How Veteran Job Seekers Can Navigate the Holidays When Feeling Less Than Jolly

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U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Rebecca Van Syoc)

Whether it’s on social media, in conversations with friends or traversing the aisles at the grocery store, it can seem like everyone around you is excited to celebrate and rejoice this holiday season. 

But if you’re in a job search, unsure of what comes next after military duty, this time of year can feel anything but festive.

Transition from the military often includes searching for the next job and career. Whether you exit in March or December, a job search is filled with stress, uncertainty and anticipation, but when that transition is in the midst of the holiday season, it can leave you feeling less than jolly. 

To navigate feelings of frustration, angst and insecurity while everyone around you appears to be full of the holiday spirit, follow these steps:

1. Honor where you are right now. 

Yes, you may feel overwhelmed by the path in front of you, questioning your decision to exit the military and unclear about what the next step looks like, but you are here, now. Recognize that there was a reason you left your military service, and there will be a clear path forward at some point. It may not be today, or even tomorrow, but you will learn what you’re supposed to do.

Resist comparing your job search to others around you. Their path isn’t your path. That person who got a job right after they exited the military might now be struggling, may have settled for less than they deserve, or might find themselves unemployed in a year. Or not. But comparing your situation and the choices you’ve made to theirs is futile and unproductive. You are here, and it’s where you need to be.

2. Focus on gratitude. 

It might sound corny, but gratitude works! When you focus on what you don’t have (a job, clear career path, time to get another degree, a regular paycheck, etc.), you are staying in a scarcity mindset. Shifting your energy and attention to what you do have (your health, friends, a partner/spouse, roof over your head, skills and experiences) actually increases chemistry in the brain that lifts your spirits and mood. This can make it more desirable for others to want to be around you, give you a reference, and otherwise help you -- you seem like someone worth investing in!

Remember the quote from American psychologist Wayne Dyer: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Focusing on gratitude and celebrating what you have sets you up to attract more. 

Gratitude can also put life’s challenges into perspective. When you list off all the things you have to be grateful for, then looking at the things you’re lacking can feel humbling. If you have military retirement pay, health benefits from your service, and a roof over your family’s head, but you focus your energy on not having a clear career path, focusing on gratitude enables you to find more patience in your job search.

3. Reach out to others.

This time of year is known as a “season of giving,” and while that often means gifts and monetary contributions, it also means service. When you reach out to others for help, you afford them the opportunity to serve you, to lift you up, to refer you, that might be all they are able to give this year. In that way, you’re helping them be generous in ways that are most meaningful to you!

Consider asking your friends and close networking contacts to spend time brainstorming career options with you, meeting for coffee to discuss your job search, reviewing your online profiles and resume, and other ways they can help you in your job search. Ask them to forgo the fruit basket in lieu of their time, attention and resources.

Finally, know you’re not alone. The holidays are also stressful for non-job seekers. When the tinsel comes out and the eggnog gets poured, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and grief often overwhelm even the most gainfully employed person. 

And if someone in your network or circle of friends withdraws or is suffering, help them get help.

-- 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.

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