"Why am I procrastinating about transition?" one of my military transition clients asked me recently. "It's not like I don't know it is coming. I can hear the clock ticking. Loudly. I know what I should be doing. But every Monday morning, I wake up and know that I have not done a thing about transition. Why can't I stop procrastinating and just face up to it?"
It is a good question, especially if you believe that people should be rational and always do what is best for them. Which is not true. Any behavioral economist will tell you people are not rational actors. If they were, you would blow off your military assignment the minute you decided to get out and work on landing a civilian job every second of every day.
The Real Transition Question
When it comes to military transition, I think the real question is: Why wouldn't you procrastinate?
As the transition master coach for Military.com's Veteran Employment Project, I see how procrastination makes perfect sense. All of the activities of transition can blow a cold wind through the transition of even the staunchest Marines, sailors, guardians, Coasties, soldiers and airmen.
You may find job listings are overwhelming. Working on your resume makes you feel like you have never done anything worth writing about. Talking to friends on the outside makes you feel like you are begging for a job. Reaching out to strangers on LinkedIn can make you feel like the worst kind of stalker. Then you wake up in the middle of the night ice cold with the knowledge that YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY IS COUNTING ON YOU.
Trigger the anxiety. Trigger the procrastination. Trigger the sudden need to check on your soldiers, revamp your Powerpoint slides, add vacuum tracks to the living room carpet, gaze into the abyss of the refrigerator -- anything but do the work of transition.
Fun with Transition Anxiety
The key to moving past the anxiety is to turn your face toward the storm of self-doubt and realize that there is nothing wrong with you. Yes, your anxiety is a normal part of the military transition process. Yes, procrastination is the logical result of activities that provoke anxiety. And, yes, that is the solution -- expect the anxiety and deal with it before you ever get a chance to procrastinate.
How to Stop Procrastinating During Transition
To tamp down your anxiety and actually get to the work of transition, here are the things that you can do now:
1. Set a definite date for your transition.
"Next year" is not a date. "April 4th" is a date. Before you have set the date for your transition, your brain thinks there is still time to change your decision and stay in the military forever. Or at least for a while longer.
Set a hard date so the clock starts ticking. One of my clients got past his procrastination by putting a Post-it note on his computer with the actual number of weeks he had to go before he transitioned. It was enough to get him started on his next task.
2. Make 'nowhere' a desirable destination.
Many transitioning military clients complain that the things they are doing feel like they are leading exactly nowhere. Informational interviews, networking, meeting with a mentor, signing up for programs, completing certifications and taking classes are essential activities that usually do not instantly result in job offers right away. It can feel like you are shoveling your driveway during a blizzard, and you can't even see where you are going.
No wonder everything else on your to-do list seems more productive than your transition. So change your expectations of what success looks like. Think of the work of transition more like farming than shoveling snow.
Think of each of the things you do like a seed you are planting. You won't start to harvest until you actually are ready to entertain job offers in the weeks surrounding your transition, but there won't be anything to harvest if you don't plant now. You can give yourself credit for planting those seeds by keeping a running list of your activities on your phone.
3. Stop doing everything.
Do everything. Access everything. Use everything. Sometimes I think the secret message transitioning military are supposed to get is that you are a loser if you haven't done every single possible thing with all 45,000 registered Veteran Service Organizations before you leave the military--and everything you are doing is probably the wrong thing.
If you are one of those people who are stashed somewhere in an office building while your transition clock ticks down, that is exactly what you should do. Go all out.
But that expectation is the cause of a lot of procrastination. I believe instead in focusing your efforts in the right places. What are the right places? Usually it depends on your career level. The tools and programs a junior officer is going to use are different than what a senior enlisted person needs. Our transition master classes aimed at your career level offer specific strategies just for you.
4. Honor the process.
You aren't going to like the uncertainty, the worry and the aggravation of transition. No one does. There are, however, two ways you can deal with the process of transition today and every day. You can honor the process of transition, or you can dishonor the process.
Dishonoring the process looks like all the things you do instead of doing the work of transition in the time you allotted on your calendar. Honoring the process means to do the work for each season of transition.
When you see the work of transition come up on your calendar and you start and then you come up with a reason to stop, set a timer for 20 minutes. Commit to staying and working for 20 more minutes. Keep returning to the work, and the anxiety disappears.
5. Bring in the accountability factor.
Procrastination is a natural, logical reaction to the anxiety faced during military transition. But it is not a stopping point for you. Many service members find that professional coaching can add the kind of monthly accountability they need to get the job done. Often a coach can give you a list of smaller assignments that are engineered to trigger hope and result in more productivity.
The important thing is to keep moving forward with your military transition. Keep starting and you will find your procrastination falls away and lets you achieve something great.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.