Leaving the world of military service to re-enter civilian life can be one of the most challenging missions you’ve ever faced. Whatever branch of the service you were in, your experience and training will have changed you as a person, while meanwhile the regular world has moved on, and not in the same direction. Put simply, you’ve grown and adapted in a very different way to those of your acquaintance that chose a different career path, and re-integrating yourself into the world you have spent years defending is going to be quite a challenge. That is particularly the case when you’re trying to build a new career.
In the military, you will have been trained to put the needs of others ahead of your own. You will have learned to think and act on behalf of the team, with concepts of sacrifice and duty coming more naturally to you than self-promotion or career advancement. But in the civilian world, and especially in business, it so often seems that everyone is looking out for number one and trying their best to get ahead of the crowd.
There’s no denying that coping with this is going to be a major cultural shift. But a military mindset can be an advantage as well. Apply what you’ve learnt about leadership, efficiency and self-discipline to building a career, and treat leaving military service and setting yourself up in civilian life as if it was a military mission in its own right.
When considering what kind of career you want to pursue the best advice is to know yourself. What are you good at? What motivates and interests you? What have you got to offer the world? Look at your weaknesses as well, if only to rule out unsuitable career paths. One way to do this is to think about what you most enjoyed doing while serving. For instance, were you task-oriented or mission-oriented? Did you like the straightforward responsibility of being given a task to carry out, with clear instructions, or were you someone who liked to consider the bigger picture of an overall mission? If you answered the former, you will make someone a model employee. If the latter, you might want to consider setting up your own business.
Help is available
There are many organizations out there dedicated to helping veterans make the transition into a civilian career. Those thinking about building their own business might want to get in touch with Bunker Labs, a non-profit that assists veterans in becoming entrepreneurs, from coming up with an initial idea to raising capital and growing the business. Board leader Mark Green is a US senator and former special operations flight surgeon who was involved in the operation to capture Saddam Hussein.
Another former serviceman who successfully built his own business is Jeff Taylor, CEO of Devise Media. Taylor was honorably discharged from the US Navy in 2012 and started creating websites for small businesses before launching his own niche websites and eventually selling them on. Within three years he was clearing $8.5m profit. His advice is to just get on with it as soon as possible, but be prepared for it to take a huge amount of time and commitment. Reinvest your profits where possible and focus on providing the best possible experience for your customers or clients. Also, stay flexible and be prepared to adapt to a changing market.
If you’re still in the military it’s never too early to start working on your exit strategy. Learn a trade, get an education, and dedicate a certain amount of time to thinking about what you want to do next, and
then find a way to acquire the right skills and qualifications. Military service requires 100% focus, but it’s also an amazing resource for growing as an individual.
Once you’re out and building your business, it’s vital to know how to network and do your research. Look on this as a recon mission: you need to observe, infiltrate and learn the secrets of “the enemy” – that is, your business rivals. Don’t get discouraged: learn to view setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth.
Finally, don’t forget to take full advantage of financial arrangements open to veterans like the Thrift Savings Plan, and the army’s own programs for transitioning into a worthwhile career. There are many businesses out there that actively support ex-service personnel, and while adjusting to civilian life is always going to be a challenge there are resources to help you handle it. With diligence, discipline and determination, your business can succeed and prosper.