Apr 092014
 
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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.

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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.

About Christian Rue

Christian is married to Masshole Mommy. A Massachusetts native, he's happy to still be living here, but he also enjoyed living in several states & two other countries during his 20 years in the Air Force. These days, in addition to being a retired Air Force firefighter, he works for our fine government as an accountant. Chris loves movies, reading, comedy and spending time with his family.


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  85 Responses to “Foxhole to Cubicle”

  1. Another point to make is that the food is ten times better in the civilian work place also.

  2. The food is ten times more fattening in the civilian workplace, or at least it was in higher ed. People were always bringing in goodies, and I just finally steered clear of that blasted break room. 🙂

    It’s interesting to hear about the transition, especially since you were enlisted for so long, and directly out of school. I’m always glad to hear a happy ending for such a thing, and it sounds like you found yours.

    LOL at the wanting to bark orders and issue push-ups, that’s funny!! It’d be funnier if you did it, hahahaha

  3. I imagine the transition to the civilian working world after 20 years of service (Thank you!) would be quite an adjustment. It sounds like it has served you well. I went to a Catholic HS and wore the same uniform every day. After 4 years of wearing a skirt, I was ready for something more casual!

  4. It’s something a lot of people probably don’t even think about or realize – that it’s a major life change going from one extreme to the other like that. It cracked me up about being early to meetings because you’re right – most of the time they start exactly on time or even a little late.

  5. This is interesting. My son is a Marine officer and I sometimes wonder how he will adjust in a couple of years when he retires.

  6. 1st – PLEASE tell your hubby from me “THANK YOU for helping to keep our great country SAFE”.
    My hubby served in the Army during Vietnam – he is still always on time. I don’t think he has ever been late. LOL He has always said that the service is the best teacher.

  7. Thank you so much Chris for sharing and truly never knew so much of this myself having never been in the military.

  8. This is a really good perspective on making the transition from a military position to working in the civilian world. My stepson intends on joining the Air Force when he graduates high school in two years and I think this would be a good post for him to read too. I’m trying to make sure he has a well-rounded idea of how his life will change. I have my reservations about how well he will succeed with the strict rules and regulations of the military…although I also think it’s exactly what he needs! LOL

  9. What a great experience and thank you Chris for serving for our country! Lots of Air Force in my family too 🙂

    xoxo
    Lanaya

  10. We were a military family also, and for me I have less tolerance for insubordination. People don’t realize how good they have it.

  11. Great post, Chris! My youngest son just joined the Navy and will be leaving in August for boot camp. I’m sure that this will serve him well in life and this post just confirmed some of my thoughts.

  12. I don’t have a military background, but I am ALWAYS there early, and one of the first people! My husband on the other hand…. late late late.

  13. It sounds like your military background really prepared you for civilian work. Your work ethic far exceeds many others who don’t have the same experience as you do, so that really gives you a leg up in getting the better jobs!

  14. Awesome story.. My boys are officers in the Navy and I love hearing about their experiences and am hoping they choose to retire and not leave after their ‘time’.

  15. Enjoyed your story and can relate to your experience with meetings. At my previous company, if you arrived 5 minutes before a meeting started you were considered late. At my current company if I arrive 5 minutes early I am the only one there and many times we have to call other attendees and ask if they are coming, Drives me crazy.

  16. I can see how the transition would be a little hard.

    I’ve never been in the military, but if I worked at your company, I’d be at those meetings early waiting with you. Lateness is so very rude to me; I always plan to arrive everywhere a little early.

  17. Thanks for sharing this Chris! I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to make that huge change! I am almost always early to everything. It stresses me out being late.

  18. My husband is ex military so I am going to pass this post along.

  19. The military apparently taught him to be very precise and meticulous, which is great. Those are great qualities to carry over to the civilian world – especially being prompt and prepared for meetings – that drives me crazy!

  20. I wish some of the military value’s would be done in business today. Some great qualities that several miss. Heck even in the youth.

  21. What a great idea to get your husband to share this story! My cousin actually was in the military and is now in college to be in finance. I will share this!

