Are You Among the Military Leaders Lost in Veteran Purgatory?
Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . .
You awaken to the sound of the alarm. You select the snooze option on your phone and let out a deep sigh. It's just another day. You wonder why it is so hard to get out of bed in the morning. You remember a time when it seemed much easier. The military routine had a way of getting you up and going. Even before sunrise, you'd spring out of bed, put yourself together, and sprint out the door. Whether it was for physical fitness or an early mission, you moved with a purpose because you had a purpose. Now, you prefer to let the minutes drift away as you stare into the darkness. You just don't have the same spirit or energy you used to have. When you think about the day ahead of you, your body sinks deeper into the mattress. After all, it's just another day.
Your mind wanders. To be sure, military life had its share of ups and downs, but it also had meaning. You felt connected to the people and to the mission. You were excited about who you were and what you were doing. Now, you're not sure of who you are anymore, and the only reason why you do what you do is to pay the bills. You miss that sense of purpose from the life you had, and you long for the opportunity to make a more meaningful impact in society. You are a former military leader lost in Veteran Purgatory.
Veteran Purgatory is the 'negative space' between your disconnection from the military and a purposeful reconnection back into civilian society.
Transition is not something that coincides with a specified date on the calendar, and it involves so much more than the task of finding a new job. It's about finding a new life. Transition is like a bridge. It begins with separation from the military and ends upon successful reintegration back into society. Veteran Purgatory is the negative space between these two worlds. It is where you are no longer connected to the military, but you don't feel connected to civilian society, either. When veterans don't make their way across the bridge into a life of purpose and meaning beyond the military, they become lost in Veteran Purgatory.
If you look close enough, you might spot some of these veterans in society. They are the former service members sleepwalking their way through life. They lack excitement or inspiration. You might be surprised to learn of the magnitude and level of responsibility they once enjoyed in the military because they settled into a civilian job well beneath their potential. They don't impress you as a glowing example of military leadership. They reminisce about the glory days and talk about future possibilities at the expense of everything in the moment. To you, they are just another colleague at work. Like you, they show up to do their time and collect their paycheck. They just so happen to carry the 'veteran' title.
Some veterans separate from the military but never really leave. They do the same things in the same places with the same people . . .they just aren't wearing a uniform anymore.
You might find many of these veterans lingering around the military community. They leave the military only to become military by association. They find jobs on military installations or work for companies in the defense industry. To be sure, many veterans may find their passion in jobs that support the military, but when they choose to stay close to the mission because they don't know their mission, then they might among those lost in Veteran Purgatory. You'll notice that these former service members gravitate toward veteran groups and veteran service organizations. They just aren't comfortable around 'regular' civilians. They find it easier to stay close to their last tribe as opposed to crossing that civil-military cultural divide to find a new one.
For these veterans, the fire that once burned inside their hearts began to smolder when they left the military. The passion that once fueled their drive to succeed as a leader in the most trusted and respected institution in the world is gone. These leaders that stood out as heroes of our nation have become indistinguishable faces in the crowd. The excitement, the inspiration, and the joy that was once so vivid fades into the daily struggle of getting out of bed in the morning. Does this sound like anyone you know?
Leaving the military is the easy part of transition. Having the courage and the vulnerability to fully show up in civilian society is the hard part.
Reintegration isn't something you do. It's about how you show up as a leader after you've 'crossed the transition bridge.' It's about discovering a new identity story when you can't be the soldier anymore. It's about fully embracing your opportunity to become something more as a veteran leader in society. Your rank may have put you in charge, but it didn't make you a leader. What makes you a leader is your commitment to live the example that others want to follow. You didn't need the rank or the uniform to inspire others before, and you don't need it now. You just need to have the courage and vulnerability to step into your full potential.
You can lie in bed all day, but you won't find your inspiration staring at the ceiling. You won't see it when you turn on the lights, either. The answer doesn't come from looking out. It comes from looking in. If you didn't already have a strong sense of purpose and intentions to make an impact in this world, you never would have volunteered for military service in the first place. Passion and purpose are things that burn inside your heart, so that is where you have to go to find your path out of Veteran Purgatory. Nobody said it would be easy. Perhaps the deeper meaning from the many challenges you faced through the military was to prepare you for what lies ahead. Perhaps your greatest adventure comes from what happens next.
It may scare you to let go of the military, but know that society is waiting for your leadership. Instead of existing for just another day, imagine what it would feel like to live for each and every day. You've been staring at the ceiling through the darkness long enough. Your alarm is about to go off again, and it's time for you to wake up.