I don’t want to write a generic article about the difficulties of leaving active duty in the Marine Corps and entering civilian life. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against those types of articles, but many tend to revisit the same information in different ways, while touting the successes of the author. This is not one of those articles. What most of those articles fail to convey is that many people share a common pain, whether they went to college for some BS degree or enlisted in the Military for a job that, to them, has zero transferrable skills.
I was a Rifleman in the Marine Corps; for those of you unfamiliar with that role, not everyone in the Marine Corps is a Rifleman. The slogan “Every Marine is a Rifleman” is a platitude to make some Marines feel special. I was one of the pessimistic new veterans who thought they would be destined for a less exciting life than the one they just left; the exciting, depressing, community enriched life of an active duty service member.
Without getting too far into it, my transition was anything but smooth. Drugs, excessive drinking, divorce, depression, and the feeling of isolation lead me to a very negative mindset. I believed the world owed me something because of what I had accomplished. I was soon forced to recognize that it didn’t mean a thing to anyone but me.
About a year after I separated from the Marine Corps, I began four years working various security contracts throughout Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. During that time, I had some of the most exciting and tragic experiences of my life, but it was merely a bandage on a much larger wound. The career wasn’t sustainable, and was only pushing me further from a full transition into civilian life.
This leads me to my main point: “You Don’t Know, What You Don’t Know” (I don’t know to whom to attribute the quote, but it is a fundamental truth to me). I spent half of my 20’s running away from problems instead of attacking them head on. I wasted time by not searching for answers, finding groups of people outside of my personal network, worrying about what people might think about my decisions, and not utilizing the resources I had available to grow as a person.
At 29, I speak to many people in my age demographic, veterans and non-veterans alike, who say things like “there aren’t any jobs for me” or “well, what am I supposed to do?” It blows me away and also fascinates me because I remember being that person, creating excuses and roadblocks for everything. It really bothers me when I hear it from a veteran, because there are literally so many tools and resources (feel free to list them in the comments!) out there to help you succeed in their life after service. But, there are also college students who can’t find work in their field, but here’s the thing: Apply your knowledge to a new field, go to a networking event, sign up for a social club and TALK TO PEOPLE. Anything you can do to produce forward momentum.
People are like Pokémon. Look at them as having opportunities and strengths, and the more of them you have, the more valuable you become. I didn’t fully grasp this myself until I moved to Chicago in 2014 after a contract I was working on in Kajaki, Afghanistan was canceled. I found the power of a strong network of people from different industries helped open my eyes to many new types of careers, social communities, and more. I’m not saying that you have to move to a big city; I’m saying that the power of a supportive network of people can make a world of difference, especially through a transitional point of your life. You’ll have to leave your comfort zone, but the feeling of anxiety is just a growing pain. Few, if any of us, can remember “teething” as a baby, but we know that experiencing the pain of growth gets easier.
I’ll leave you with a few bullet points to try and help you put these ideas into practice.
· ASK: Asking is the most powerful way to receive information. You can start by asking Google “Fun careers for people who like (Insert name of something you like). Find someone in that field on LinkedIn and message them. You could also search that job title on Facebook. People like being asked for their expertise, and these are tools that you can use because there is really no excuses for not knowing what you want to do.
· FIND A MENTOR: Find a social community in your city or online, and don’t necessarily set out to find a mentor in those communities; as with most relationships in life, it’s often when we’re not looking for them that the most satisfying experiences present themselves. Don’t settle because you’re rushing to find someone, find the person most suited for you.
· STOP WORRYING: Don’t worry about what your peers will think of you; pursue something you enjoy and feel purposeful doing. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish when you’re only thinking about meeting your own expectations.
· EXCUSES: Stop. Excuses are incredibly annoying; no one wants to hear you complain outside of your secret journal. Everyone hits a roadblock at some point, and it’s just that. A roadblock. Use it as a learning experience, there are no true failures if you’re always looking for a solution. Eliminate the paths that haven’t led to where you want to be, and move forward.
Be bold. Be fearless, and when you can’t be fearless, be courageous. Keep trying in the face of failure, as failure comprises almost every step on the path to success. Recognize the things that aren’t working and use them as learning experiences. Don’t complain, adapt. Use the resources that you have, and ask for help. Make sure you remember those that helped you on your path. Stop worrying about things that you can’t change, fix the things you can, and start doing. You’re the only one who can change your reality.