Please Start 'Thinking About' Leaving the Military

Some military members are more than ready to get out. One soldier I know told his wife, “When you are ready, I am ready.”

Others never, ever, wanna think about getting out. Maybe they are completely awesome at their chosen profession. Maybe they are scared of the economy. Maybe they just like having a job that requires a hat.

I’m pretty sure it is the coolio hat that has kept my husband in the military this long. He wants to keep wearing the hat. Keep doing the job.  Keep moving forward to the next mission.

Me, I’m watching the news and thinking that we really ought to have a back up plan that includes more than signing up for LinkedIn.

Because all kinds of cuts to the military are coming. For example, the Army alone is moving from a high of 570,000 soldiers during the height of the war to as low as 420,000 later in this decade.

It isn’t just the people with ethical problems who are being forced out or people who don’t make the grade.  Good people--even very good people-- get passed over every day.

The military can be a fickle lover who yearns for you one year and disses you the next.

Yet my husband thinks that even "thinking about" transition means you are mentally leaving the game.  He acts like his mojo is gonna leak out of his shoe if he even pictures himself in a suit and tie.

Maybe the problem is that there aren’t enough stages between active duty and the plunge into transition then the cold bath of civilian life. We are missing a stage.  A pre-transition stage.  A "thinking about" thinking about getting out stage.

We aren't alone. When it comes to making big changes (like leaving the military), researchers have show that there are set stages people go through before they are ever ready to actually start a change.

There are stages we go through before military transition can really happen.

First, they have a pre-contemplation stage when they do not intend to make any change in the foreseeable future. In the military, this is when you are far from your next promotion board and things are going as well as can be expected. Maybe even better. Why would you think of leaving?

Next comes a contemplation stage -- call it a pre-transition stage -- when you are not ready to really think about change, but you realize you need to start thinking about thinking about it.

This would occur when you approach the end of your first or second enlistment. Or you go over 18 years in the military and you are getting close to being eligible for retirement.

Then comes the preparation stage where you actually prepare to take action and download one of those transition timelines.

Finally, there is an action stage to transition where you are signing up for TAP and using the Military.com Military Skills Translator and reaching out on your real network to look for a civilian job.

I think it is in that pre-transtion stage where we military folks all kind of fail a little.  We wait too long to begin.

Maybe it is just me, but I think a lot of thinking about transition opens up the possibilities. I think years of the contemplation stage are probably a good thing.

So I am all for service members who want to keep their boats pointed full steam ahead at the next job or the next promotion. Good on ‘em.

But in the pre-transition stage, there is no harm in leaving a trolling line out of the back of that boat. There is no harm in noticing what former military members are now doing in the civilian world.

There is no harm in asking yourself if you wanna work in the Pentagon as a civilian. Work for a defense contractor. Work for yourself or a nonprofit. Teach. Coach. Sell. Paint. Find a life in an industry that has nothing to do with the military.

We need to start indulging in a pre-transtion stage in military life.  We need to stop hiding it and start letting that line troll from the back of the boat as a matter of course.

Because if you are in the pre-transition stage, it isn’t really time to put together a resume. It is time to ponder. You are simply thinking about thinking about getting out of the military. Someday. In the not-quite-so-distant future. Really.

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