Setting Your Intentions for Re-Entry into Society
Your intentions matter. At the point of greatest uncertainty and fear, you decide how you will focus your actions and apply your energy. Regardless of how desperate the circumstances may seem in the moment, you have the power to set your intentions for the future. If you ignore or neglect the potential of this power, you have still made a choice. You simply default to the mercy of your situation. You become a victim of circumstance. Inevitably, you wind up lowering your expectations and settle for less. Whether you are trying to solve the problem of re-entry back into earth's atmosphere or re-entry back into civilian society, your intentions are everything.
The Mission to Return to Earth
Most of what I remember about the story of Apollo 13 comes from the 1995 movie by the same name. The real story took place in April, 1970. Nine months had passed since Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Apollo 13 was supposed to be our nation's third trip to the lunar surface. After an explosion from an otherwise routine procedure crippled the Odyssey Spacecraft, the mission changed. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swiggert, and Fred Haise lost their opportunity to land on the moon. As disappointing as that was, it wasn't the most pressing concern. The crew was contending with the very real possibility that they would never return home again.
Everything seemed to be working against them. Their ship was severely disabled in the vacuum of space. Power was a significant concern. They were running out of oxygen. Water was an issue. The crew had not slept for days. As the lunar module orbited around the dark side of the moon, they lost radio contact with their lifeline at Houston Control. They were at the furthest point away from earth. They were in the dark. They were all alone.
As the lunar sunrise brought the earth back into view, you can imagine how the fear from the impending desperation of that situation could seep into the hearts and minds of the crew. They had no contingency plan for this kind of emergency. Even if they figured out how to filter their breathing air and power-up their systems, they didn't know if the heat shield could withstand the re-entry process. The best minds on the planet scrambled to find solutions to problems nobody ever anticipated.
When you think about it, that experience sounds terrifying. Perhaps the only thing that Jim Lovell, the mission commander for Apollo 13, could control was his intention. After a moment of reflection, he made his choice:
"Gentlemen, what are your intentions?... I'd like to go home. We got a burn coming up. We're gonna need a contingency if we lose comm with Houston. Freddo, let's . . . let's get an idea where we stand with consumables. Jack, get into the Odyssey and bag up all the water you can before it freezes in there . . . Let's go home" - Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks)
He used the one power he had to focus his crew and set the conditions for their miraculous journey home.
The Mission to Return to Civilian Society
As a transitioning service member, you are not attempting the complex task of re-entering earth's atmosphere, but you are attempting the very difficult task of re-entry back into society. Like the crew of Apollo 13, you have plenty of challenges. You may have sustained your own injuries and disabilities that complicate the reintegration process. The distance you have to travel is the ever widening civil-military cultural gap, and that gap widens with the passing of each year that you serve in the military. The funeral procession we call a retirement ceremony hardly inspires any encouragement for the future. You may feel discouraged or devalued as transition counselors advise you to "take a step back" in the search for a new career. These are only some of the known challenges in your mission to come home.
The unknowns can be far more dreadful. You don't know where you might land in the civilian job sector. Because you've been outside the civilian atmosphere for so long, you worry about how you will adjust to the gravity of an ordinary life. How will transition impact your family when the military is all they have ever known? What will it be like to live a neighborhood where you are the only person with ties to the military? How will you respond when someone asks you about your experience in the war?
I know. You say that you will try and hope for the best. The temptation is to strive for the things you think you need at the expense of what you really want. As a consequence, you compromise and settle for less. You accept that your best days are behind you. You fade into the background of society and sleepwalk your way through life as a veteran.
Too often, we enter the process of transition from a scarcity mindset and deny ourselves the opportunity for greater fulfillment in life beyond the military. We worry about things like interpreting our military experience into something civilian employers want to hear without first creating the vision for what we really want. We translate our skills, update our LinkedIn profile, and register for career conferences without creating our new narrative for the life we want after the military. If we don't believe our new identity story, how can a potential employer (or anyone else for that matter) believe in what we have to offer? How can we inspire others as transformational leaders across society? We prioritize and obsess about the need to find a job. In the process, we deny ourselves the opportunity to truly live our lives.
Maybe you're approaching the transition process. Perhaps you recently left the military but still feel like you are drifting on the dark side of the moon. I know that the phenomenon of transition stress can be overwhelming. Remember, you always retain the power to set your intentions. Stop sleepwalking your way through an ordinary life. Stop denying yourself and your family the quality of life that you spent years serving in the military to protect and defend. When you wore the uniform, our nation recognized you as a hero. You may have transitioned back into society, but you have the power to become something more.
So . . . What Are Your Intentions?
Re-entry is hard whether you are bringing a disabled spacecraft safely back to earth or reintegrating back into society after years or even decades of military service. Imagine what would have happened to Apollo 13 if they accepted the limitations and constraints of their situation. They would have run out of air. They never would have arrived at the ingenious solution to power-up the guidance computer, and our nation would have mourned the loss of the Apollo 13 crew. The crew set their intentions on a different outcome, and today, we celebrate the success of their story.
Leaving the military is hard. At times, you may feel like you are on the dark side of the moon, but take a moment today and remind yourself that the best part of your story is yet to come. The anxiety you feel is the dynamic tension to a more empowering path beyond the military. The Apollo 13 crew didn't do it alone, and you don't have to either. Through all the uncertainty, setbacks, and fear that accompanies a new beginning, remember that you always have the power of choice. You create your future. The path towards the happiness, fulfillment, and empowerment you deserve begins with determining what you really want, recognizing who you really are, imagining the possibilities for continued growth, believing in yourself, and manifesting the next chapter you want for your life. You can become the Hero of Your Own Story. So . . . what are your intentions?