I lost everything I owned three years after leaving the Navy, including my marriage. Then I picked myself up, dusted off, and built a new life outside of my service. It was a tough, lonely, and sometimes scary, road. As we are experiencing one of the largest migrations of combat veterans to civilian life since World War II, it is my goal to share my own transition experience with the hope I can make it a bit easier for others by learning from my mistakes.

It’s tough going from a predictable routine, and a group of people you can trust to an unscripted life on the outside. It must be similar to being in prison for 10 years and getting out with no routine and in a strange world. For me, it was hard because when I left the Navy and the SEAL community, I had just made chief petty officer and many were resentful that I was leaving mid-career. They saw my leaving as wasting an E7 billet. There were more than a few rumbling voices at command. But, I’ve always had a strong opinion about doing 110 percent of something straight to the end, and if that meant putting my all into the job and getting promoted early, only to leave it all behind, then so be it.

I didn’t get too much support when I left, outside of my immediate family. Many veterans do not and that’s unfortunate because I think a lot of vets end up drifting off into bad places because there’s a genuine lack of community outside the military once you leave. If you’re thinking of the known veteran groups, most just aren’t relevant to the modern vet in transition. I keep hearing about the “Brotherhood,” but it really exists in a small part at the unit level only. It is heavily glamorized in film, TV, and social media — mostly by those who never served or worse, veterans who can’t leave their career behind and are clinging to some false narrative.

I’ll summarize my story as quickly as possible below, and then get on to the top 10 transition tips I think will be most helpful to my fellow veterans.

My Story

I left the Navy in the summer of 2006 just after my youngest son was born. I extended to make sure we had good healthcare in place. Aside from paying for college, another huge benefit to serving is the healthcare is really good. You’ll not have the same healthcare on the outside but I’ll get to that later. My plan was to do overseas contracting for a year and to start a business on the side. My best friend, Glen Doherty, recruited me to a special program and I was approved for deployment during my paid leave in the military and already had my first deployment date to Iraq.

I did several deployments over the first year and a half which allowed me to save enough money to support my family. I enrolled in school to take several business courses and started writing my first business plan for a racetrack facility with government training. We spent a year just looking for land and eventually found a nice parcel. After we got the project approved through the local government, the economy completely collapsed under the mortgage loan crisis. (Watch “The Big Short,” a great movie that explains what happened.) Our funding dried up, and to make matters worse, an environmental group sued the county over the environmental report, and the project was dead. Welcome to development in the People’s Republic of California.

Then, just to make things more interesting, my marriage ended. We tried to work on things but realized we’d be better off apart and thankfully, have developed a deep connection and friendship for our kids’ sake. I’ll write more on this later because if you have children, it’s worth making the investment and sacrifice to maintain a good relationship with your co-parent. And contrary to many stories I’ve heard, divorce can have a positive outcome. So there I was, no business, no money (in fact, I was in debt), and no family. I went from being an involved dad to one who saw his kids on the weekends. It was rough but, one of the greatest gifts I took from working as a sniper instructor was the time I spent with some of the best and brightest with a positive mental outlook. This saved me a lot of pain, and it was an extremely humbling experience all-around. I cried many nights alone as a 30-something who went from the top of my career as a Navy SEAL to losing it all on the outside.

I ended up taking a few odd jobs, then landed at an amazing division of L-3 Communications in San Diego. I had incredible co-workers and an amazing woman boss, and they trained me up as a business development executive. I did this for about two years as I was starting to write and blog on the side.