A significant challenge that veterans face during transition is they find that there is a wide open space in front of them. We can either choose how we fill that space, or it will be filled for us.
The options are seemingly endless, but there are limits. Limits to our abilities, limits to our finances, the choices of geographical location. Perhaps we move back home to family, or stay at our final duty station. Maybe we take the opportunity to start over and end up in a new place that we’ve never been. While the choices are not limitless, however, the limits are so far on the horizon that it certainly appears to be so. Sometimes, when that happens, we can experience paralysis through analysis.
The fact is, though, that life is going to continue. The earth is going to continue to turn, the sun and the moon are going to traverse the sky, and we need to do something. We can either give up control and let life happen, or we can start to make choices and make life happen.
You can choose to fill up the empty space in your career after the service, or it will be filled up for you. Letting it be filled up for you is to grab the first job that comes along that pays the bills, and staying with that even though you don’t enjoy it. You are not limited by your experience, and certainly not by your job in the military. It may be tough to get into another industry, but not impossible. Allow me to illustrate.
When I joined the Army, I enlisted in the Reserves. I chose a job in logistics, Motor Transport Operator (euphemistically) or Truck Driver (reality). Through a series of circumstances…the Reserves did not have Combat Arms positions, the strange and seemingly insignificant fact (up until that point) that I didn’t seem to see colors the same way as other people, and the fact that I wanted to take the first thing smoking out of town…my job choices were limited. When I joined Active Duty a year later, I was told that I couldn’t change my job, and (again) wanting to take the first thing smoking out of town, I stayed with what I knew. So I spent twenty-two years in Logistics in the Army.
There are some really great jobs in the Logistics industry. Peers of mine have gotten good jobs as fleet managers, warehouse supervisors, route managers. For me, though, it’s not what I wanted to do, even though that would have been a comparatively easy route. Instead, I chose to fill the space in my life with something that gave me meaning and purpose: using my military experience and my education in clinical mental health counseling in order to become a therapist for other veterans. Was it easy? Of course not. It took eight years of school, from an Associates to a Masters, and that time included four deployments and a retirement. It took a lot of sacrifice on my part and my family’s part, and some interim choices had to be made. The ultimate goal, however, was to get to a place to help other veterans, and that made the challenge worth it.
You can choose to deliberately fill your emotional space, or that will be filled up for you, too. I don’t shout at the TV or the news much…all it does is keep me irritated and it doesn’t change what’s being put out there. Shaking my fist at the sky will eventually make me tired and the sky will still be there. Why get angry and frustrated at things beyond our control? It is, by definition, out of our control, so why bother to try to control it, unless we enjoy exercises in futility? I don’t know about you, but I certainly had enough of that when I was in the military. What we CAN control is how we react to a situation. We can literally choose to smile rather than to frown, to laugh rather than to cry, to believe rather than to doubt. If you think, “no we can’t,” I challenge you to try it. The “can’t” word is one that imposes false limits on the horizon.
The time in our lives is going to be filled up one way or another. There is certainly a period of time after we get out of the service where we think, “now what?” That time will be filled…maybe it’s blowing off steam (and money), maybe it’s drinking too much. Maybe you find yourself sitting on a beach or standing on a golf course, a dream that you’ve been aiming at for years, just to find out that the reality of the beach or the golf course doesn’t quite seem to match up to the dream. Maybe you find yourself working a dead-end job that doesn’t quite give you the satisfaction you had while you were in. Maybe you find yourself working a job with great opportunities, but STILL does not give you that satisfaction. Gotta pay the bills, I understand. With two teenagers rapidly and inevitably headed towards college, I know the feeling. I can choose, however, how I react to the situation, determine the goal that I want to achieve, and conduct backwards planning from there.
We have both less control over our lives, and more control. Less control than we want, and more control than we think. Finding that sweet spot between the two levels of control, and deliberately taking advantage of that gap, will lead to a greater sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.