Veterans Can and Should Embrace Their Passions In Post-Military Careers

Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and other military units stand in formation while Denise H. Rohan, the first female commander of the American Legion, speaks during the Iron Mike Ceremony in just outside the town of Sainte Mere Eglise near the La Fiere Bridge at Normandy, France. (U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Wallace)

As transition nears -- or if you've exited the military and are working in your civilian career -- it's important to inventory your skills, training and experience as they'll help shape your career going forward.

Your civilian career will not have the predictable structure of your military one. As a civilian, you'll have access to more options, opportunities, challenges and prospects. To only rely on what you've been trained to do, know how to do and can do is limiting in an environment of endless possibilities. 

Consider these examples:

  • Bob is a Navy veteran who spent his career monitoring complex radar systems that perform air and missile defenses. Today, Bob finds joy as a high school football coach. He's taken his team to state championships four of the five years he's been there.  
  • Angela spent her career in the Army as a senior manager in strategic planning, working closely with the Defense Department to streamline efficiencies and analyze plans. Today, Angela is a keynote speaker, sharing her empowering message of inclusivity and gender equity with corporate audiences.  
  • Chris sustained severe injuries and was medically separated from the Marine Corps after his unit was attacked. He'd worked as a medic and was passionate about helping his brothers and sisters in arms return from deployment safely. Today, Chris works from home as a medical textbook editor and reviewer with a leading publisher of medical education.

In each of these cases, the individual looked closely at their training, skills, aptitude, lifestyle and career goals and asked themselves, "Just because I can do something doesn't mean I should." They next assessed whether what they were trained for is what they wanted to do post-military. In two cases, the answer revealed a complete career shift.

Bob was nervous about making this shift. He worried about wasting all the experience and education he'd received. When I spoke to Bob, he asked, "Am I being ungrateful or disloyal if I don't continue to work in the field the military trained me for?"

His concerns were valid. But in asking himself the hard questions about his passions, goals,  legacy and how he wanted to impact others, he was reminded of how impressionable he'd been as a teenager. 

Bob remembered how sports gave him the confidence to stand up for himself, excel, learn discipline and ultimately decide that the team environment of the military was his calling. For Bob, going back into a high school environment and empowering young athletes with the character traits and qualities he learned through sports and the military was a way to honor his service and live true to his passion.

Angela's military experience wasn't a smooth ride. She endured hardships that took her years to be comfortable discussing publicly. Once she did start to share details of her time in the Army, she learned she was not alone in her experiences. 

She used this knowledge to commit her next career to helping women feel more confident and empowered and live up to their potential. At the time she launched her speaking career, Angela learned that the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) were taking root in the corporate world and set her sights on being a leader on this topic. Angela had many options for a post-military career. She was well-trained, had a vast network of high-ranking military connections and was respected by her peers. She decided that to live authentically (for her) meant to share her experience and help others.

Chris was limited in his options because of his medical needs after leaving the Marines. Initially, he'd wanted to work as a nurse or hospital staffer, but because he required work he could do from home, many remote career options in his community were less than ideal. 

Chris reached out to a fellow Marine he knew who was working in publishing, an industry that piqued Chris' interest. When this Marine learned that Chris had medical training, he saw an opening. A few virtual interviews later, Chris was hired on to review and edit medical textbooks -- something he could do from home and on a schedule that worked for him and the care he needed.

In Chris' case, his post-military work related to his work in uniform. While different in execution, there was a connection to the training and education he'd received in the Marines. 

When considering what to do next, look to your past for hints and indications of what you're good at, what you enjoy and where you thrive. As you look forward, however, resist being limited to only what you've done before. Dream about what you'd love to do, can do and would be good at. This could reveal a more exciting and rewarding career path.

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, 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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