At a panel on transitioning out of the military, a member of the audience asked “I’m doing so much for my job with the military I don’t have time to prepare for my transition out of the military, what should I do?” The answer: “It is time to drop your pack. You need to start handing off your responsibilities so you can focus on yourself.”

Leaving the military is a challenge in itself. Many members leave what was their first full-time job when they began between the ages of 18-22. And now, they are looking for their next career – one outside of military service. And while you can say that people in life transition from job to job all the time, the gravity of leaving the military is more than a job change. It’s a career that encompasses not only your nine to five but where you will live, and sometimes even gives the members a purpose greater than themselves. It isn’t any wonder that even as the countdown clock to their last day of service approaches, they fight to hold on to the work they are doing instead of focusing on themselves and what comes next.

If you are within six months of transitioning out of the military, you need to start to drop your pack. Start unloading things that can be done by someone else. And definitely stop adding to your pack. Do not take on new assignments, and don’t volunteer to lead new programs or initiatives. Start focusing on yourself and your future. The military will survive without you in it. Now, you need to start focusing on surviving without the military in your life.

And while you can give 110% up until the moment you get your DD214. It is wise to start to take a step back. Focus on yourself and work to prepare for the next phase of life.

Start to lighten your load

Here are five practical steps you can take to help to start to drop things off your plate so that you can have the time to prepare for leaving the military and starting your new career.

1. Sign up for your base’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

Military members can take TAP at any time but must take the mandated portion highlighting VA benefits within six months of transitioning out of the military. If you are more than six months away from transitioning but want to start to learn what you can do to prepare for your transition out of the military, feel free to sign up and take the course. I took TAP for the first time two years before leaving. I was trying to decide my next step and going to TAP helped me decide to stay in the military a little longer.

2. Look into career opportunities

There are opportunities available to transitioning service members. Check out internship opportunities. The most popular one is JTEST-AI which allows you to spend up to the last 180 days while serving on active duty working for an industry of your choice through the program. And you don’t have to work in an industry related to your current specialty code. There are other internship opportunities, so make sure to do your research and talk to your TAP office to see what programs are available for you.

3. Find VSO that helps with transitioning (talk about vets to industry, veterati, hiring our heroes)

When I was in the Air Force and leaving the military, I didn’t know how many organizations were there to help you as you leave the military. One of the main problems I had was that I found out about these organizations well after leaving the military. One of my favorites is Veterati. They offer the opportunity to receive a free 1-hour mentorship from others who have served and made the transition. There are so many great VSO (outside of the big well-known VSOs like the VFW, American Legion, and DAV). So do a quick google search to see if there is an organization that supports your unique situation and get involved.

4. Create your virtual resume on career sites (ClearanceJobs, Indeed, etc.)

Build your virtual resume now. It doesn’t matter if you are leaving the military in six months or in five years. Life can change unexpectedly and having an up-to-date resume is so important. It is even better when you have that resume out in the world at career sites like ClearanceJobs, so you can start building connections. Networking is one of the best ways to find a career after military service and using all the options available to you and making your network today will help you in the future.

5. Let people know what you are looking for

Once you have decided to get out of the military, let people know that you are looking for a new career and what you want to do. Building a network is excellent and something that you have been doing throughout your career. But if people don’t know what you are looking for and how they can help you, they won’t be able to. So make sure to share you are leaving the military and preparing for your next career. And if you want to make a switch to a new career field, start reaching out to people in that career field so you can grow your network and hopefully get pointed into the next right career for you.

It’s a Journey

The journey from military life to civilian life can be challenging with a few bumps along the way. But the earlier you start to take a step back and focus on your new future it can make that transition a little bit easier and help you prepare for the next stage of life.


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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.