“When we leave the military, we lose three things: our sense of community, identity and purpose.” - Will McNulty, CEO Team Rubicon Global & dude I quote almost daily
I hate to break it to you, but a successful transition requires more than just finding a new job. We all get what our guy Abraham Maslow, and his pretty solid hierarchy of needs, was laying down when he said people have to focus on things like food and shelter before giving one damn about realizing personal potential. And we spend more time helping fellow veterans with key skills for finding a new job than anything else. So getting a job, the right job, is job #1. But even the easiest transitions from military job to civilian job often feel incomplete.
When we serve in the military, our job is far more that “what we do”. It’s a lot closer to “who we are”. We are a part of something bigger, an ideal and a mission that mean more than just our role within them. Our families are invested and our co-workers are often our closest friends and make up our support network. We can pretty easily find ourselves living our “job” 24/7 and existing as a giant complex organism with our fellow service members and their families. We wake up in the morning and put on clothes that aren’t meant to be reflections of our personal style or our economic status. We what we do is a pretty damn close to being who we are.
So it’s a little preposterous to think that some new nine-to-five is going to replace all of that. In most cases it can’t. So in order to not move through our new lives like a slice of swiss with giant holes in our happy, we have to find ways to fill the gaps. We have to deliberately inject community, identity and purpose into our routine -- or our transition will feel incomplete.
When I first heard Will say that veterans lose these, it stopped me in my tracks. It was the biggest “a-ha” slash “no duh” moment. Those three words pointed toward exactly what I was feeling about transition. I knew something was missing in my first few months of working in the corporate world, and I found a way to add in what I needed. I joined the veteran employee network at our company and took on a national leadership role very quickly. That group, of fellow veterans who understood my ways of thinking and speaking, was a Godsend. Veterans will tell you how it is...without all the corporate bingo that I still can’t speak fluently. There is an automatic trust and loyalty and space to be yourself and ask stupid questions when you’re with other veterans.
Our network of veteran employees had a mission -- get more veterans into the company -- and we supported veterans outside the company. We’ve advised, coached and supported countless service members in their effort to find employment after the military. We did it because that’s who we are. We serve others. We pay it forward. We did it because we loved the challenge and the sense of accomplishment and we did it because we knew our effort supported a cause bigger than us.
Beyond the employee network, I was able to create my own purpose at work. An unapologetic ENFP, and ever the campaigner, I wrote a white paper suggesting the company create a position overseeing all veteran-related activities and investments. To their endless credit, they created a job that was 100% dedicated to veteran support and I was put in that role. You can measure what an organization values by where it spends its resources -- people, time and money. So the creation of this veterans support role told me that there was genuine interest in making a difference. By searching for ways to fill in the gaps of simply having a job (a great job, by any measure), I found a new sense of purpose. From there, I knew that our company had to invest in the same….that getting veterans into great jobs may not be enough. We need more. We need to BE more.
I know you’ll be crushed to learn that we can’t all create our own jobs that give us a sense of purpose. But we can find companies or nonprofits who have a purpose or mission that gets us excited about changing the world. If you’re super green (high five) then maybe you’ll find purpose in joining an environmental nonprofit or in green energy or with a company heavily invested in other causes or values you hold dear.
Even outside of work, we can find ways to give back and fill in the happy gaps. The very best post 9/11 veteran service nonprofits are the ones who ask what veterans can do for you. Instead of asking non-veterans to give money to support the poor little vets, organizations like Team Rubicon tell us to quit bitching about how hard life is, put a hard hat on and get to work making someone else’s day better. In the meantime, we get the tremendous benefits of getting dirty, breaking stuff and knowing we’re still changing the world. Team Rubicon and other service-focused groups also give us the opportunity to make fun of the Marines in our presence -- don’t underestimate how much you’ll miss this in your life, people.
I have great news -- volunteering with Team Rubicon and similar groups can also help you find a job. And you can get started well before you separate from the service. Doing so gives you a head start on things like networking and job skills. Do you wish you could dabble in communications? Or get certified as a heavy equipment operator? You can get experience, meet others already in the workforce and connect with people in communities you’ll serve. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping others, you’ll be helping yourself and you’ll get to work on your sweet farmer’s tan. Do yourself a favor and look these guys up.