In the final installment of this article series, I’d like to share some of the things I have both learned, experienced, and seen first hand in relation transitioning from the military. The point of this piece is not to provide a check list of things people should and should not do prior to getting out. Far from it. I am simply sharing what I believe to be the key points in the hopes that at least one person may take something away from this.
First of all – and not that this should be a surprise to anyone who has served – but always have a Plan B. This means that regardless of where you are in your military career, you should ask yourself the question of what you would do if you needed to discharge tomorrow. What civilian industry are your skills directly relevant to? Could you walk straight into a job with little or no extra training? What education or trade do you have to fall back on? What network of friends and former colleagues in the civilian world do you have and actively maintain?
Even if you are a career soldier, you may hit a point in your life where this ambition may change. You may suffer a career ending injury. You may want a change of career altogether. Or you may just want out of the military simply because you’ve had enough. I’ve experienced this first hand and also seen it with friends from my unit. Guys have suffered injuries on deployment or in training which means that they can no longer be commandos. Whilst the unit has great support programs to keep injured operators in the unit via alternate placements, the harsh realities of never being able to do the job again are also compounded by seeing what everyone else is doing around you.
Similarly, the personal situations of guys from work are constantly changing which can have a direct influence on their career decisions. For instance, I’ve seen the progression from some of the people I went through selection with who were single and just entirely focused on becoming Special Forces soldiers. A large portion of them have eventually settled down and are now family men. For those that were already in relationships or married, the last decade has proved to be non-stop for them and their extremely understanding spouses.
The winding up of the SOTG commitment to Afghanistan at the end of 2013 also did little in terms of respite or a decreased tempo for SOCOMD. Our government committed us immediately to the fight against the Islamic State which saw a platoon rapidly deploy followed by an entire commando company group (CCG). It very much appears to reflect the rotational basis that we had implemented for Afghanistan which all but indicates another protracted war. It is these types of circumstances which will no doubt get a handful of individuals thinking, and having an alternate plan is key to having options and decreasing the anxiety about life on the outside.
My point here is to reiterate the notion of having a Plan B based around the hypothetical question of what you would do if you had to discharge tomorrow. One of my most favourite adages is Parkinson’s law which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Have you ever been in the situation where you’ve had a couple of weeks off work and a number of tasks around the house to take care of, yet you somehow find yourself running around like crazy to finish them on your last day of leave? Alternatively, have you ever found yourself with one day to complete a page full of things, yet somehow manage to fit it all in?
That’s Parkinson’s law in full effect. Humans have a sometimes incontrollable and innate ability to procrastinate and drag tasks out to fill the allocated time they have been given for their completion. We’re all guilty of it, but the great thing about it is that we are in full control of it. Manipulating this law to our advantage links into the notion of goal setting to achieve desired end states.
As token as it sounds, goal setting is one of the most fundamental processes needed for success. In the same way that planning an operation is key to mission success, personal goal setting follows much the same logic. This practice shouldn’t just concern itself with military application, but it is something which should be applied to every aspect of your life.
Writing down goals such as what you want to accomplish or what you want in your life, followed up by what you need to do to achieve them and a reasonable time frame in which you want this to happen, is the best possible starting point for anyone who wants to start taking control of their future. You must have a resolute commitment to achieving these goals, but writing down, reviewing, and constantly updating them contributes to the motivation and enthusiasm needed for this task.
So in understanding that there are parallels between planning an operation and planning your life, you should look five years down the road and ask yourself where you want to be and what you want to have achieved by this point. Obviously some are going to take longer than others, and some may take longer than five years to complete, but just start writing and see if you can come up with 20 goals.
Break them into short, medium, and long term goals based on how long you think you need to achieve them. Think about what you would like to do once you discharge and what you need to be able to do it. If it’s a university education, then start researching education providers as well as liaise with student advisors. You should also look to see what the military is able to provide in regards to subsidies and study assistance. You’d be surprised at just how much is available, in the Australian Defence Force at least.
If possible, start to build relations in the civilian sector in the field you are interested in. In my experience, if there’s one thing that the military does not teach well nor endorse, it’s networking. I have come to fully realise in the short time I’ve been out just how crucial networking and interpersonal relations are in the business world. The military is not a business but a hierarchy and strict chain of command. From my experience, networking plays a far greater role in the private sector than it ever did in the military, so look at ways to start building your network in some capacity.
Once you have a list of goals, you should start working on those short term ones immediately, regardless of how small they might seem. In fact, people should set a number of small, easily attainable daily goals to kick start their sense of achievement. In his speech at the University of Texas’s commencement address, Admiral William McRaven pointed to the importance of completing even the most medial of tasks. He stated that “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” Admiral McRaven is an undisputed hyper achiever, but even he acknowledges the importance of completing a goal as small as making your bed.
Medium and long term goals are usually some of the hardest to achieve but can also be the most rewarding. Some of my most revered goals that I have achieved thus far are becoming a qualified member of SOCOMD, my deployments, buying an apartment in Sydney (if you’ve seen what property prices are like in Sydney City and its surrounding suburbs you’d know why I consider this a monumental achievement), and my academic qualifications to date. Each of these were by no means an easy feat, but the satisfaction once achieved was commensurate to the effort needed to achieve them.
For instance, I remember back in 2009 I made the commitment to begin my academic journey by enrolling in university. I knew that it was something that I could well and truly achieve and, despite acknowledging it was a long road ahead, I knew that I would rather get to the end of six years having completed it then getting to the end of six years wishing I’d started it.
Looking back, six years went by much quicker than I thought and I have now earned both a bachelors and masters degree and am looking at pursuing a PhD. At the time I began studying, however, I loved work and had no intention of ever getting out. Fast forward to 2014 and I discharged already having earned my bachelors degree and being midway through my masters. I knew that finding employment in the private sector was not going to be an issue at all. Whilst most people appreciate your military service, they are very rarely going to give you a job simply based on it. I knew that to make myself as competitive as possible, I needed a university education to compliment my time in the ADF and SOCOMD.
This one small example highlights my point of how circumstances can and do change which undoubtedly requires flexibility and a Plan B. When I began studying there was nothing that would have convinced me to leave the military. I had just become a qualified commando and was at the very beginning of my Special Forces career. Still, that didn’t stop me from thinking about the “what ifs” which led me down the academic path to cater for my circumstance changing.
Overall, I cannot underestimate just how important having a Plan B is as well as the concept of goal setting. Thinking about what you would do if you had to discharge tomorrow is a great way to identify an alternate career choice, putting the processes in place to achieve it, then giving you the flexibility and options if the time ever did come where you wanted out of the military.
Regardless of whether you are transitioning from the military or not, back up plans and goal setting are life skills which will serve you well regardless of where life takes you. The funny thing is if you actually take the time to thoroughly plan your life through goal setting and commit to achieving them, life will only take you in the direction in which you steer it.
(Image curtesy of the New York Times)