Leaving the military can be challenging. And one of the hardest challenges is for military members to figure out what they are going to do next once they leave military service. For many, a military career has given them not only training and expertise to do their job as a warfighter but it can often translate into a new career in a civilian equivalent. And while it seems straightforward to follow the career that you have training in, it might not be the best choice for your post-military life. One of the best things you can do when you leave the military is to take a leap of faith and try something new.
When I left the military, I could have easily taken my career as a civil engineer and transitioned into a new role as an engineer in one of the many civilian companies offering engineering opportunities. And while I often doubted if I made the choice to pursue a new career after leaving military service, I am incredibly grateful and so much happier than I ever was in my military role in engineering.
I had picked engineering because it was the career the military needed to be filled. I liked math and science, so it seemed like the right path. Not only did it offer an opportunity within the military, but it had the potential for a great career when I left. It made sense. It checked all the boxes.
But I never asked the question, “What do I want to do?” I never dreamed about what I loved to do, and how I could make that a career. I used the logical side of my brain and made the right choice for the future. It was an interesting career, and I did enjoy it. However, I often found myself bored moving numbers from one column to another, creating PowerPoint updates, and dreaming about not sitting behind a desk.
I decided to leave engineering behind to be a stay-at-home mom when I left the military. I assumed I would step back onto the engineering path after a few years. I could go back to being stuck behind a computer, but making a good paycheck and doing something I didn’t hate. But as luck would have it, I started writing and following things I was passionate about as I worked to be both a stay-at-home mom and an entrepreneur. And the more I got into what I wanted to do and what my future looked like, the farther and farther away I drifted from engineering.
If you are about to leave the military, take the time to think about what you want to do. This might be an exercise you do because your military career field doesn’t have a civilian equivalent. But even if you see everything lining up for your future career in the same industry you currently work in, follow these short steps and start opening up the door for future opportunities.
It may not alter your path today or even in the next five years. But it might open a door to a hobby, volunteer opportunity, or side hustle that could change your life in the future. Many military members fill the gaps of what the military needs when they join the military instead of following what they are passionate about.
So take five minutes to brainstorm about what you like to do, and what you are passionate about. What makes you excited? What changes do you want to see in the world?
For me, this exercise would have been hard. So if your first five-minute brainstorming session has you questioning what your passion is and what you actually want to do and you end up with a blank page instead of a page filled with words, do not be discouraged. Wait a week or a few days, reach out to a mentor, and then sit down and try again. Give yourself time to process. Give yourself time to think. So you can find the next best career field for you. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is answering the what you like to do or are passionate about questions.
Once you complete your brainstorming session(s), pull out keywords to see if there are careers that line up with your passion. Then connect with others who are doing the career you are considering. Learn all you can about what the work entails and then take time and think if it’s the right fit for you.
Don’t be distracted by job offers that may come in along the way. If you’re not excited about them, try not to focus just on the size of your paycheck. Think about the work you are about to do.
This isn’t an easy process. It may take time to figure out how to reprogram your thoughts to focus on you and what you want. Finding the right job immediately after leaving the military is the most desirable situation, but don’t be discouraged if it takes a few twists and turns along the way. It is worth the effort to figure out where your passions lie and use the tools and skills you learned from the military for your next career – a career focused on you.