Is There Passion After the Military?

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woman with goggles searches for passion at work

You know your military transition is showing when you start using the word “passion” in public. Military members who never said “passion” outside the bedroom suddenly start telling people they have a passion for customer service. Or a passion for strategic defense. Or a passion for cross-functional teams, cloud computing or, by God, third wave coffee.

Wanting passion at work is not silly (even though the word sounds kinda silly). It is cited as one of the motivators for The Great Resignation going on in the civilian world.

While you have multiple sources of meaning in your life, you want your first post-military job in the civilian world to be meaningful, too. You want to make a difference. You want to feel the same level of interest, competence and intensity on the job as you had at your best job in the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Air Force.

Having a passion would mean you would wake up on Monday morning and want to go to work. Is that still possible? Or is passion a work concept that is only for the very young, the very naïve and, say, Oprah?

As the transition master coach for Military.com’s Veteran Employment Project, I have seen how passion for work is like true love. If you have had it before, chances are you can get it again. And why wouldn’t you want it? Study after study shows that when people feel psychologically fulfilled at work, they are often happierhealthier, and more productive. Those are benefits that last far beyond a paycheck.

But finding passion at work does not come easy. If you felt passionate about your work in the military, look back on your career and think of how that really happened and how you can make it happen again. Here are five things you need to keep in mind about finding work worth waking up for:

1. Beware revisionist history.

Whether you are listening to the career story of Steve Jobs, the dog trainer on “Canine Intervention” or your buddy who now works for big bucks at Google, you often hear a story about how they followed their passion straight to greatness. When you examine the story more closely, you find that the narrative is not so straightforward. They aren’t lying. This is just the way our brains search for cause and effect. Think instead about how your work really developed for you and where it might go in the future.

2. Passion, in fact, may be something you find.

When we were all a lot younger, there was the concept that you had to go out there and discover your passion -- as if it were hiding under a rock. This is the “fit theory”, in which you have to find a job that fits your personality. Some military members report that is exactly how it happened for them. They joined the military for pay and benefits and stayed for adventure, family, honor and to serve their country.

3. You probably discovered your passion through your work, not your work through your passion.

Other people in the military do not find their passion for work right away. This is the “develop theory,” in which your passion for your work occurs over time as you do more of the work, get better at it and improve your performance.

The research backs this theory as the more likely route to passion for work. In an ongoing Deloitte study on passion at work, they found that people who were passionate about their work were more likely to have discovered their passion through doing the work itself, rather than choosing a job based on a passion they already had.

4. You can be passionate about some weird things.

One of the things I hear from active-duty military all the time is that they can get engrossed -- even passionate -- about some very dry things. Like a really good audit. Or nuclear regulation. Or buttons on a uniform. Developing a new expertise or using an old one in a new way is a source of passion you might find in your new role.

5. Passion is the thing you come back to again and again.

If you are looking for a job that will hold your interest over time, one of the questions you need to ask yourself during transition is: “What kind of work do I come back to again and again? What continually holds my interest?"

When you look outside the military for a job in the civilian world, it can seem like you never will find work you care about that much again. And in some ways, this is true. The work you did in the military was done by your younger self. But if you have had passion for that work, you can find work to be passionate about again. Give it effort. Give it time.

Jacey Eckhart is Military.com’s transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.

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