When Departing FROM the Military, What Are You Going TO?

The military does a great job of assimilating this varied group of people into one common purpose.  However, we all leave the military, for one reason or another.  And that’s where there’s room for improvement.

The military has a moral (and legal) responsibility to provide us transition resources.  However, it’s ultimately our job to make sure that the rest of our lives is as productive, fruitful, and rewarding as we want them to be.

Before we begin, it might occur to some people that the title of this article is grammatically incorrect.  As an English major, I can appreciate it.  And I hope that this title is grammatically incorrect enough to take an extra second to think about what your post-military life will look like.  That’s what this article aims to discuss.

Throughout our military careers, we all encounter the widest variety of people.  Over my career, I think I’ve met someone from just about every statistical category.  I try not to categorize anyone, but for this article, I’ll put the majority of people into two categories:

  • People who are retiring or separating FROM the military
  • People who are going TO something else

What does that mean?  Think about the first category.  We’ve all had those conversations at a retirement ceremony:

“What are you going to do now?”

“I dunno.  I’ve been talking to some folks about some possibilities.  If some opportunities open up, there are some changes I could get in with some organization (The word ‘some’ seems to be used a lot).

“What happens if you have to move?”

“Well, I hope not, but I guess I’ll have to see what comes along.”

Sounds like the orders negotiating process for many people, but without the financial stability.  I’ve never really heard of these folks ‘landing’ in rewarding jobs, either.

My favorite people are the ones who belong to the second group:  They have a plan, thought about it, and are going to pursue it.

  • Perhaps they had a hobby or a side gig that turned profitable, and they’re going to do that full time.
  • Maybe they developed a military expertise and are going to professionalize that in the civilian world.
  • Perhaps they decide to take on a job that values their skill set less than the market, but is more personally rewarding. For example, going into teaching or becoming a volunteer.
  • Many people go TO a more stable family life. They might take a job, but then choose to prioritize their family over career progression…also known as ‘work to live.’

Whatever the case may be, their post-military career decisions support their life goals, and are made in pursuit of their plan for their best life.  I love hearing those stories so much more than listening about the people who:

  • Don’t plan for their post-military life
  • Take off their uniform one week, put on civilian clothes the next week, but HATE their job
  • Grind through this for the next 20 years until another pension comes along

So let me clarify…I don’t hate people who take off their uniform & become GS employees.  One of my first mentors was a retired Navy physician assistant who didn’t even change his office…he just replaced the title on his name plate to “Mr.”   However, he was passionate about ensuring the best patient care possible, and that had nothing to do with his rank.  That was over 20 years ago, and since then, I’ve found that the vast majority of our prior service civilian work force has that same competence, passion, and sense of mission.  They might gripe and grumble about office politics (who doesn’t?), but they feel like they’re adding value.

At the same time, you know exactly who I’m talking about.  I’m talking about that guy who retired 7 presidents ago, and it’s been at least 4 presidents since anyone found him relevant.  I’m talking about the guy who says, “I’m hanging on until XXXXX, then I’m outta here.”  You can tell he’s hanging on because he spends all day shopping on Amazon, then complains about other people not doing their job.

Every time I see someone like that, I immediately think, “Is that the best that you can do with your life?”  If your answer is, “I put in my 40 hours a week so I can give back to the community, spend time with my family, and travel,” then great!  That’s a great answer!  I wouldn’t bother asking you if you have a rewarding job.  That’s because the rest of your life probably more than makes up for anything your job could offer.

But, if you’re leaving the military & loathe the thought of going back to the military in civilian clothes, THEN DON’T!  Instead, think of what you want to see for the rest of your life.  You’ve got anywhere between 20 and 40 (or more) post-military years of employability.  You owe it to yourself (and your family) to put a little more consideration into what your work-life balance looks like.

After all, if your job makes you a miserable person, then is there really a work-life balance?  Even if you’re only at the office 40 hours a week, your family is probably feeling it more than if you worked 60 hours and left your work at the office.

What do you think?  Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below, or join the Military in Transition Facebook Group!



About Forrest Baumhover

Forrest Baumhover is a Certified Financial Planner™ and tax professional. His firm, Westchase Financial Planning, focuses on the unique financial planning needs of servicemembers and families looking to separate or retire from active duty.If you’d like to learn more about Forrest or his services, please check out the About Forrest page at the top of this article.
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