Life After The Military
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born — and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain
The why of life — and finding our purpose — is something that many of us struggle to find. It’s something that veterans especially struggle with and miss when they get out of the military. Many veterans had a clear sense of purpose when they served in the military. In serving others and being a part of something bigger than themselves, life had a very clear purpose.
Veterans also miss the community and camaraderie they had while serving — that sense of belonging. They miss the shared hardships, having someone watching their back, and they miss being valued for who they are — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What else do veterans miss when getting out? Veterans miss that sense of identity they had while serving. Did you ever meet an active duty Marine — in uniform or not — who wasn’t 100% sure of his or her identity as a Marine? Not likely. When you serve in the military, you literally wear your identity every time you put the uniform on. And then the uniform comes off. And with it, so many things — purpose, belonging, identity — things that we all crave, sometimes goes away.
The challenges that veterans face when they leave the service are many: unemployment, PTS, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, an unstable family life. While these challenges are real, the way to best help veterans face these challenges is to address the root of the problem. To best serve veterans, give them back what they miss the most.
For veterans that are transitioning to civilian life, I encourage you to do things that help you find purpose, belonging, and identity again. Maybe you find it through your next career. Maybe you find it in joining a non-profit or group and serving and giving back to others. Perhaps you find it in being a coach or a mentor.
There are a lot of misconceptions about veterans that are getting out of the military and transitioning. And what is one misconception? There is a misconception that veterans are heroes, or they are victims. When veterans are typecast as either or the other, it paints an inaccurate picture of reality — and most times — hinders veterans from successful reintegration.
So rewrite your narrative and be honest with yourself. Cherish who you are as a veteran — a real person with triumphs and struggles, and with the same need for purpose, belonging, and identity — just like everyone else.
For the civilians reading this, I challenge you to get to know a veteran. Learn their story. Talk to them face to face. Do more than just thanking them or writing a check. Give of your time — and give of yourself. By getting to know a veteran and putting yourself in their shoes, you can break down some misconceptions you may have of veterans. And you can start seeing them for who they really are as a person. Not what the media tells you or what the movies tell you, but what you learn about them as a person. Once you get to know them as a person, you’ll be able to better support them and help give them back the things they need the most.
For the veterans, you are not what people say you are, either a hero or a victim. You are what you choose to be. And if you are searching for the things you had in the military — purpose, belonging, identity — there many ways to find this. I encourage you to join a veteran support non-profit. Team Red, White and Blue, The Mission Continues, or Team Rubicon are all great ones I’ve been involved with.
There is a lot of life to live after the military, a lot of good to do. You have the power to take ownership of your reintegration and to be an asset where you live. So find yourself. And then continue doing things for your community and your country.