Encouragement for transitioning vets

I still remember it very clearly. Almost a year ago during my last interview, they asked me if I had anything I wanted to add.  All I wanted to say was, “I just want to be part of a motivated team again. I was a soldier; part of the world's most powerful and motivated team. I took some time off to finish my degree, but I miss being part of something that is greater than me. Being part of a team with a mission!”.  Little did I know that I would be part of a VERY motivated team!  I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  I was about to go through, “culture shock” and I didn’t even know it. Welcome to Corporate America!

My peers that had transitioned ahead of me told me to stay in, that transitioning was difficult.  But I thought I was different. Now I know that I wasn’t. I have found that there are many intangibles to this transitioning thing. It’s called, “Corporate Culture” and even if you can’t see it, it’s real! Now that the first year of transitioning into Corporate America is almost over, I bump into people I met in the beginning, and they ask me how I’m getting along.  I tell them the best way to describe it is that it is like I had the flu for a year, but the good news is that I finally feel like the epidemic is coming to an end. You know that feeling after you’ve been sick and finally feel like it’s coming to an end?  How you feel like your 150% for a little while?  That’s how I’m feeling right now and it feels great! I only wish I knew it was coming.  I could have been mentally prepared for it and it would have gone much smoother.  I can’t tell you enough how many times I told myself that I was giving up.  The stress was simply too much to bear.  If this is what it will be like for the next 10 years, I might as well resign now, because I can’t take this for that long. The only reason I held on was out of sheer determination to not quit.  I only wish someone would have told me, “You’re going to feel like you have the flu for about the first year, but it’ll clear up. It WILL get better”.  I could have told myself that I just had to hold on for a little while and it would all be over.  You see, we do this in the military all the time.  “I can do anything for a certain period”, we tell ourselves, as long as we know when that is. Every school and training event has a completion date.  But, for the first time, I didn’t have a completion date.  I had myself convinced that it would always be like this.  Now I know this isn’t true and I want to go tell it on a mountain to all transitioning veterans! Here are my lessons learned from my first year: For those transitioning into, “Professional” positions- You’re going to find that it takes much more mental energy to get things done. Not only will you potentially have to learn a new skill set, but learn a new culture as well.  Everything came so naturally to me in the military.  I had my skills mastered AND I knew the culture. I knew I would have to learn new skills.  Learning new skills didn’t worry me.  I had to learn new skills every time I changed positions in the military. But add those new skills to learning a new culture and there’s a challenge.  Some examples of the not-so-obvious lessons I had to learn are: -How to phrase things? In the military we value candor and BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). Outside of the military I have found that this has to be moderated and it takes considerable concentration to do so. How many times did I say a prayer over an email before sending because I wasn’t sure if it was to the right person, have the right content or said the right way.  I had my hand slapped for about every point here.  I felt like every email could have been my last! -How processes work? Who does what? I actually found out that, “no one is an island” in corporate America.  That everyone has a stake in just about every decision everyone makes. Because of this, we need to know what everyone does so we can determine how to integrate them into the process. -Who was the correct person to talk to? What’s the difference between manager and director. Who makes decisions? Which one do I call or invite to a meeting?  Ask the wrong person and you waste their time. -How to manage my own schedule? What are the ankle biters? What will get me in trouble?  How long do processes take so I can determine what needs to be done first, second, etc? -And even little things! Like when it’s appropriate to book a meeting, who to invite, where to put the meeting, how to overbook someone’s calendar and on and on and on! -Finally the biggest question of them all was, how much is enough?  When do I go home?  There’s enough work to go 24/7/365, but how much do I need to do just to SUCCEED? I don’t need a promotion in the first year! I’m just trying to survive here! I only have one universal suggestion. Plug into a veteran that is ahead of you in their transition. I have to say that I have to thank my veteran team mates for helping me through this.  They listened to me as I would vent my frustrations, and they provided me guidance when I was going down the wrong path.  For those transitioning behind me, plug into a veteran who is ahead of you in the process.  When you get frustrated (and you will!) pull them to the side and tell them what is going on.  Then, LISTEN! They will be your life-line! I don’t have all the answers to the above questions and your circumstances may be very different than mine.  But chances are good that life will be very different than the military.  I simply wanted to tell my fellow transitioning vets that it does get easier!  The answers will come if you hold on. Much like having the flu, take it one day at a time.  Keep, “leaning forward in the fox hole” and before you know it, it will be like the good ole’ days when you were in the military.  I’m finally getting there and it feels great! Todd