There are a lot of struggles upon transitioning out of the military. Going from a soldier, airman, Marine or a sailor to the overarching “veteran” title is quite the change–from the military dictating every step of your life to a giant free-for-all. If you don’t pay your rent, you’re going to be homeless. If you don’t feed your kids, they’re going to get hungry.

However, most of my friends have kept off the streets and made themselves valuable, functioning cogs in the great American machine. But the internal struggle remains a prevalent one, and it is certainly not exclusive toward veterans. Still, that burning question never seems to go away: What’s my place in the world?

The difficulty with veterans is that this question was answered, at least for a brief period in their lives. Love it or hate it, many service members felt a sense of belonging and service while they were in, even if they didn’t know it. When you leave, that sense of purpose is suddenly a dark void in your heart that bears down on you, an invisible weight that you can’t quite articulate. You got a taste of what it’s like to serve something greater than yourself, and now you’re back to square one–even if you’re putting a hundred thousand bucks in the bank every year.

Image courtesy of the USAF

People are different. Some people have known what they wanted to do with their lives from as early as first grade, and they never wavered. The military was just a young person’s thirst for adventure or born from a compelling sense of duty, but it never detracted them from their end goal. But everything rides on that one thing, and the worry is constantly scraping at the back of their mind: if I fail here, what else is there for me? It’s all or nothing and if that goal is something incredibly lofty, like being a rock-star or a senator one day, the chances of failure are high; that purpose walks a knife’s edge. They just have to give it a shot, otherwise they’ll never know. It’s always possible to adjust fire once you get the lay of the land and understand the ins and outs of your new career.

Some people have no idea what they want and they never have. They’re good at some things, but unsure as to whether or not it would make a great career–they often bounce around, longing for that burning desire to fulfill some specific purpose, they just have no idea what it is. At some point, they just have to dive in. Only then can they figure out whether or not it’s going to fill that void.

Others could be fulfilled by multiple things and they know it, they just have to pick one. Of course, they are going to be unsure as to whether that will ever feel like the service and meaning of the military–whether or not any of those things will ever be enough. But like the last group, there’s only one way to find out: pick one and dive in.

And finally some people eventually find that, after the military, their life goals aren’t necessarily tied to their work. Work is just a means to make money so they can do what they want on their free time, or the means to support a family–those are their goals, not their career.

Many are a combination of the above, and many don’t know under which “category” they fit. Despite the differences here, there is one distinct commonality: moving forward. The glory days of the military are over. It’s fun to talk about and those skills are invaluable, but the only way to continue on in life is to find a new goal and run toward it. That often means starting at the bottom of some ladder and making the blistering climb up.