Being in the military is not just a job, it’s a way of life. This is why the transition to civilian life is a major challenge for most military personnel. The difficulty of this transition can best be described as taking a fish out of water. One has to sufficiently adjust from a life that demands discipline, structure, physical fitness, and mental hurdles to life as a civilian. This takes time and dedication.
In extreme cases, it may even take therapeutic or medical intervention. There is no one-fit-all solution for a smooth transition. Each individual will experience a varying set of challenges and milestones. For example, transition will not be the same for someone who has been in the military for 3 decades versus another who has served for 3 years. Additionally, a military member who has spent a lot of time in a particularly hostile location might face a harder time adjusting. Below are some tips applicable to almost every soldier transitioning or planning to transition to civilian life.
- Know what to expect. The initial shock of leaving the military is one of the obstacles that hit transitioning military members the hardest. It manifests as an inability to take in and accept the vast differences between military life and civilian life. To reduce its effect on you and how you relate to others, you can prepare yourself mentally by knowing what to expect. Ask former military members what their experience was like or read other people’s adjustment stories online. Expect that people will not be as disciplined as you were in the military. They may not be as punctual, respectful, or honest as you. There are many traits that members of the military learn and live by that civilians are not accustomed to, such as the ones mentioned previously. By anticipating and being understanding of the differences in your mind before you get out of the military, it becomes much easier when the time comes.
- Have a good support system. Too often, military members get into civilian life to find themselves all alone. No one really understands what they are going through and the struggles they faced in military and are facing during the transitioning stage. This can often lead to stress or even mental illnesses such as depression. It is important to have someone or a group of people who make up your support system outside the military. It can be family, friends or an online group. The most important thing is to find people who understand your situation and are willing to walk with you through it. It is also important to utilize military resources in order to get evaluated, and treated for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
- Think about your financial future. Financial problems are another major source of stress for former military members. This is especially true if they have a family that they need to provide for. Luckily, these days plenty of organizations are committed to helping transitioning soldiers in furthering their education or getting a job. Start your research early on so that when the time comes, you are well aware of your options.
Ultimately it is important to remember to take it a day at a time and do not get down on yourself if certain military habits keep creating uncomfortable situations at home or work. Transitioning into civilian life takes time and effort. Take it slowly, absorbing a little change at a time. Though inside you will always be a soldier, you can learn to live productively in the civilian world.