AN APPEAL FOR PLANNING AND PREPARATION
July 19, 2021
MANAGING YOUR MILITARY TRANSITION
Quit waiting for life to happen to you and start becoming and active contender in your destiny. Think outside of the box and don’t simply relegate yourself to what’s “normal.”
Dancing in the desert. Phone on “do not disturb.” Not a care in the world.
It always confused me to see the number of people who talked about how much they couldn’t stand their job, were miserable, or were just ready to ETS, juxtaposed with the very few I knew who were actively planning their military transition. There was a definitive mismatch between words and actions. You may think that because you still have five more years left, it’s too early to plan. This is absolutely incorrect.
For me, it was incredibly difficult to separate myself from the chaotic shit storm that was my daily Army work life in order to really think or make a plan for what I wanted out of the next phase of my life. And after being immersed in the “everything is a priority” organizational culture for long enough, you begin to assign your own personal existence to a position lower and lower on the priority list. This was honestly probably just as much of my own doing as it was the Army’s.
While your one precious life will never be a commander’s number one priority, it should inarguably be your number one priority. So what are you waiting for?
Be deliberate. Research. Plan. Prepare. Whether that’s planning to REFRAD or planning your career path within the military, you can do it. Here’s a thought. There are so many times in the Army where you are waiting for something. Waiting for the training meeting to start. Waiting for motorpool formation. Waiting for the brigade commander to show up. Waiting outside the battalion XO’s office. Waiting for a 350-1 class to begin. The five minutes here and ten minutes there where you’re simply letting your brain melt will accumulate into hours of wasted time–if you allow it. The opportunities are there to think about your future, plan your next moves, research, take notes in your phone, and bookmark links for topics to research over the weekend.
As you can tell, we were all super pumped to be here.
Say your plan completely changes. So what? Because you made an initial plan you’re likely to be more prepared to ambiguity than someone who has no plan. You’ll have an understood frame of reference from which you can adjust when circumstances evolve. Instead of chaos and scrambling in response to something unexpected. People generally don’t seem to regret planning and preparation (Unless it’s something like a rehearsal for a CAR rehearsal, then yes, there are tons of ragrets). But, I’ve heard plenty of people say they wished they had put more time and effort into planning. And since this particular plan concerns the very direction of your life, I think it’s an endeavor that requires the utmost time and effort.
As for the little spreadsheet / PowerPoint slide / “baseball card” five-year plan you’re supposed to robotically brief your boss on your completely predictable career track goals (company command, broadening, S3, XO, BN CMD)… Well, it seems to be one of those deliverables people often fill out in a hurry with inaccurate information to check a block that they don’t give a shit about. And it’s unfortunate that this is sometimes the case–not always–but sometimes. I personally think it’s another appropriate illustration of the “green slides” norm. You fill out this paper because it’s mandatory. You know if you tell the truth (I want to VTIP or switch branches or REFRAD) it likely won’t end well, so you tell people what they want to hear. Aka, “Sir, there’s nothing I’d like more than to be a battalion commander.”
My point with all of this is, if you know with a moderate degree of certainty that you want to eventually leave Active Duty, you should be planning and preparing now.
Planning and preparation now will buy you flexibility in the future. If you have no idea what you want to do after the military, you can also plan for that scenario by simply saving as much money as possible. This will enable you to be opportunistic and spontaneous. Not planning and preparing limits your options and will potentially force you to prematurely jump straight into a job or school immediately after ETSing, even if you aren’t ready.
If an immediate turnaround into a job or higher education is part of your plan, that’s great. But I do genuinely believe that nearly everyone could benefit from some deliberate time off before moving into something new. If that sounds appealing to you, then you need to begin seriously thinking and planning now to make that scenario a reality.
A lot of this information probably seems quite self-centered. And that’s because it is. It’s absolutely imperative that you devote time and effort to yourself because you won’t be able to optimally contribute in the world if you don’t. There’s a reason airline policies are for people to place oxygen masks on themselves first, before helping others. And Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” So it’s not a waste of your time to do some introspection and consider what you have to offer the world and what you’re passionate about.
Sun coming up. Ain’t showered in days and wearing hand-me-downs from my LTs: Straight up LIVING.
If you’ve got a lot of time left until your military contract ends, and you think, meh, I won’t even both thinking about my post-military life now, you’re selling yourself short.
Yes you should absolutely apply a healthy amount of attention towards the job and work that’s in front of you and do your very best. But if you already know that you plan to leave active duty, or at least are entertaining the idea, you are actually at an advantage for recognizing this so early on. The earlier you realize this, the earlier you can plan and prepare. And, it’s not that you need to take everything so seriously. What I’m saying is, you should feel excited, motivated, and reinvigorated by opportunity to design your life. In my humble opinion, one shouldn’t be nonchalant about this. It’s your one life!
All of these are just some thoughts to consider coming from someone who’s already well on their way through this process and has had some time to reflect. I’m obviously not the first to do this and I’m certainly not the last, and there are plenty of opinions you can find on how to go about your transition. This is simply my perspective that I wanted to share with you. Thanks for reading.
Planning and preparation set conditions for flexibility and spontaneity, which creates the possibility for additional opportunities and options.
How cool is this spot?!