3 New Year's Resolutions for Military Leaders in Transition
Is leaving the military on your horizon in 2019? If so, then you are not just ushering in the New Year. You are about to step into a new life. The next 12 months will be an emotional ride as you reflect on the past and explore the many possibilities of your future.
As you approach your separation or retirement date, you will remember the many faces and places that shaped your military journey. You may remember the excitement and anticipation you felt on the day you reported for duty. You may recall the confidence of assuming that command and the pride of relinquishing that authority after a job well done. Remember what it felt like when you boarded that flight on your first trip into combat, and who could ever forget the satisfaction and joy of seeing your family for the first time when you returned home? As you approach the day when you will no longer wear the uniform, don't be surprised if you relive everything you felt from the experiences while wearing the uniform.
As you shift your gaze from the past toward the future, what do you see? Perhaps you sense an uneasiness because you aren't sure. Don't worry. That's completely normal. The military had a way of providing answers for what happened next. You grew comfortable in the predictable routine. You don't appreciate that clarity until you're standing on the threshold of leaving. Why not assume control of what you can as you wade into the uncertainty of the future? In the spirit of resolutions for the new year, resolve to transition on purpose, learn and practice mindful meditation, and commit to actively engage with the community of non-veterans. Seize the initiative for your transition and prepare yourself for a more empowering opportunity beyond the military.
Resolution 1: Resolve to Transition On Purpose
Once the military issues you a separation or retirement date, leaving the military is inevitable. How you leave is entirely up to you. You can either leave on purpose or by accident. To transition on purpose is to know your purpose. It means connecting with your core values (your WHO) while following the mission statement - your purpose - for the second half of your life (your WHY). One resolution for the year of transition is to look inward to discover who you want to be when you can't be the warrior anymore and what impact you want to have when you don't have a higher headquarters to provide a mission statement.
Most of us - myself included - tend to transition by accident. We hope for the best in doing a variety of activities without exploring what we really want. We start updating the resume. We begin the online search for job titles or commensurate salaries. We look at different companies to see who's hiring. We reach out to that colleague who transitioned a year or so ago to gather information or to see if they could put in a "good word" for us. Because we haven't placed any intentional thought behind how we want to show up in life beyond the military, we wind up in jobs we don't really want for far less than what we are worth. The veteran turnover and underemployment statistics prove it.
How do you hope to find the right opportunity when you don't know what you are looking for?
When you connect with your sense of values and purpose, you can refine your search to those opportunities that yield the greatest return in terms of your sense of personal and professional fulfillment. Tap into your unique value proposition and the intrinsic qualities that led to your success in the military. Commit to transition on purpose, and you gain clarity and focus through the uncertainty of the transition environment. Why settle for the next opportunity when you can find the rightopportunity?
Resolution 2: Learn and Practice Mindful Meditation
Before I left the military, I would have summarily dismissed such a recommendation. Having been through the transition process twice, I know better. Perhaps the greatest challenge of military transition comes from breaking the habit of being a soldier. Your physiological homeostasis has been conditioned and nurtured through the socialization, trust, respect, perseverance, and the associated rewards and punishments from the military culture. Leaving invites all of the same psychological consequences of withdrawal. You will feel the pain from that withdrawal in the days and weeks following that final drive out the main gate.
Although purists might argue the distinctions between mindfulness and meditation, as a functional sit-down practice, mindfulness and meditation are identical. They improve the skills of relaxation and attention. Through our habit of being a soldier, the body and the mind engage in an unconscious routine fitting for the military culture. Those habits may not serve your best interests as you assimilate back into a predominantly non-military society. Relaxation frees the body so that you can focus attention on your conscious intentions to change the mind. The resultant increases in creativity, motivation, and compassion also include a decrease in stress and anxiety.
The practice of mindful meditation can bolster your resilience and allow greater access to your intuition throughout the transition and reintegration process
Research and neuroscience support the contention that mindful meditation is associated with structural changes in the brain. It helps evolve your mind and rewire the brain for assimilation back into civilian society. Dr. Joe Dispenza argues that our personalities are 95 percent formed by our mid-30's, so why not consider a strategy that accesses the other 5 percent of conscious intention to allow for new behaviors in a new culture? According to Dan Harris - a former cynic turned advocate in the practice of mindful meditation, you could reasonably expect that meditation will make you about 10 percent happier. (Both Dr. Joe Dispenza and Dan Harris offer resources to learn more about the practice of meditation). Meditation is the workout you give your mind to prepare yourself for all of the mental, emotional, and psychological challenges of transition from the military.
Resolution 3: Actively Participate in a Non-Veteran Group or Organization
Given your length of service, you already have a mature network of connections from across the military and veteran community. You know military people, you know veterans, but how well do you know people who have little or no affiliation with the military? Your objective is successful reintegration back into civilian society. The military and veteran communities represent less than 8 percent of our population. The deeper social and cultural challenges of reintegration comes from connecting with the other 92 percent of the population that never served in the military.
Leverage your non-military interests to connect with an organization, club, or group comprised of mostly non-military members. Perhaps you enjoy running, playing ultimate frisbee, weight lifting, or cycling, so consider joining a local club or group that meets to participate or compete in these activities. As a parent, you can volunteer at school or become involved in youth sports as a coach. Maybe there are groups associated with a particular hobby you enjoy. There may be opportunities through your neighborhood, local non-profit, or faith based organizations for you to repurpose your selfless service toward the non-veteran community. Common interests provide a conduit for connecting with people in your community who never wore a military uniform.
How do you hope to grow as a leader if you never step into that uncomfortable space outside the familiarity of the military and veteran community?
Many non-veterans actively participate in veteran organizations, but veterans are the focus of those groups. The objective of this resolution is to recognize interests and make connections outside the military. Look for groups whose members are comprised of a large number of non-veterans. Start small. Begin with one organization or group as a part of this resolution and see what happens.
Leaving the Temple of Mars for Something More Meaningful
The tradition of celebration and resolutions date back thousands of years. The month of January got its name from the Roman God Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches to symbolize transition with one head facing the past and the other looking toward the future. You may find yourself in such a doorway if you intend to depart the Temple of Mars in the coming year. Consider setting resolutions for your personal growth through the transition process. Transition on purpose to focus your search for the right opportunity. Prepare yourself mentally and deepen your reservoir of resilience through the practice of mindful meditation. Finally, leverage your common interests to take that first, small step toward connecting with civilian society.
If you are leaving the military in the next year, 2019 promises to be an emotional roller coaster. You will smile in moments of reflection, and you will endure the sadness of leaving the life and people you have grown to love. Yes, the future is uncertain - even scary. However, if you focus your resolutions on personal growth, then you prepare and position yourself for greater impact and meaning in life beyond the military. Given the right intentions, you just might discover that you really enjoy what happens next.