Over the years, I have observed many people transition from military service. I did so with great interest because I knew, like everyone else who is called to serve, I would eventually be facing the same challenges. I learned enough by watching them to know that preparation matters. Of all the challenges I saw others face, there was one that concerned me the most. It was not finding a job. It was not navigating VA benefits. And it was not planning a ceremony. It was Letting Go.
With so many of us allowing our profession to become our identity, what happens when we no longer wear the uniform?
I have heard at least a few teammates refer to the transition as being a transition from a life of meaning to a life of irrelevance. One day we are a recognized expert in our field and the next no one asks us for our opinion. One day we are an integral part of a team and the next we are an afterthought. One day we are part of a cause so much greater than ourself and the next we are the only one looking out for ourself. This may sound dramatic and it is, but it’s how I have witnessed others feel and these are sentiments I have heard others express. Letting go was hard for them, so how might I ensure it won’t be so hard for me?
I think it’s important to define exactly what it is we are letting go of. Are we letting go of our job, our mission, our team, our service, our profession, our identity?
Over the years…
I have let go of many jobs; most jobs I loved and a few I didn’t. No matter how much I enjoyed the job, I turned it over to another capable individual after a thorough mindmeld. For that reason, letting go of each job was easy. I stand ready to let go of my job and am excited about the next.
I have let go of many missions. I found meaning in every mission of which I was a part. When the mission was accomplished, letting go was easy. Given that most missions are enduring, when it was time to reassign me to the next mission, I was good with that. New mission means new challenges. New challenges mean new problems to help solve. And new problems to help solve mean growth. I stand ready to let go of my mission and am excited about the next.
I have let go of many teams. I loved every team to which I was assigned, but I didn’t love everyone on those teams. So though I have said goodbye to the team, I keep the individuals with whom I connected an important part of my life. I stand ready to let go of my team and am excited about joining the next.
I am in the process of letting go of my service. The Navy never loved me. It never loved any of us. It treats us all with dignity and respect, helps us grow as human beings, and provides us with amazing opportunities, but it never loved us. It was a contractual relationship that some overly romantacize. I love serving in the Navy and gave it my entire adult life to date, but I long ago embraced the fact that it was my family and friends who deserved my love. And though I am loyal to my service, I never let it define me. As soon as my service lets go of me, I stand ready to let go of my service (though it will always be a part of me).
I am not letting go of my profession. I have long seen my profession not as a Naval Officer, but as a leader committed to strengthening partnerships, generating insights, and delivering outcomes. I chose to do that as a Sailor. I will continue to do that in another industry. I am not letting go of my profession.
I am not letting go of my identity. I am a husband, father, and friend who happens to be a Naval Officer. In a few months, I will no longer be one of those things, but I will forever be committed to the others. I am not letting go of my identity.
Because I have been thinking about and mentally preparing for transition for years, I know I will be ready. That said, I am increasingly concerned about how we prepare our fellow servicemembers to let go. We shouldn’t be content with it being a singular, mandatory, outsourced class that all take before the transition. I know it doesn’t have to be that way because there are amazing programs out there and I have been fortunate enough to leverage a few of them. If we have any expectation of our teammates having a meaningful life after the military, we must encourage our juniors and peers to make life outside the military a priority. We must help them frame their jobs, their profession, their relationships, and their service in a way that helps them understand that a life of service is noble and that we can live an equally relevant life beyond our service.
- How do you frame your identity?
- How do you frame your priorities?
- How do you ensure you remain relevant in the eyes of those who truly matter to you?