  22. Wow – some things I’d never thought of! Thanks to your hubby for his service 🙂

  23. What a priceless share, thanks for letting us get an insider view of things in the military. I do happen to know quite a few people that could stand to learn a bit about being timely.. never mind on time or early! This was so interesting, hope to hear more from you soon!

  24. Nice to hear his story! My dad was in the Army!

  25. You Crack Me Up I Can’t Imagine What A Ajustment That Has To Be!! LOL!

  26. I really enjoyed reading this. I admire you for making the move so gracefully!

  27. This was so nice that your husband shared his story! I can’t even imagine going from being in the Air Force to retiring to civilian life after serving so long. Great read!

  28. my cousin had a transition from military to civilian as well after about 20 years in. it took her a while to adjust

  29. I appreciate and thank you for your service. Transitioning for military to civilian life seems harder than I had originally expected.

  30. It is great that your husband served our country and for as long as he did. I imagine that’s all he knew for a long time and really had to transition to civi life

  31. Thats really great that he was able to transition into the “real” world like he was. I know a lot of people have struggled with that. So hilarious that he arrives so early for his meetings. Love it! 🙂

  32. I have to admit, barking out orders for situps while not appropriate does make me giggle a little.

  33. That sounds like enough big differences that it probably took a while to adjust. Are you still early by choice, or because everyone else is late?

  34. I bet it would be quite a transition after all those years. Thanks for your service to our country and for sharing with us!

  35. My brother just got out of the Marines and he couldn’t do the desk thing, so he bought a farm!

  36. It’s gotta be crazy not having to be in that environment anymore. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure there are a lot of people that would love to know about it! 🙂

  37. Thanks to your husband for sharing his experiences. I have always wondered what the transition was like.

  38. Thank you so much for sharing even though i came from a military family some of this I never new.

  39. First of all, thank you for serving our country. This is such a fascinating post and it must be a shock to go from one world to the other. I really appreciate you sharing your story!

  40. I always wonder if going from a teaching career to something else would have such dramatic transitions as going from the military to civilian jobs.

    I’m sure no one in any other profession would ask me for band-aids, kleenex, a pass for the nurse or to tell so and so to stop bugging them. That would be refreshing. But my new colleagues probably would not like it when I stop mid sentence to stare down the person who is not listening to me, or when I announce there are 5 minutes before the end of the meeting, or when I say things like “show me your eyes” or “walk out into the hall and try coming in here like a civilized human being” and definitely not when I quietly say “well, I guess when I call home tonight, we’ll talk about why you think it’s necessary to tell Mary she’s a poopyhead.” Any career change must have shocking changes and it’s always fun to hear what someone else was shocked by!

  41. I’ve heard the transition from military to civilian world can be rough. I imagine it was a shock going from dressing nicely to wearing a tee shirt to work!

  42. This is a great story. I am sure it was not an easy thing to do.

  43. It’s interesting to see such a difference between military & civilian life.

  44. Very interesting post. I was just talking to a friend of mine while our boys were playing soccer and she said that her son has never heard her ‘military voice!’ ha…

  45. I don’t know what USA military food is like, but I know any mess dinner I went to Canadian Army base was amazing. but perhaps the daily meals are not as fancy. I do know the army base almost always won the annual chili fest contest!

  46. My husband was in the military too. He has had the same adjustments to make. I love that quote about not barking out orders. lol

    Thank you for your service!

  47. I always admire the US army. I believe that the training they get makes them disciplined, tough, and productive in life. So if you suddenly switch from the military to the civilian world, you’ll surely get a culture shock or something like that in effect. 🙂

  48. My dad is a veteran, and I”m only now starting to learn a little about it. I have such respect for those who serve, and I find it super interesting to learn about how life is for the military.

  49. Thank you for your service. It was interesting to read about your transition from one world to the other.

  50. There is nothing wrong with being on time- more people should be like you! It would be a super difficult and a bit confusing transition. An interesting read, thanks for sharing!

  51. I really enjoyed reading this. I think its neat to see the transition, what we take for granted and how others try to adjust. We sometimes overlook this. Thanks for sharing

  52. a relative of mine is making this transition–he was only in for 5 years but chose to leave for health reasons. he is having a hard time with it. i was just discussing how hard this was the other day

  53. It must be a hard transition but hopefully it’s becoming easier with time. (Oh and it’s better to be the first at meetings than the last!)

