The transition from military life to civilian life after 20 years in the military can be a strange and weird experience for most military personnel. Here are a few things that I learned throughout my own personal process.
I joined the military right after high school and was in for 20 years as a Firefighter in the United States Air force. Along the way I received my bachelor’s degree in Accounting and knew that I wanted to work in the business world when I got out of the military. When I went from active duty to being a reservist, I went to work for a private software company as an Accountant.
With the military, you have be very sharply dressed at all times because your supervisors and coworkers will look you over every morning and you know when there will be a uniform inspection. If we were caught being poorly dressed, we were punished by having to do push-ups. That was not so in my civilian job. No one really cared what I wore and in fact, when I showed up wearing a shirt and tie on my first day of work there, I was told to lose the tie and wear a t-shirt the following day. The culture of the software company where I worked was very laid back and their way of thinking was basically to let us wear what ever made us feel comfortable. Of course, that was an easy adjustment to make. Plus, it cut about 10 minutes from my morning ritual when I went from polishing my boots to just wearing sneakers every day.
One of the hardest changes to accept were the differences between the way meetings were held in the military versus the civilian world. In the military the adage (old saying) is “If you are not 15 minutes early then you’re late”. That was definitley not the case at my civilian software company. If a meeting was scheduled to start at 9 am, people showed up at 9 am. For my first few months, I arrived at meetings and sat by myself for 15 minutes wondering where everyone was & if I was even in the right room.
Some of the military disciplines I learned became an asset to me and actually led to me be recognized and promoted faster. The military work ethic has the highest of standards and this was seen in my work projects and my dedication to achieving outstanding results for the company. I volunteered for projects outside of my area to greater increase my knowledge of how the company was run.
I also had to resist barking out orders and telling my subordinates to do push-ups for making mistakes. Also, the interaction between managers and the employees under them was much more open and social than in the military. It would be like having lunch with your commandeer every day.
The transition can be troublesome at times, but one of the greatest things I learned in the military was flexibility. That and that you can make it work and have another rewarding career.
Oh, and don’t worry – years later I am still the first one there at meetings.