I had two really cool conversations today. One was with a total stranger. The other was with a young man I’ve known for years.
The first conversation was with a Tampa Policeman, who is the resource officer at my oldest son’s high school. Great guy. He recently retired from the Ranger Regiment. The second conversation, a young Captain I’ve mentored for years was a Green Beret who recently left active duty after years of combat. He’s like a son to me.
Although these men have never met. They have a lot in common. Both recently left the Army after the longest war in our history. These men are also trying to figure out what to do next. And it ain’t easy. Each of them feels a knot in his stomach from the departure of the warrior path. There is an noticeable emptiness that was once filled by the challenge and brotherhood from years of special operations.
Each has a driving desire to fill that gap. My new friend, the Policeman, has been an insurance salesman, a law enforcement officer, and now he’s thinking about going into federal law enforcement. He’s almost fifty! My old friend, the Green Beret, immediately joined Special Forces Reserve, has contemplated going back to school, working for a non-profit organization, and most recently, is considering a foreign posting to teach special operations as a civilian.
It’s not just these two guys. I have a survey going right now to determine how special operators feel about their impending transitions. The answers are very similar. There is a lot of anxiety out there. Regardless of age or experience, most veterans realize they are stepping into the abyss when it comes to leaving the service.
Just one year after retiring from my 23 year career, I have the same challenge. Spend a few moments perusing my web site, and you’ll quickly agree with my wife, that I have a lot of “irons in the fire.”
Conventional wisdom opposes this approach. Most folks will tell you to “settle in” and focus on one thing.
If that’s what you want to do, fine. But, I disagree – the world is changing. The skills that special operators and other veterans bring to civilian society are unmatched. And doing more than one thing, in a right – brain kind of way, is the way the world is trending.
Yes, we’ve been through a lot of crap. We’ve got our challenges. But, we’re not the “island of misfit toys.” We’ve got a lot of assets in our rucksack and I hope that all of you will consider that when you think about your next steps.
I still struggle, just like you do, but I have managed to get myself financially free, and I’m pursuing a hole host of new dreams. It’s possible and I hope you’ll join me. Here are a few thoughts to consider for your transition that I am still learning how to do:
Don’t settle. Identify new dreams and chase them.
Maybe it’s opening your own business. Maybe it’s giving back through non-profits, helping other wounded veterans.
Maybe it’s getting a 9-5 job and focusing on your family. Any of these are great.
Just don’t settle. Operators and Veterans are big on goals, so don’t leave them with your military gear when you hang up the boots.
If you can’t achieve your new dream through professional endeavors, then find a way to do it in your off time, but fill the void.
– It’s okay not to know what you want yet. You’re not going crazy. Well, maybe you are, but this is not a symptom of it. As an operator or other veteran, you were expected to do a million different things. You built an amazing capacity to do a lot of stuff. It’s only natural that you may take on multiple things as you filter through what matters most to you.
And who knows? Your interests may chance as you go through the different cycles of post-service life. Just roll with it.
– Communication with those close to us is critical. Let’s face it, we’ve been through some things that are tough for us to explain, and tough for our loved ones to understand. That doesn’t mean you don’t try. I screw this up all the time. I really do. I am still learning how to communicate with my wife, boys, and others on where I am and where I am going.
It’s especially hard when the “snakes in my head” start their mad slithering. But, it has to be done. Only through communicating with each other can we find a common path that works for everyone.
– Finally at the risk of sounding a little cliché, it really is the journey – not the destination that matters. Even if we get scuffed up along the way, it’s the thrills and spills of figuring this path out that make the path worth walking. Hell, isn’t that what we loved most about special operations and military service – the ride…the brotherhood?!
If you’re having trouble communicating, reach out to a fellow warrior, a support group, a family member…reach out to someone.
Meanwhile, take a deep breath, and enjoy the journey. Odds are, you have all the skills you need, and more to get there.
You’ll get to that next ridge line. And when you do, you’re best memories will likely be of the crazy valley you just walked through to get there.
Do me a favor, if you know a guy or gal who could benefit from these thoughts on transition, share it with them. And if you get a chance, drop me a note below, and tell me what you think.
De Oppresso Liber
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