Navigating Post-Military Transition: Five Questions to Keep You On Course

This post is an original article written by veteran Jeff Decker. Jeff is Army veteran who writes about how veterans can overcome the invisible wounds of war and leverage their military experiences  to achieve their personal goals.

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

For many of us, we can’t wait to get out of the military and have our independence back. We think about how great it will be to not have to shave every day or stand in formation. Seldom do we think about the benefits all of the guidance the military provided. Seldom do we think about the meaning that all that guidance provided. It isn’t until we have exited the military that we realized how good we had it.

Let’s face it, being in the military was pretty awesome. Our purpose was clearly laid out. We are given guidance on what needed to be done, told what accomplishing a task successfully looks like, how accomplishing that task fits into the broader mission, and what we needed to do once that task was completed. Everyone had a purpose and everyone’s effort contributed to some pretty amazing things.. Make no mistake without the cooks, military police, water purifiers, and warfighters, we could not deploy a million-person army thousands of miles away to join the fight.

Outside of the military, many of veterans struggle to find their purpose and have trouble making sense of how they can contribute to a greater good or find satisfaction. The path is not clearly laid out. There is very little guidance. We feel all alone.

The good news is that you don’t need to put back on the uniform in order to regain your sense of purpose. This post will help you recognize your own needs so that you can find your purpose outside of the military. It poses 5 questions that are critical to helping veterans uncover the areas in their life that they derive the most meaning. The post follows Einstein’s wisdom, noted in the quote above, by helping you identify which goals have the most meaning to you. Once you have figured out those goals, then the execution is too easy.

What do I need to do in order to feel successful?

Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Accomplishing aims gives you a feeling of value, especially since most military folks are goal-oriented. Without accomplishment you feel as though you lack purpose.

Now that you are out of the military, for better or worse, you are the boss. You determine how you spend your time. You are the only one responsible for your success or failure. That said, you need to know what does success look like to you? What do you need in order to feel successful?

What specific aims or purposes must you accomplish in order to feel successful? Said another way, how do you measure success? Is it the amount of money you earn? How much you bench press? The number of days you have for vacation in a year?

What do I need to do in order to feel fulfilled?

Fulfillment is the satisfaction one feels as a result of achievement. It is the good feeling you have once you have finished something. Fulfillment differs from success in that the outcome of fulfillment is satisfaction whereas the outcome of success is accomplishment. An easy way to think about the difference between success and failure is to think back to what it was like to get smoked. Even though you successfully got through the barrage of push-ups, you probably didn’t feel very satisfied.

Fulfillment is more than success. It is what makes life worth living. Therefore, it is imperative that you understand what you need to feel fulfilment.

What do you need to achieve to feel satisfaction?

What makes you feel BOTH successful and fulfilled?

Success and failure, accomplishment and satisfaction, are all needed to leading a complete life, each is necessary but none is sufficient to leading a complete life. You need both.

Just consider some of the celebrities that are wildly successful and seem to have it all but are seriously unhappy. They are unhappy because they lack the satisfaction of being successful in an area that gives them a sense of satisfaction.

So the key is to concentrate your efforts on things that make you feel BOTH successful and fulfilled.

Do the things that you wrote down for success also make you feel fulfilled? Are there things you wrote down that make you feel satisfied that also make you feel accomplished?

If so, then these are the things that you need to concentrate on developing. If not, then go back and think about some needs that overlap from success and fulfillment.

What would your life be like if you didn’t believe that you needed to do this?

Let’s be honest, a lot of your goals are bullshit. Driving a fancier car or having a bigger house rarely makes people happier.

Many people strive to accomplish aims or purposes that are not grounded in reality. They confuse success with fulfillment. Our society doesn’t help in this matter either because success is that fancy car or huge house! Unfortunately, very few people that successfully achieve these things are truly happy.

If fact, you would feel a lot more successful and fulfilled if you didn’t believe that these things would bring you happiness in the first place. How great would it be to feel as successful and fulfilled driving an old rust bucket than driving a brand new Bentley?! Life would be so much simpler and easier! The trouble is that it is difficult to figure out which goals are important and which are bullshit.

The easiest way to figure this out is to envision what your life would be like if you didn’t have a specific need or desire. What would your life be like if you didn’t actually feel like you needed a new and fancy car? Would your life be that much worse off? Would forgetting this need actually make your life better?

Go through you list and ask yourself what it would be like if you didn’t believe that you needed this. If you think that your life would be better without this need, it probably suggests that it is something that you can, and should, get rid of.

When you look at what you wrote down as your success and fulfillment lists, what does your gut tell you?

Go through your success and fulfillment lists and ask yourself how these things make you feel. Does it inspire you to take action? Does it stress you out and make you feel anxious?

Realizing how a goal makes you feel at the gut level can be a clear indication of whether it is one that you want in your life. Remember, you aren’t in the military any longer. Your life doesn’t have to suck. It only sucks if you make it suck. The choice is yours.

Conclusion

You didn’t join the military to become a rich. You joined because it made sense to YOU. Now that you are a civilian again make sure that you do the things that make sense to YOU personally – those things that make you feel successful and fulfilled. Figuring those things out begins with knowing what matters most to you.

This is just a quick exercise but hopefully it has allowed you to discover one or two things that you can begin doing to give yourself a sense of success and fulfillment.

Did you enjoy this post? Please comment below and share with your network in order to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health. You can sign up for updates from Head Space and Timing, check out Jeff’s Blog at March On Veteran, and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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