Finding New Purpose After the Military
January 09, 2018 | 5-minute read
For many people, New Year’s can be a time of transition and reflection. After the rush of the holiday season, we tend to turn inward to take stock and think about where we are and who we want to be. We may re-examine our goals and purpose in life. This time can be particularly intense for Veterans transitioning from military service back into civilian life.
For some Veterans, reintegration may be disorienting, like being shocked awake by a splash of cold water. “In the service … we had purpose,” says TJ, a U.S. Army Veteran. “We got up in the morning. We had a mission. Even if the mission was going to the motor pool, it was a mission that we had.”
Regaining a sense of purpose can be one of the biggest hurdles that returning Veterans face. A regular routine and the camaraderie of fellow Service members are pillars of military life, and for some Veterans, losing those familiar support systems can be challenging.
“When you go into the service, you go into boot camp, you’re surrounded by people who are on the same mission as you. When you transition out of service, you’re alone in that,” says Jodie, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran.
Re-entry into the workforce back home can be challenging, too. Military skills may not appear to transfer directly to the civilian job market, so many Veterans are left with an unexpected feeling of weakness or inadequacy, unsure about how to be successful after the military.
“I had a lot of apprehensions when I got out … about what type of job I would get,” says Darren, a U.S. Army Veteran. “And what I found out is that the skills you bring out of the military — the leadership skills, the organizational skills, the commitment, the work ethic … [are] highly valuable in civilian life. But you have to also realize that civilian life is not military life.”
The transition back into civilian life can be a challenging period for Veterans. While some obstacles may seem daunting, even small steps can help you look past the cloud of initial anxiety, make progress, and find a new purpose.
The Path to Purpose
While everyone’s transition experience is unique, there are a few consistent markers to follow on the path to finding a new purpose.
Step 1: Recognize the Issue
Awareness is the first step to overcoming any barriers you face. You do not need to know how to solve the issues you are facing. Some problems are too big for us to solve on our own. But if we never acknowledge the problem, there’s no opportunity for change.
Step 2: Reach Out for Support
Talk to people about your experience. Sharing your story with others can help to ease negative emotions and recover from trauma. As Jodie recalls, “The growth and the therapy were simultaneous.”
Reach out to people in your community. Get involved in activities like sports, mentorships, or volunteering. Talk to other Veterans. Keep in touch with the people who shared your combat experience. Check in with each other throughout the transition period. Focusing on helping them can take your mind off your own challenges or give you new ideas for addressing them.
Discuss and make plans for the transition with your spouse, children, and other family members. Recognize that, in some respects, transitioning from life in the military is a family affair.
Step 3: Rekindle Your Passion
Once you’ve acknowledged your issues and reached out for help, there are several pathways toward discovering your new purpose.
- Follow your interests: Build new habits based on things that you enjoy. Throw yourself into activities that make you feel good.
- Master a new skill: Mastery is a huge potential source of fulfillment in life. Cultivating a new skill is good for your mental health and can instill a sense of purpose into your daily routine.
- Find a way to serve others: You have an important story to tell and skills to share through your personal experiences and time in the military. They can benefit your friends, peers, co-workers, and community.
“I have a mission, and my mission now is very different from the mission when I was active duty,” says Linda, a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Army who became a psychiatric nurse practitioner at VA. “My mission is to save lives of Veterans.”
The new year is a great time to take stock and refine your purpose and mission in life, as well as the habits and tools you need to develop to accomplish your goals. Transitions can be difficult, but there are new possibilities, and with strength and support, you may be better able to find them.