Four Reasons You Suck At Transition
By Marty Skovlund Jr.
Transition, as in the military to civilian type. You know, that nasty period of instability that you can’t seem to escape. The nice folks at your ACAP meeting said you would be good to go if you paid attention and completed your checklist. You did what they said, but you still suck at this. You are failing, and you hate failing, and you hate that you are reading this and some anonymous, slightly out of shape tall guy is on to you. But why are you failing? If, in fact, you aren’t failing – then why are your buddies failing and what are you doing about it? Why are twenty-two of your friends killing themselves every day? What exactly is going on?
- You refuse to court your demons. You won’t talk about anything that bothers you to anyone, whether it’s the fact that you have to hold down the handle on your toilet for entirely too long just to get it to flush… or that you have survivors guilt from a mission that didn’t quite go the way you wanted it to. You use excuses like, “No one understands” or “I’ll suffer in silence like I was taught in the military.” Well guess what, that really isn’t working out too well for most of us… is it? Be big enough to kick your pride to the curb and talk to someone. Whether it’s family, fellow veterans, or some random homeless guy who will never know your name and likely never see you again. It helps to get it off your chest, and at bare minimum it will force you to confront things you have been avoiding. If you really are revolted at the idea of engaging with another human about deeply personal topics, then write about it. No one has to read it, but writing is truly cathartic and will serve in much the same capacity as talking to someone. Like any mechanical maintenance… it doesn’t magically fix itself just because you pretended it’s not there.
- You haven’t accepted the fact that you aren’t in the military any more. Are you still wearing a high and tight? Are you wearing your Class A’s to job interviews? Is “hooah” and “fucking/fuckin’/fuck” still a part of your public vernacular? Now, of course there are very positive habits that you absolutely should carry over through transition, like exercising every day and showing up ten minutes early with something to write with and to write on. There is a limit though, and you need to embrace your new disposition in life. Get a normal, professional haircut. Go to Men’s Wearhouse when they have one of those buy one, get one free deals running on suits. Please do continue to artfully inject cusswords into sentences, but not in public or around people who don’t know you very well. “Hooah” was never ok so knock that shit off. Embrace the lessons you learned while in the service, and realize where and when to implement them in your new life. Change is a necessary and important facet of life, and transitioning to the civilian world will certainly not be the last time you encounter it in your life. Might as well get the practice in now.
- You look down on everyone who hasn’t served. Ok, I get it; it’s hard to be friends with someone who has a drastically different life experience than you. He’s sitting there droning on about how his nipples are chafed from the 5k he ran last weekend and your sitting there thinking, I don’t give a shit and don’t talk to me about uncomfortable until you have had hot brass go down your collar. Bro, just lose the superiority complex. Yes, you should be proud of your service. But you are not so special and elite that you cannot at least be amicable around your fellow Americans. I’m not saying you have to be friends with everyone and shit a rainbow every time the check out guy at Target smiles at you. I’m just saying that there are a lot more of “them” then there are of “us”, and you have many years ahead of you – it would behoove you to play nice at some point. Oh, and some of them might actually be able to help you out when you are looking for a job, or buying a house, or… you get the idea. At bare minimum, you can tell him about your drinking stories in the barracks while he talks about his drinking stories from the dorms over cold beers and a few patties of ground meat on the grill.
- You never leave your comfort zone. This means something different for everyone, but in order to grow, age, and mature – we must push outside of our perceived boundaries. Mix things up every once in a while. Do you listen to solely country music with the occasional classic rock band thrown in? Take a chance and pop some of that modern hibbidy-hop in. Did you move back to the same town that you grew up in before joining the military? That’s fine, but what travel plans do you have in place to see something new this year? I know that Ranger Up and Article 15 put out some hilarious YouTube videos to keep you entertained, but when was the last time you read something? Go pick up one of the classics and challenge yourself. I feel confident that if you do smaller things to push the limits of your current comfort zone, making the transition from military to civilian (the ultimate comfort zone challenge) will go a lot smoother.
Now, this article probably comes off as really arrogant. The truth is that I am having a helluva time myself, but have noticed a few recurring themes with those who have successfully traveled this road. We are a community of veterans, and as a community, we need to collectively move forward. If you aren’t struggling in your transition or have already successfully traversed that road, then link up with someone who has separated recently and help him or her out. I believe this is a hard path for anyone, regardless of whether you had a two-year contract or retired with 35 years of service, but it’s not impossible either. We can have all the fancy slogans and do-good charities in the world, but unless we are each willing to make a difference in our own lives – it’s all for naught.