Will the civilian world ever be enough for those who have exited the military? How do you compare and contrast the gravity of fighting a war in Afghanistan to balancing a profit and loss statement (P&L) in a corporate environment?
The answer is that civilian careers likely won't be enough to define former military members; the gravity of the civilian sector will likely never be the same as experiencing war. Civilian life requires a bit more creative thinking to connect the dots of the larger, corporate vision and how your day-to-day tasks play a role in it.
Some military members talk of having disdain for working in a warehouse, and the importance of their work must be articulated to them. Working in a warehouse for medical supplies may seem mundane, but look at the bigger picture and ask who is being saved with the scalpel that you loaded on the semi-truck. Did every pallet you loaded onto a military aircraft in the past necessarily save a life?
The weight of civilian work will likely never compare with military life, and while companies can do a lot to make their workplaces 'vet friendly,' there are some areas that just can't be touched. Former military members may never feel like their corporate mission measures up to their time in the serving the country.
So how should civilian work be given meaning? Whose responsibility is it?
The answer is to not coddle veterans, but empower them to positively impact their own lives; everyone has choices.
From a corporate standpoint, the answer truly falls into one of these categories:
- Ensure the mission and vision of the company are well articulated.
- Respect veterans for what they did and bring to the table.
- Provide support for newly transitioning service members and their families.
- Have ERGs or other internal groups to foster collaborative thinking to support veterans.
- Provide chances for military members to connect with the community.
- Provide programs for the member to be involved with that connect them back to the military community.
- Have a company that is ethical and moral where the veteran feels internally aligned.
- Have "battle buddies" for those who may be struggling, someone to ask questions.
For the military member, the answer comes down to being a realist.
The reality is that military members may need to fill their spare time with a mission larger than their day jobs, such as their own hobbies and personal endeavors. While the military encompassed an entire lifestyle for veterans, civilian careers should be more about generating income and forming personal career goals in order to fund the rest of life.
The emphasis is less on mission and more on sustainment to improve quality of life. One's civilian career should align with financial goals, morals, availability and skill-sets, but it doesn't necessarily have to line up with one's mission in life.
Volunteering can fill the void. Devote time at a Veteran's home to assist those who have served. Coach youth soccer to help mold the youth of our nation. Work at a soup kitchen to offset the hunger of the homeless. Volunteer with the red-cross for emergency situations.
All of those choices let former service members personally give back to the community and feel fulfilled. My choice is to use my athletic abilities and pursuits to train other military members in triathlon and help them realize their potential when they're enduring combat PTSD (affiliating with USMES, etc). I also work with the American Cancer Society for the mission of my father.
Think about staying in the reserves to keep ties to the service if you know that corporate work won't fill the void. Stop living in the past and defining yourself by what you used to do. Focus your life on how you will change the world with what you do day to day. Just like a service member's individual mission in the military doesn't always change lives day in and day out, neither will the civilian career. A civilian doctor doesn't perform surgery every day.
Realize that you can't be a social worker that saves everyone and still make $150,000.00.
You can't go back overseas as a government contractor and continually tie yourself to war-fighting if you want to balance work with your family life at home. At some point, personal sacrifices need to be made if you want to keep your home environment stable.
Understand that civilian work isn't meant to be easy. You may have to truly work very hard and start from the bottom to eventually get a more manageable schedule or lifestyle. Serving n the military doesn't mean you've paid all your dividends.
Former service members need to realize that they chose to join the military, and while it is the civilian sector's duty to support hiring veterans, retaining them and creating compatible environments is not.
Providing tools for former military members to feel like they are making an impact on the world is the best way to tie a sense of mission to their organization. The service member was accustomed to having a great deal of responsibility in their military career, and they need to be empowered to make decisions on how they spend their personal time and what type of impact they want to make.