Reintegration from the Inside-Out: How to Tell a Better Story about Life Beyond the Military
Both times that I left the military, I fell out of formation and stepped into great jobs. Back in 2000, I did everything the counselors from the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) told me to do. Again in 2015, I completed the mandatory parts of the Soldier For Life (SFL) program. I had the added benefit of career services from my MBA program to help me through the tactics of resume preparation and networking to reinforce my efforts. Even though I did everything I was required to do, I had a terrible transition experience. I had well-paying jobs, but I didn't have any sense of purpose or belonging. I was miserable.
I know I'm not alone. Given the relatively low unemployment rate, veterans don't seem to have a hard time finding a job. Given the high turnover and underemployment, they do have a hard time finding that sense of fulfillment and connection in life beyond the military. Perhaps we think that when we start a new job, we can just stop being the soldier. Changing your external reality in order to change your internal state of being doesn't work. Maybe we should invert that process. Successful reintegration from the inside-out is how we discover our sense of purpose, meaning, and connection in the right job for a better story about life beyond the military.
The Challenge of Reintegration
Once you submit your request for resignation or retirement, the military institution will process you out of the service. You're going to leave. Along the way, transition programs will provide assistance for building a resume, formatting cover letters, networking opportunities across different industries, and preparing for interviews. They may even connect you with career fairs, alumni groups, and non-profit organizations to widen your reach. These programs are extremely valuable and important, but they won't help you discover your underlying passions and unique purpose to find the same kind of meaning and fulfillment you enjoyed for so many years through the military.
We disconnect from the the service - the military tribe, but we struggle to find our tribe in civilian society. The sad thing is that too many of us don't even know what we are looking for.
Disconnection is the enemy we face during transition. The reason why we feel so disconnected is because simply changing the external environment with a new place of employment isn't enough.
Your habits are powerful impulses. You will feel inclined to do the things that brought you success in the military. Don't be surprised when your mannerisms and personality traits from the military fail to resonate with your new colleagues and direct reports in the civilian world. Culture matters. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. I couldn't just be the commander in ordinary society. Because I still thought and felt like a soldier, I pushed people away. I didn't mean to, but that was the unintended consequence of forcing my military persona upon our civilian society. I just didn't know how to grow beyond my identity as a soldier.
Your Next Mission Statement and Commander's Intent Comes from YOU
Reintegration is a process that must necessarily begin from the inside-out. How you think in your head and feel in your heart must evolve before you can connect on an emotional and energetic level to inspire others as a veteran leader in society. Allow YOUR values and YOUR purpose to define YOUR path. Set your intention to create the life you want to live. Remember, the mission statement and commander's intent that you follow for the rest of your life can only come from YOU.
The inside-out process of reintegration is about seeing your attributes and qualities as a leader without familiar cover and concealment of the military culture. Once you are confident and assured in your identity beyond the uniform, you won't think and feel like the soldier. Here's the good news: You're actually better! You achieve a higher level of consciousness. You repurpose the military experience and begin to think and feel as YOU. That provides the necessary potential to discover the right role, position, or job in your next career. You can step confidently into your authentic identity as the leader you were meant to be.
Internalize and Repurpose
You may be thinking that you don't want to lose everything you learned and gained through the military. I agree. You can't separate the soldier from an individual's identity. Those years are imprinted in the cross-section of our character and personality. The knowledge and experience you gained as a soldier helped to mold you into the leader you currently are. However, you can internalize that experience and repurpose your leadership qualities for an even higher level of self-actualization when you leave the military.
Military leaders in primitive cultures ascended to become the chieftains, wise elders, and statesmen of the tribe, so why would a transitioning military leader settle for being just a 'Soldier' for Life when history suggests you could be so much more?
Reintegration from the inside-out doesn't mean that you ignore, reject, or forget the military aspects of your identity. On the contrary, they become the structure and vehicle for your continued growth beyond the military.
Each year in the military provides the imprint of another "ring" that defines your character and shapes your personality. The totality of the years - these rings - tells a story. Internalization is the process of taking your military experience and repurposing it for continued growth for the next challenge in your life. If you still think and feel like a soldier, you still are one. This becomes problematic when you're no longer standing in a military formation. Let's face it, when you are ready to retire or leave the military, you've essentially outgrown the soldier to become something more.
As you imagine what happens next, embrace the potential to think and feel as YOU - the leader you were meant to be. Know the WHO and the WHY of your story. Understand how to repurpose your traits and attributes as a leader. Seize the opportunity to determine what happens next - on YOUR terms. The cross-section of your life tells a great story, but now you have a chance to write an even better sequel about your life beyond the military.
Jason Roncoroni is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Army and a professional coach. As the President of Ordinary Hero Coaching, he specializes in transition, life, and executive coaching for military leaders who want to be successful executives and veteran leaders across society.
Photo courtesy of author