application, and fire away. You’re a perfect fit, this job is as good as yours! Then, reality hits you like a haymaker:
Getting a job is hard. Okay, well not quite. Getting a job isn’t hard, but if you think that you will simply jump ship right into something meeting your rosy expectations, there’s a good chance you are going to find very little jubilation, and quite a bit of frustration and disappointment. There are quite a few reasons why this might have happened. One usual suspect is your resume. Maybe it’s too vague. Maybe it’s so full of military jargon the hiring staff aren’t sure if it’s in English. Maybe it’s scrawled out in crayon and stained with Copenhagen, but I digress. Resume writing is an extremely important skill to get a knack for, and it’s something we will cover in more depth in a later post. This post, however, is to focus on another usual suspect: You’re aiming too big, too soon.
Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know. It just doesn’t seem fair. The people hiring just don’t truly grasp what you have been through, what you have done, and all that you have accomplished. However, this is exactly my point. Some of us may have been lucky to have acquired focused skill sets that are in big demand outside of the military, but many more will find that their time in uniform doesn’t quite translate so easily. Meanwhile, bills are building, and the savings are shrinking. You aren’t having any luck getting the job you want, so you might just have to grit your teeth and shoot for the job you need.
Yes, I know it’s a line from The Patriot, but I think it perfectly captures the kind of approach lots of us have to take early in our transitions. Many veterans, myself once included, are so terrified, angered, and embarrassed at the idea of “taking a step down” into work they deem beneath them, or not fitting their existing standards of prestige and machismo. Coming from a hard-charging environment and in a society infatuated with the idea of dreaming big and scoring bigger, my advice might seem like I’m suggesting you low-ball yourself and your capabilities. This is not at all my message. What I mean by “aim small, miss small”, is to tailor your job search in a manner that maximizes your chances of landing a paycheck while minimizing your chances of rejection, giving yourself a better chance at establishing some financial breathing room as well as added experience. This will allow you to plan your climb away from the job you need and towards that job you want. You need to assess your situation realistically and logically, accept the notion that your hard work has just begun, and leave your ego and sense of entitlement at the door. You are going to need to swallow that bitter pill, and start from the bottom.
Restart your job hunt at a lower rung in the ladder and find something, anything. If full-time isn’t available, don’t be afraid to take part-time hours even if that means more than one job to make ends meet. If you stay dedicated to your search and humble in your options, you will find employment. Once you do, immediately start the climb. Still certain the job is below your abilities? Prove it. Crush your duties, whatever they may be, every single day. Show everyone around you that there is no doubting your quality as an employee, and that the strong work ethic and initiative so many of us veterans claim to have received from our service is truly there. Set the example for your coworkers and impress your supervisors. Identify problems, and be the one who finds the solutions—I cannot stress enough how valuable this can prove to be for your professional climb. Ask for more hours, and volunteer to take on more responsibility. Track all of your assignments and accomplishments and continuously update and refine your resume, focusing on the value you can provide to an employer. When your opportunities for advancement in a position begin to close, it’s time to start searching once again. This time, you will be aiming a little bigger.
None of this will be easy and it will absolutely take time, likely more than you planned. There will be sleepless nights full of questions and anxieties, and you will be faced with plenty of hardship, frustration, and temptations to simply settle or outright quit. It will be very easy to become bitter and left feeling disenfranchised, but never lose track of the goals you set for yourself. Getting rich isn’t in the cards for many of us, but that’s not what any of this is even about. This is about the first step, one that we all have to take, and the steps that will follow again, and again, and again, until you reach the place that you want to be both in income and personal satisfaction. I would never suggest that there is nothing to fear about being at the bottom, because I know from experience that is a flat out lie. Instead, remind yourself that the bottom is only temporary, so long as you never stop looking up.
Aim small, miss small. Get your foot in the door, and start climbing.
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