Military Transitions Don’t Begin When You Leave Service

Workshop helps military members with transition to civilian sector.

In speaking with a military officer who shared his transition frustration of feeling lost and being out of uniform for two years, I was reminded that many veterans transitioning to a civilian career look at the transition as commencing the day they take off the uniform. That is not necessarily true.

Transitioning to a new career, new culture, and new way of life takes preparation, planning, strategy, and emotional readiness. Things that look familiar will seem strange. The people and places you knew well before you entered military service may now seem unfamiliar. Priorities, culture, work style, language, and even the dress code are foreign and confusing unless you have adequate preparation and training.


The moment you decide you’ll leave your military career, you are beginning your transition. You should focus on how/what/when/where your career and life will look when you leave the military.

Among other questions, you’ll consider:

  • Where do I want to live?
  • What work do I want to do?
  • Do I want to start my own business?
  • How will I approach my career transition? What choices have to be made first, second, last?
  • Who do I know who can provide guidance for my transition?

Answering these questions is not enough to ensure a smooth transition to the next step. You have to act. Make lists and plans, organize your contacts, and get clear on your goals to ensure you stay focused and accountable for what comes next.

As you consider options, you will evaluate short term and long-term choices. You might opt for a short-term civilian job, because later you will be going back to school or relocating. You could pursue a startup business, because you believe in the technology and see potential value later. You might choose to take a job that’s less than ideal because if offers enough salary and benefits to help you get settled. Choices have consequences, and the choices you make right after you transition should be done strategically.


The officer I spoke with (referenced above) shared with me this specific transition frustration:

When I took off the uniform, I landed a job with a large government contractor. Now, two years later, I’m miserable. I didn’t ask enough questions – or the right questions – and find myself in a job I’m not happy with. I feel like my transition is starting today, instead of two years ago.”

If you take the first job you’re offered, or you convince yourself to launch a business you’re not passion about… or even if you enter school without a direction, you aren’t transitioning, you are delaying. By delaying the process of the military-to-civilian transition, you might be making things harder for yourself, not easier.

Understand that your transition starts when you intelligently and intentionally create the career and future you desire. Your transition isn’t an arbitrary date on the calendar, it’s a mindset. When you transition intentionally, you set the vision of what you want for your career, who you want to work with (companies, people, industries and cultures) and how you will measure success.

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Lida Citroën, a branding expert based in Denver, has made a career of helping people and companies create new or enhanced identities. She is passionate about helping veterans learn how to compete for careers in the civilian sector. A TEDx Speaker, Lida presents her unique personal branding training programs across the U.S., at military installations and events, serves on the Board of Directors of NAVSO  volunteers with ESGR, and has produced numerous programs and materials to help military veterans successfully transition after service. If you have a transition question Lida can help answer, email her at She is also the author of the best selling book, "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition," available at and on Amazon.