When I separated from the Army, one of the difficult things was figuring out how to manage my own expectations for the future – a future that was very unclear. I knew what I wanted to do – find a leadership position with an organization where I could make a difference – but I didn’t know where to find it, what the organization would look like, or what the culture in that organization would be.
My wife’s expectation was that I find a job, and find one now. As much as I wanted to take an extended vacation to go fishing and ride my bike, she forced me to focus. But I didn’t know what to focus on or what to expect.
The first thing I had to realize was that the economy was in sad shape and I wasn’t worth nearly as much as I hoped I was worth – either in terms of positions I was qualified to fill or my earning potential. I expected to enter an organization at the top and earn at least as much as I did serving in the Army. But the hard truth was that I had to start at a position that was lower than my experience or skill level. It was then up to me to prove myself and work my way up.
Ultimately, my wife and I decided that in terms of priorities, the compensation package would be less important than finding a job where I could serve veterans and the environment. A job I could be passionate about. Fortunately, I found a job where I could follow my desire to serve veterans and the environment, and earning a little less was worth it because it allowed me to do something I was passionate about.
My other realization was that organizational culture in the civilian workplace doesn’t always mirror that found in the military. While most employers value dedication, hard work and a focus on getting results, they don’t always share our commitment to taking care of the lowest members of the team or, at times, putting family first.
And even though company management might include a hierarchy, and you think decisions should be made quickly, it doesn’t always happen that way in the civilian world. In the Army, if someone doesn’t make a decision quickly, soldiers could die. Consequences of decisions are rarely that dramatic on the civilian side, so the decision process can be frustratingly slow – especially in the eyes of someone who is used to reacting quickly in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Adapting to these differences and managing our expectations needs to happen during the transition from military service to a civilian career. If you don’t adapt, you could end up frustrated, struggling in your new career, and ultimately angry at the civilian world.
So my advice is this: find a mentor, preferably a veteran, to lead you through the process and help educate you on the future. Look for businesses that have a large veteran population that you can fit into to smooth the shift from military to civilian culture. Veterans Green Jobs’ wildland firefighting program is a great example. Veterans work together as a crew, are focused on the mission, support each other, and facilitate the transition to positions with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service, all the while helping to manage the expectations and uncertainties of the future.
– John Toth, Veterans Green Jobs