Five Habits to Break Before You Leave the Military


When we think of bad habits, most people think of smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating or running late. A habit is defined as: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. While in the military, many of your behaviors, practices, routines formed habits that came from the training and experience you gained while you were performing your duties.

As you transition out of uniform, it is important to recognize that some of these habits don't work well in the civilian workforce, and can limit your opportunities to build a post-military career. Here are five bad habits to consider breaking:

  1. Cussing. Foul language is more common and accepted in military circles than it is in many civilian work places. Corporate cultures dictate a level of respect and professionalism that cussing can quickly undermine. Practice changing out swear words for less offensive or inappropriate choices before you transition, or save the trash talk for after hours.
  2. Ma'am, Sir. Personally, I find formality to be a sign of respect, but some employers find the use of Ma'am or Sir off-putting. It can appear to place a wedge in the relationship you are building with your manager or co-workers, or can set you apart (negatively) during the interview process. Instead, use the person's last name with Mr. or Ms., or their first name if offered. You will find many civilians are comfortable being referred to by their first name, even the CEO of the company.
  3. Expecting to be briefed. If there was a handbook for successfully living a fulfilling civilian career, everyone would be reading it. The truth is, there is not a lot of consistency or predictability in the civilian workforce, and all the preparation and training in the world won't give you the tools for every situation. Instead of fretting the unknown, acknowledge that the skills and training you have will give you excellent judgement and evaluation skills to make good choices. Do your best to research and prepare for interactions, then trust your gut.
  4. Waiting for marching orders. Like #3, if you wait for someone to ask you to do something, you will get passed over. Initiative and innovation are cornerstones of success in the civilian world, requiring you to move past your habit of waiting for someone to provide you with direction. Civilians respect when someone asks questions, offers ideas and new ways of thinking, and is willing to take the initiative to advance the goals of the organization.
  5. Fear of failure. Unlike in military service, failure in the civilian workforce is typically not fatal. You will make mistakes. You will succeed through trial and error. Failure is a reality for every person in the workforce, and if it stops you from pursuing your goals, you won't succeed. Instead, embrace your next career with the understanding that there will be milestones, triumphs and learnings.

It's been said that it takes 21 days to successfully break a habit. Hopefully, your transition from the military is at least that far away! Awareness about the behavior, and motivation to make a change to better behavior is key. Web MD offers this advice: "If you can notice when you are doing it and under what circumstances and what feelings are attached to it, you might be able to figure out why you are doing it and be able to stop," says Susan Jaffe, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City.

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