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Control Your Mind, Control Your Military Transition

Jason C. Anderson

The fact that your military transition will be challenging is not news. That reality is captured in countless studies and research articles from a wide variety of sources. In a previous PreVeteran article, we captured that sentiment by spelling out the challenging two-year period following military transition that’s been stubbornly problematic for the past 30 years.

The real question is, does military transition have to be so challenging? At PreVeteran, we argue no, it doesn’t, and the reason why is simple: the biggest obstacles standing between you and a successful military transition are the thoughts rattling around in your head.

Once you learn to recognize those thoughts and diminish or avoid their impact, your chances of post-military success go up drastically—no matter what you choose to do.

How Did I Arrive at This Conclusion?

Neither quickly nor easily. Ahead of my 2014 retirement from the military, I felt intense stress about my military transition. One day I was confident I was on the right path. The next day, my mind was flooded with new “good ideas” for something I should do differently.

Most frustrating was the fact that I could not clearly think through my transition. As an educated military leader, this, by far, drove me the most nuts. Why can’t I see things clearly!?

After I secured employment and as I began to settle into my post-military life, I began my search for why things are challenging for us educated, transitioning military members and spouses. I looked for answers in published studies. They gave plenty of data but didn’t explain the “why.” I looked to academic disciplines like psychology. Again, I found explanations of symptoms we all felt as transitioning military members, but no why.

I then found my way to cognitive neuroscience and the breakthrough I was looking for. The simple reason that dawned upon me was that nothing was more fundamentally individual than how one’s brain interacts with the external environment.

So, I hired a cognitive neuroscientist who was in her last year of her getting her PhD. She was a wonderful resource for teaching me basic cognitive neuroscience principles. From those principles, I created a proprietary model that gives very specific insights into what is happening in the mind when it comes to preparing for transition.

What Our PreVeteran Models Tell You About Your Military Transition

Our proprietary cognitive neuroscience-based models give many insights, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on two:

  • You will have divergent “good ideas” entering your head all the time as to what you should do post military
  • You will try to carry over some of your military-related experience into the private sector and it will not fit in well at all, and it will hurt you

Let’s start with the divergent “good ideas” your brain will provide you. While we jokingly call them “good ideas”, they’re actually thought fragments that distract and confuse you as you get ready to leave the military. This occurs because you don’t have the experience of transitioning from the group-focused military ecosystem to the individual-focused private sector, your mind will struggle to see a clear path forward (just like mine did at the tail end of my career).

Here are a few examples—do any of these internal messages sound familiar to you?

  • “Should I do something completely different from what I do now in the military?”
  • “Do I need to go back to school to get another degree to be competitive?”
  • “Do I need to get my Project or Program Management Professional (PMP) certification?”
  • “Should I become a real estate agent?”
  • “Should I start my own business?”

Now let’s chat about the military-related experiences you will try to carry over to the private sector. This happens when you think of more specific transition-related topics when preparing. For example, when you think of employment post-military, many of you will (significantly) overvalue your generalist attributes for a position in a company. In other words, you are more of the mind to just ask for a “chance to grow” in any role in a company but aren’t quite sure what role you should apply for. You are “open to anything.”

Another specific employment-related example is the curious (and sometimes complex) initial salary calculations you’ll make in your head. Don’t feel too bad—I did the same thing back in the day! For many of you who are separating, your initial salary calculation is simple—you don’t want to be paid less than you make now. For those of you retiring, it gets a bit more interesting. You will be willing to accept a lesser initial salary so long as the combination of your new salary and your retirement is not less than you’re making right now.

These Internal Messages Aren’t Helpful—in Fact, They Hurt You!

Here’s the problem. If you objectively take a step back and look at these statements, do they look helpful? Do they sound like they lead to clear and deliberate action or are they distracting and inevitably lead to you spinning your wheels?

And that’s just a personal reflection. Think about it from a future employer’s standpoint. If these internal thoughts are guiding your actions, behaviors, and communication with employers, what impression are you going to leave them with?

Well, if we’re honest and confront these directly—and that’s what we do at PreVeteran—these messages are not only unproductive but actually significantly hurt your chances of post-military employment success because they prevent you from implementing the activities that can help you prepare for your military transition.

Bottom Line—PreVeteran Can Help You

First and foremost, we want you to be successful. That applies equally to you as an individual and to the broader transitioning military community.

Our unique PreVeteran modeling can help you clearly pinpoint those unproductive thoughts—essentially flagging them and moving them out of the way—which allows you to learn the critical knowledge items that will help guarantee your post-military success.

This modeling is purposefully baked into all of our programs, including our most recently launched Employment Prep course. If you are one of 90+ percent of transitioning military members or military spouses who seek employment, we’d like you to consider taking this course. It will set you on the path to post-military employment success by helping you lower the internal obstacles we mention in this article and then fill in those private-sector unknowns you frequently think about in your down time.

To sign up for our next Employment Prep course, click on this link.

And, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to download our 5-step guide to getting the job you want after the military.

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