One of the worst things about military life is that you don’t have any freedom to decide. And while this may seem like a bad thing, the longer you are in the military, it seems easier to accept the choices the military makes for your life. Yes, you can dream of where you want to live or what job you want to apply for, but the military makes the final choice on what happens with your career and often even on what or how you do what you do. In the end, the military has the control, so you don’t have to make the final choice. And even if you don’t like the choice the military makes, it is the one you have to follow.

Because of this dynamic, it can lead to not thinking about what you want. And more importantly, pausing to ask yourself if you really want to do this. You just do tasks in the military because someone asked you to do it. And while that makes you a good employee in one aspect. It is important to realize that when you leave the military behind, you get to decide how your life moves forward. No longer are you controlled by orders.

And this realization might feel foreign or even scary at first. However, it becomes freeing once you realize you have control over your life, and you can do anything you want to do. Anything. There are no closed doors; you just have to pick which door you want to open.

Stop and Think About What You Want to Do

But how do you know what you want? How do you learn to stop and think about you want, instead of following the instinct the military trained into you to not stop and just go and do?

1. Ask for time.

If you are given an opportunity to do something, ask for time to think about it. Maybe it is a move, maybe it is an opportunity to collaborate, maybe it is the chance to go somewhere, but whatever it is, people usually do not need an answer right away. Instead, ask for time to think about it. Depending on the situation, you could ask for a few hours, days, or a week. This might seem like an easy step, but it is something veterans can quickly jump over and instead say yes and then find out all the action items that need to be taken. It’s okay to take a beat to think about whether or not the opportunity works for you personally.

2. Ask yourself what you want and need to do.

Now that you have time, ask yourself a few questions. The first question is: do I want to do this? And then, once you answer that, ask: do I need to do this? If the answer to both of these questions is no. Then it is an easy answer. If you don’t want to do it and don’t need to do it, make sure you don’t do it. And while it is easy to see this in a hypothetical situation, I have found myself sitting with these questions and not knowing the answers. Specifically, about do I want to do something? I think this goes back to my military training where for so long I never stopped to think about what I wanted because I knew it did not matter. It was easier to suppress those feelings and instead just find the positive in the task I was required to do.

It’s a Process to Find Out What You Want

If you are not confident in what you want, you should ask more questions. Think about what is the benefit to me? And what is the cost? When you can look at if there is a benefit (career growth, opportunities in the future, etc.) and what it will cost (time, money, resources, family sacrifice, etc.), it makes it easier to see the answer of if you want to do this.

The longer I get away from my military service, the more I realize the lingering impact military life still has on me today. And I need to relearn the most basic things to have the best life for myself. So, if you are leaving the military, stop and think about what you want for your future and then start working toward that dream.



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Amanda is a military spouse and veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer including a deployment to Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career. She published her first book in 2019 titled Women of the Military, sharing the stories of 28 military women. In 2019 she also launched her podcast also titled Women of the Military. In 2020, she was published as a collaborative author in Brave Women Strong Faith. And in 2021, she launched a YouTube channel to help young women answer their questions about military life, Girl’s Guide to the Military. You can learn more about Amanda at her blog Airman to Mom.