I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your transition from the military to the civilian sector is not a date, an event or single occurrence. It’s a process — laborious and challenging, enlightening and wonderful, that will happen over and over throughout your next career.

As adults, we transition in our jobs, relationship status (spouse, parent, child, sibling, ex-partner), community and focus. Today, you may be exiting your career in the military and moving into a private-sector job. Later, you may move into entrepreneurship, higher education or a different job.

How to Get Used to Transitioning

I remember getting my immunizations as a child. My mother told me, “You’ll have plenty of these in your lifetime, so get used to the idea.”

While all transitions won’t feel like shots in your arm, some might. They might hurt and leave you stinging afterward. Some transitions will bring tremendous joy (i.e., becoming a parent, finding a great job, getting married, taking off on an exciting journey); others may bring you conflict, frustration or stress (i.e., the loss of a job, spouse or exciting plans).

In 2020, we all had to learn how to transition as we faced the uncertainty of a pandemic environment together. If you were planning your transition this year or are readying for your separation in 2021, here are ways to think about your military-to-civilian transition and the ones to follow.

1. Understand the Process

Many transitions come with a long lead time. As you prepared to turn in your separation papers, hopefully you had several months, if not years, to consider what comes next. In my new book, “Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty,” I offer a step-by-step process to follow in exiting the military. You will also receive requirements to complete for your transition capstone and discharge and should follow them carefully.

Later, when you get ready to leave your current job and pursue another one, there’s also a process. Skipping steps in that process can be costly and embarrassing. For instance, one step involves when to let your current employer know you’ll be making a change.

Announce it too soon, and they might exit you out right then. Wait too long, and you could leave your team short-handed and earn a negative reputation.

2. Learn from the Past

You have already made transitions: You left your community and transitioned into the military. You moved from one job and location to another. Your responsibilities expanded to your new level of competency and skill. Those are all transitions. How did you navigate them?

If you can learn from the past about what works well for you, you can replicate it going forward. Do you analyze a situation and then create a tactical game plan for your transition? Or do you rely on faith and prayer to help guide you?

3. Greet the Transition with Hope and Not Dread

I once coached a client who greeted any change in his life or career with doom — “Oh, this is going to be hard,” he’d say. But what if it isn’t hard? What if everything you’ve done up until this point has perfectly prepared you for the situation you’re facing and the transition you’re making?

If you greet opportunities with optimism and curiosity, you’ll see more possibilities and potential. Fear, on the other hand, closes down the aperture of our focus and restricts what we can take in and consider.

4. Lean on Your Support Network

Whether you’re growing your family, your business or your career, ask for help from your supporters. The people who’ve raised their hands to guide, advise, encourage and refer you are there to help, and you’ll need them during a time of transition.

When the transition is complete, remember to thank them, reinforce your commitment to serve them, and know they’ll be ready for the next time you need them as well.

Transitions aren’t always pretty, easy or fun. Sometimes, they bring up fears, frustrations and concerns. But they are a real part of our lives, and when we can learn from mistakes, include others in our process, and grow as individuals through the transition, we set ourselves up for success.

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