I recently read a Harvard Business Review article by Janna Koretz Psy.D. entitled "What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity".
The article starts off by telling the story of a partner at a major law firm - a high power, high profile, highly successful gentleman in a highly compensated, high profile job. Significant, existential questions arose for him when he realized his job was not fulfilling - he simply wasn't happy or satisfied despite all his apparent success.
While this story is not exactly the same as folks making career transition out of the military, it made me think about the strong identification many service members make with their military service, rank, rate, or position, and what happens when we leave military service.
I struggled with it. Many others do also. After all we had a 'title' - we were Captain X, Command Master Chief Y, Colonel Z, Gunnery Sergeant A, etc.. We had important jobs - Commander, Leader, Chief of Staff, Senior Enlisted Advisor, Section Chief, etc.. We knew what these titles and jobs meant, and so did everyone around us.
Upon transition, we find ourselves in a foreign land. The vast majority of people have no experience similar to ours. The titles and jobs we identify so closely with are meaningless to them, and many of them are in decision-making positions that may directly impact our future. Further, this new work world is vastly more variable than we are used to. Titles and jobs likely mean something very different from one company to another with wildly different levels of authority and scopes of responsibility. A 'manager' at one large firm, may have significantly more scope and authority than a Vice President at another, smaller firm.
For folks whose identity is defined by their job, this can be a significant challenge to their transition success, after all "who we were" (job identity), is not truly "who we are" (our individual identity).
So what do we do to make this shift, to figure out who we are, to discover where we fit in the new work world?
Free up time - Make time as you transition to delegate duties to others. Clear your plate of low priority tasks. We all know this can be a huge challenge - command climate may/may not make this easy, and of course you want to leave on a positive note - after all, you are the job. Despite this, making time is critical. Fill the open time with non-work related actions that help you discover who you are.
Small Steps - Shift your focus from your current job to your transition. Take time to consider who you are beyond the rank, title, job and military. Consider your life beyond the uniform - your family, friends, interests, life goals, hobbies, etc.. Take note of where these lead you as they can be strong indicators of who you are and what new careers may be great for you.
Network, Network, Network - Re-connect with old friends. Boldly step out to meet new people. Seek out and have genuine conversations with people in the jobs, industries, markets, companies, etc. that interest you. Learn all you can. Share your perspective. Help others succeed.
Decide what's important to you, and keep moving toward it.
It's often said that to be successful in career transition, interviews, and related areas that the best strategy is to 'just be yourself'. I agree with this. After all, you are who's going to show up everyday once you are hired.
So the real question is "Who are you?"
Be well. Keep up the fire!
Copywrite 2020 William E. Kieffer