10 Tips for Veterans Handling Their Emotions at Their First Civilian Job

Airman 1st Class Jessicah Sharp, an aerospace medical technician, in her civilian job as a flight attendant with Alaska Airlines. (Alaska National Guard)

As you exited the military, you likely were flooded with emotions ranging from excitement to fear to frustration. The process isn't linear. Unexpected developments can throw off even the best-laid plans, and opportunities can spring up from anywhere.

One of the aspects of your first civilian job you likely weren't focused on is how to modulate or manage your emotions in that new job.

To help you prepare for and manage your feelings at work, here are 10 tips:

1. Prepare for the unexpected.

While we can't truly anticipate all situations we might encounter at work, consider ones that you've experienced before and how you responded. Even if those examples were during your military duty, consider what happened.

Was your response effective and appropriate? What could you have done differently to drive a more positive outcome? Talk to colleagues or friends about situations they've run into and how they navigated them. Feeling prepared is empowering and will help your emotions stay in check.

2. Resist the urge to be perfect.

No human being can be perfect. Striving for perfection creates undue stress, with feelings of frustration and being overwhelmed to follow. When you accept that you can (and will) make mistakes, you can patiently assess your situation and regulate your emotions.

3. Become attuned to your body and emotions.

Do you know what you feel before you lose your temper, become enraged or start to cry? Does your face get flushed, your heart races and your hands begin to sweat? Knowing these physical responses will help you calm down at their earliest signs.

4. Watch how others respond.

You can get visual cues from your colleagues and supervisors on which responses (physical, emotional and verbal) are deemed appropriate. Since this is your first post-military job, learning from others is helpful to understand the implicit guidelines around what your company tolerates.

5. When in doubt, clarify.

Before you fly off the handle and react to what you feel, clarify what's happening -- to and around you. Emotions can sometimes run faster than our brain can process, and we could say or do something we later regret.

6. Allow your humanity and vulnerability to show through.

While you might believe that you need to remain stoic and strong, showing that you have feelings and can be vulnerable endears you to others. When you share what you're experiencing with your colleagues and boss, you empower them to support you.

7. Consider what's appropriate, and when.

While you'll feel all sorts of feelings at your new job, expressing them all takes diplomacy. How, when, where and with whom you confide and share emotions should be considered through the lens, "What's appropriate in my company and job?"

Many employers encourage employees to talk about their feelings. But sharing those feelings with the wrong person or online to the wrong outlet or at the wrong time can land you in trouble. Consider starting by sharing your feelings with your boss or human relations team if in doubt.

8. Know what triggers you. Some comments, phrases, situations and stressors will likely trigger you differently than your civilian counterparts. Take note of what these are and try to avoid circumstances where these topics are discussed, as well as avoiding people who carelessly speak about things that upset you.

9. Take a break. If you worry that your emotions could take over, and you might scream, cry or otherwise express those feelings in ways that don't represent your image, step away for a moment. For example, if you're in a meeting with your boss, and they're sharing harsh criticism about your work product, you may feel defensive, angry and upset.

Then you worry you might start sobbing or blurt out profanity as you reel from frustration. Excuse yourself for a moment to compose yourself (or say you're using the restroom) and revisit some of the tips listed above.

10. Always remain genuine and authentic.

As you navigate feelings, beliefs and emotions, resist the urge to tamp them down to fit in. Your genuineness and authenticity are what make you, you -- these qualities bring people toward you who are attracted to who you are and what you stand for. Never tamp down what makes you unique to appease someone else.

Emotions and feelings at work are a wonderful thing. When we share how we feel, what we believe and what an experience means to us, we bring people closer to us as they see our humanness. When shared inappropriately or at inopportune times, however, too much emotional display can detract from the value and positioning we seek to achieve.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?

Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Show Full Article
Veteran Jobs