Expectations Vs. Reality: Exiting the Military and Finding a New Purpose

Expectations Vs. Reality: Exiting the Military and Finding a New Purpose


As we begin to exit the military, whatever our job may be, we are told to find a new purpose. To establish what our next mission will be before we ever take off the uniform for the last time. The military invests an untold amount of money in helping us all make that transition and establish what our new purpose might be. Different business and governmental agencies offer hiring preferences and incentives to veterans. It is honestly outright easy to find a job after one leaves the military. Really, the vast number of opportunities available may seem overwhelming and daunting. Therefore, I find it difficult to believe simply finding a job is an issue for vets upon separation, though I certainly know unemployment amongst this community is an issue and I do not wish to diminish that, but I’m about to dissect a separate issue entirely. I am talking about how important it is to find a new purpose and the positive impact it will have on your post military life. But is this all one should focus on?

     First, please do not misunderstand me. Finding purpose in your life, veteran or otherwise, is essential to living a happy life. Without it, we are just random beings who are not in control of or dictating how the course of our lives will go. A new purpose is just part of the key to finding a new life post-service. Recognizing how challenging and shocking the transition will be is arguably more important, at least for the first year after separation. I am not sure if I really believe in regrets, that’s for another essay to explore, but I wish I had given myself more time and grace when I left the army. I did have a new purpose, a new career path clearly outlined and so well planned out. I left the army on a Friday and started work and college the following Monday. I thought staying busy and just “getting after it” was the way to make this transition as smooth as possible. I am wrong often and I was certainly wrong about this. I should have allowed myself more time to simply process what this new life was going to look like and set realistic expectations for myself.

     Leaving the military is hard. For me, it was extremely hard. I thought I was doing all the right things. Working full time, going to college full time, and I was building a new friend group. But I constantly struggled with trying to find my new place in the civilian world. It felt like I was so close to completing this puzzle but was just missing this one piece. To be honest with you, I don’t think I have ever found it. Maybe that piece is just supposed to be missing. Maybe I was not meant to truly “move on” from my old job. Maybe that was supposed to be and remain imprinted on my being. As the years went on, I began to shift my mindset from making a full transition from military to civilian life to finding balance between those two lives. This shift in thinking has been extremely helpful and productive and has resulted in my mental and physical health improving greatly.

     We are so inundated with advice and directions on how to find our new way after our service. I am not trying to add to the noise of that topic. As I write this, I have been out of the army now for seven years and am by no means an expert of, well, anything really. However, if I could give myself one piece of advice back in the day, it would be to simply be realistic about how difficult the changes would be and to just cut myself a little bit of slack. To allow myself to mourn the loss of the old job, to miss the boys that I had grown so close to, and to realize that maybe I’ll never be as cool as I once was, and that really is ok. Above all else, I am so blessed to be alive and healthy and happy. We all know so many that we worked closely with that were not so lucky and died doing the job we all love so much. And even worse, we are cursed with the suicide epidemic of GWOT vets. I choose to dictate how my life’s story will be told. I will choose to continue to live my best life for my brothers and sisters who no longer have that option. I will not be a statistic in a poll about veteran suicide or unemployment. And most of all, I will live a happy and free life because I have earned it, we all have.

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