4 Ways to Get Unstuck When Your Transition Feels Like a Goat Rodeo

(U.S. Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Amy M. Lovgren)

Question: I get that transition can be messy, but I thought I'd dodged a bullet when I got a job right after the Army. I got out, started my job and thought all was good. Then things went wrong: My boss told me I wasn't "living up to expectations," my partner broke up with me, I got into debt and ranted about my frustrations on social media.

Then, my boss put me "on a plan," and instead of working on it, I quit. Now I can't find another job. I've felt like the past few years have been a goat rodeo and am not sure how to get back on track.

Answer: (After looking up "goat rodeo" on Google) It's natural to approach your military-to-civilian transition with apprehension and insecurity, and to feel a sense of relief when you've landed a job. But transition isn't just about "the job," and having a job doesn't always mean satisfaction and fulfillment.

Let's first look at what may have happened as you exited from the Army:

Choosing the First Job Offered

It's a common approach to an uncertain future. While you're faced with many decisions to make -- where to live, what to do, how to find a new community, how to share your story and more -- work is often the most looming. Many people derive their sense of identity from their work, and exiting the military, it's natural to want to feel grounded in employment after separation.

Planning an Exit Strategy

Some people approach life and career by putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where that leads them. Others create a plan and rigidly adhere to that plan. Neither approach is wholly flawed, but both have flaws.

If you're not focused on a career direction, it's easy to become swayed by things that might be temporarily gratifying (e.g., a good salary, fancy job title, etc.) and miss the bigger picture of what's being offered. Similarly, creating a plan that's not flexible and agile could limit your possibilities and hinder your career growth.

(Not) Seeking Guidance.

A move as significant as moving from the military culture to the private sector would benefit from input from others. If you limited the feedback you received on how to make choices and evaluate options, your perspective may have been skewed.

Since we can't go backward, let's look at what you can do now to get things right-sized for you and your career:

1. Find a Mentor.

Identify someone in your network with experience, insight and tools to help you understand how your transition unfolded, and who can guide you forward with more intention and clarity. If you're not sure who can mentor you, ask friends, family, former colleagues, online connections -- anyone who might know someone who can show you how to be more strategic about your career.

2. Learn from Your Past.

With the help of a mentor, coach or adviser, take stock of the role you played in things not progressing as you expected. While it's helpful to also recognize the role others played, you only have control over yourself. Inventory what you did right, which decisions were not ideal, how you could have navigated situations differently and what you can learn from your transition so far.

3. Set Measurable Goals.

Consider goals around your relationships, how you communicate, how you behave and the choices you make. For example, you could strive to find an employer whose values align with your own, choose relationships that are mutually rewarding, speak up when something feels off and ask for help when you're struggling. As you achieve even the smallest goals, your confidence will start to rebuild.

4. Learn from Others.

Be willing to learn from those around you. While your mentors will be great guides, expand your exposure to include role models in your company, industry and community who can set an example for standards you wish to hold yourself to. Watch, listen, learn and then adapt what you've learned to meet your own career and life goals.

Transition is not a linear, "check the boxes" process. It can be messy, abstract, uncertain and frustrating. At the same time, you'll learn wonderful new skills, talents and ideas that can take you further than you ever expected if you'll let your mind (and heart) be open to possibilities and work off a growth mindset.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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