  54. Very interesting post, especially from a male perspective. While a definite transition, I hope it goes smoothly

  55. Thanks for sharing your story Chris. My husband was in the Army for 12 years. Sometimes I catch him in what I call “Army Mode.” I admire your dedication and thank you for your service.

  56. wow I would think it would be very hard to transition, what 2 totally different careers!

  57. This is such an awesome post! So true that you have to be flexible in any job (even if it’s hard!). Sharing this today!

  58. My ex husband was in the Air Force too and this sounds like something he would write! I don’t think people realize how much of a transition it really is going from military to civilian. You really do have to adapt and adjust again to the real world.

  59. My husband was in over 20 years ago & is still all twitchy if he isn’t early to every meeting.

  60. This is great insight! Thank you for your service and I so appreciate people who are on time to meetings!

  61. I cannot even imagine making that transition. Kudos to your hubby for writing about it!

  62. I have never thought much of this. But now reading what your husband has wrote I am spinning the wheels and wondering what I would do if it was me!

  63. I bet it was a transition! I thought the difference from living in Nebraska and moving Georgia was big in my little world to. Things are just so different when you change scenery, and culture.

    Wearing a t-shirt instead of a tie and shirt is great.

  64. Please thank your husband for sharing his story! It cant be easy transition back to civilian life – and I thank him for his many years of service.

  65. Interesting transition. My brother just left the Army after 14 years of service. His transition hasn’t been as smooth, he’s seriously struggling with the real world. Nice to know it isn’t that way for everyone.

  66. Wow! I’m sure that the transition was for sure a tough one. I don’t think I could ever go and work a ‘real’ job ever again after blogging. I ♥ working from home and being ‘boss’.

  67. interesting! Thanks for sharing. My brother is in the military and I think he can relate to this!

  68. IT’s so neat hearing your take on making the change from military to civilian. thanks for sharing. I’ll try to be on time…I mean early now.

  69. I always thought the Airforce was more laid back when it came to hair standards. On deployment the females that were attracted to us always wore there hair in a ponytail. This wasn’t something females in the Navy could do. I was always so jealous of those in the Airforce. Lol

  70. Loved reading this. I can’t imagine how hard it was to deal with these differences. Just curious, how long did it take for you to loosen up to your new environment and lack of strictness?

  71. My cousin has been in the service so long and he is coming out next week. I am wondering how he will adjust to civilian life after 26 years. Loved reading this am going to fill him in

  72. Wow! I never really thought about the differences and that it’s such a major transition. Now that Chris had written it from a military perspective it really makes sense. I wonder if my cousin will totally understand and relate when he retires from the military.

  73. I think it must be different depending on your position where you served as well. My husband is also from the Air Force and well lets just say I thought all of them were too laid back, never cared about appearance and were not motivated to do anything – as I met more and more retired service men/women I discovered it was just some (or just one) that you had to light a fire under them to get a response. You both served but are complete opposites!

  74. I have several members of my family who served in the military. Thanks to you all so much. 🙂

  75. We have lots of military friends and family, though it seems they always end up in law enforcement when their active duty is over. Going to an office cubicle is a lot different! Thanks for sharing your story…and for serving our country as well.

  76. woow…I just notice that..and have fun writing all those valuable experience..cheers..

  77. It’s so ingrained in your patterns. I can totally see how it would be beneficial to have that background.

  78. Loved hearing about your transition. It makes me think of how hard it’s been to get used to interacting with kids as someone’s mom, rather than as a teacher – no one just does what I say anymore!

  79. The skills set you learn while being in the military were very valuable. I secretly wish I had been in the army because I don’t have a lot of discipline when it comes to little things like being on time (not to say that I’m always late either).

  80. When my brother left the military, he often discussed how difficult it was to make the transition from military life to civilian life.

  81. I can not imagine how hard that transition would be. I am sure you are happy to now have more family time and your boys are at such a great age for that!

  82. Please tell your husband thank you for his service! Thanks to you both, I know it isn’t easy!

  83. This is interesting – I never really knew much about Navy and all that – but my friend who is into these things will definitely be able to relate.