When I saw “a career in finance” listed as a “hot career field,” I thought: “I’m jumping on that.” Sure, “finance” can mean a lot of different things and is done in a lot of different places, but as a banking and insurance company, my employer, USAA, certainly is involved in finances. As I was exiting the active-duty Army in the early 1990s, I never would have imagined the twisting, turning path that would lead me to my current work on USAA’s military advocacy team and my own little slice of a career in finance. In line with the editorial theme, I thought I’d share some lessons I learned along the way.

  • Know yourself and follow your passion. Have you ever heard someone say, “I love my job; I don’t even consider it work.” You may have thought about your own situation and rolled your eyes like my daughters did when they were teenagers (and, now that I think about it, still do). Well, it may be a somewhat rare situation, but it won’t be a possibility if you’re doing something you don’t enjoy. Which brings me to the point. There are plenty of different angles to finance. You could like crunching numbers, find beauty in pouring over the tax code or just like helping people — and still find a fit in finance. Whatever the case, look for something that gets you stoked.
  • Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. I point this out regularly as part of my work, but it also can apply to career opportunities. As your family transitions out of the military or you explore opportunities in finance, remember that finance is a core element of any business. So you could land with a company in a seemingly unrelated field.
  • First is not last. Remember that transitions signal the start of a new chapter, not just an ending of the last. When you cross the finish line of your family’s military service, there’s no huge sigh of relief. Instead, all the trappings of a new financial beginning are accounted for — new budget, new taxes, new insurance, new cost of living — as you prepare for yet another new beginning. In the same light, your first job in finance might not be your last. It took me a couple of stops to get where I am, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more change-averse individual than me. So, keep learning, keep growing and you’ll find something that fits just right, even if your first stop isn’t your last.
  • Networking doesn’t have to be a grind. This may be the most emphasized word/task/necessity as you make any career move. And while you want to take the right steps on this front (of which I’m not the right person to advise), just being curious is a good start. Way back when, I met a USAA manager at a certified financial planner (CFP) conference and had a nice chat — about what, I don’t remember. After arriving home, I contacted him, and six months later, I was part of the USAA team. My wife was oh so happy, which leads me to my last point.
  • Stash some cash. Any transition in life is subject to some inevitable bumps in the road. Some people experience a gap in employment or event start-up costs. In my case, it was a job with variable income. I can’t think of a case where a solid stash of cash wouldn’t be helpful. And if you seamlessly make your move into finance and are left with too much cash — after, of course, reserving enough for your emergency fund — you can earmark the money for other goals or purposes.

I’m living proof that finance provides a diverse set of opportunities. I’m blessed my path led me here. Best of luck to you as you pursue your own unique career in finance.

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