Earlier on in my transition, I entered the corporate sector looking forward to becoming a “civilian” as so many transitioning service members do. Little did I know, that would never be my reality as it required being something — someone very different than who I was. I was never meant to blend in and become another cog within a large well-oiled machine. Many interactions with civilian employers throughout the years has only solidified this theory.
Back when I got out of the service, no one told me to be myself when I was transitioning into the civilian sector. Most of the advice seemed to suggest that I adjust to whatever the opportunity or organization needed me to be. What I found was that my insight, emotional intelligence, and leadership acumen oftentimes put me in the outhouse with employers. After butting heads with those in charge, I realized that there was no way for me to be anything other than myself. I find the problems within an organization and want to fix them. The realization became quite clear. Me trying to “fit in” to an organization became my kryptonite.
Finding Where to Thrive
The more that I tried to adapt to the culture–the more that I felt the light dimming on my once wide-eyed enthusiasm for becoming a civilian. Navigating these feelings was not easy nor discussed within the veteran community. The rhetoric from those “in charge” of the transition space would rewind and repeat their advice advising veterans to adapt to the new culture as they did in the military. The problem with that advice is that sometimes veterans are not meant to adapt in the civilian sector. They are meant to be different, change agents, and oftentimes entrepreneurs. In hindsight, I realized that my personality type fit two types of roles the best. I thrived when I was part of a high-performing team as an OCONUS contractor with a significant mission or in an entrepreneurial-based role. There was no middle ground for me and every time I attempted to plug into a traditional work setting– I would end up finding my way out of it just as fast as I found it.
Looking Back and Facing Hard Truths
The hard truth of it all is the fact that sometimes employers do not want your candor, leadership, or insight. They are more prone to letting you go versus succumbing to any of your suggestions even if it is left as a detriment to their culture. The truth is that veterans can be seen as a threat simply by standing in their authority. There is nothing that you can or even should do about it. In short, it is what it is. Instead of heeding the advice of conformity consider going in a direction that supports the best version of who you are. For me, it took years of working in the civilian sector only to have a realization that many of those jobs were not for me. Even if I was qualified for the roles, the fit was still off. Sometimes veterans will realize that they do not need to “fit in.”