The military teaches you a whole host of things — how to endure difficult circumstances, how to lead others, how to work within a huge bureaucracy, and it instills a crazy high level of discipline. It also instills a serious work ethic in a lot of people that makes them more productive than they’ve ever been in their entire lives.
Upon separation from the armed forces, many veterans subconsciously believe that the military ethos and all its values comes with them, but that is only partially true. There is something to be said about the process of applying those traits to civilian life. It’s not automatic! Many fall into the trap of assuming these traits are now a part of them, not a tool that’s simply accessible to them.
The military work ethic is a perfect example of this. In the civilian world, you have to put your whole heart, body, and soul into something in order to be really successful, just like you did in the military — only now, no one is enforcing success, standing over your bed if you wake up late, or pressuring you to improve your performance until you get it right.
More often than not, if you under-perform they’ll just fire you. End of story. If you don’t put the work into your relationship or friendships, they’ll just dissolve. End of story. In many ways it’s easier; in many ways it’s harder.
So what do you do? Knowing that these skills don’t automatically transfer is the first step. You have to understand that the values instilled within from the military do not automatically transfer over to civilian life unless you put in the work. Plenty of veterans have the tools for success, but are still failing classes, losing jobs, and watching their relationships spiral away from them.
The next step is a shift in mindset. You have to find objectives and treat them accordingly. Sure, it’s easy to treat an enemy bunker as an objective, but what about an art class that, like it or not, you’ve been assigned to? What about a spouse who you love but you can’t figure out how to talk to about subjects she finds sensitive? What about that passion-filled career that you can’t seem to find?
Do what you did in the military. Figure out what the objective is and apply any tools you’ve got to take it. Have an art class you’d rather not be in, but is a requirement for your degree? Jump in headfirst and put your whole body, mind, and soul into whatever painting or student film you’re a part of. It may feel stupid, but so did mopping the floors at MEPS.
If, for example, your wife or husband is sensitive to certain topics that need to be addressed, figure out how to navigate those waters. Take a humble pill and broach uncomfortable or emotional conversations. Ask yourself, “If my objective is a successful relationship/marriage, what do I need to do to make that happen?” Feelings of discomfort didn’t stop you in the military, why should they now?
Or let’s say it’s the fact that you feel like you ought to have an awesome career laid out for you, but you’re just coming up blank every time. Now your objective is to find a career you feel passionate about — or perhaps it’s to find a passion in general. What do you do to figure that out? Try new things, talk to people who are passionate about their lives or hobbies, seek advice from trusted mentors… or maybe you have to seek out trusted mentors in the first place. But you have to start looking like you were looking for lost NODs on a dropzone. Not the funnest task, but necessary.
These are just a few specific examples, but you get the idea. There is always a path forward, you just have to find it and own it. It takes that work ethic and personal discipline from the military, applied to civilian life.
If it’s something you have to do, be it for a degree or a relationship or a career, get it done. Excel in all the glorious and inglorious tasks required of that objective. If you don’t need to do it, then you shouldn’t be there in the first place. Don’t waste your time.
It’s a complicated process and everyone has to figure it out for themselves, that’s the nature of civilian life. But veterans have such an advantage — they have learned a work ethic that can be an incredible asset in every corner of their lives… but like any other tool in anyone’s toolbox, it won’t help them unless they put it to use.