3 Ways to Find Courage When Entering the Civilian Workforce

(U.S. Air National Guard/Staff Sgt. Joseph Pagan)

Writing about courage to a military audience feels both ridiculous and fruitless. Certainly, you know about courage. It took courage to join the military, it took courage to leave your families and loved ones for deployments, and it took massive courage to do the job the military requires.

So why am I writing about courage here? Because when you leave the military, you’ll need to find a different kind of courage to create meaning in your civilian career.

Understanding Courage in the Civilian Sector

Courage is defined as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” In your post-military career, you’ll need to find the courage to lead differently, be open to change and ambiguity, and still find the strength to persevere in making a difference.

You’ll need to share who you are and why your work matters to you in order to build community, connection and influence with those around you.

The “arms” you’ll carry in the private sector are all you. They are your heart, your passions, your experiences and your purpose. They’ll keep you protected and empower you to follow a mission you believe in. When you are confident in an idea or vision, you’ll lean on your courage of truth and a service mindset to help others see the validity of your concept.

Finding Your Post-Military Courage

All this may seem challenging, but you don’t have to find this new courage alone. Here are three ways to develop this new skill:

1. Clarify your purpose. 
Instead of starting with “What can I do?” or “What do I need to do?” ask yourself, “What am I meant to do?” Your purpose for being here – your “why” – is what helps you face adversity and obstacles with courage. As you move into the civilian sector, evaluate how the same sense of purpose that led you to the military is now leading you to another path. Be willing to ask yourself the hard questions to uncover what that path might be.

2. Lean on your service mindset. 
It’s been my experience that someone who’s willing to serve their country doesn’t leave that sense of duty and passion behind when the uniform comes off. You might want to serve differently now or be of service to a different audience. Leverage the same qualities that attracted you to military duty to explore how and who you might serve going forward. Learn all you can about them, what they need and what they care about. Then use your service mindset to help, guide and add value in ways only you can.

3. Enlist a mentor. 
We all need help and guidance. We lean on each other for support, encouragement, information and insights to help grow our lives and careers. Have the courage to reach out for assistance. A mentor can be a huge support as you navigate the uncertainties and seeming randomness of the military-to-civilian transition. Be brave and share what you need so they can help you.

In my upcoming book, “The New Rules of Influence: How to Authentically Build Trust, Drive Change, and Make an Impact,” I offer this about the need for courage:

“Be courageous and push past fear. Courage doesn’t happen for you or to you. You need to find the strength to be the leader you’re meant to be. You’ll have to become confident and able to embrace risk — and be unapologetically brave. Courage means pushing for what you believe is right with the gusto, passion, and bravery of Sir William Wallace going into battle (face paint optional).”

While you might be searching for a 9-to-5 job that carries less stress, risk and volatility than your military career, you’ll still want to be seen, heard and respected for your contributions.

The private sector needs people with the courage to speak up and speak out, to bring others into conversations that might be uncomfortable, and to serve a greater purpose. All of these are likely still part of you after you leave the military.

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