How To Make Complex Decisions & Change Directions

So, the genesis for this came from what some have called a very successful transition from a military to a civilian career. This transition has enabled me to integrate my personal and professional life effectively and work purposefully and satisfactorily. I have now been asked by a sufficient quantity of people HOW I managed a successful transition that I thought may be worth writing down.

So, what makes me qualified to write this?

Well, nothing. As far as people go, I am unremarkable. I was an average student in high school. I was unsuccessful in my initial career intentions within the Army, didn’t pass selection for Special Forces (the big guy moves slowly), and didn’t receive numerous accolades, achievements and medals. In short, I am one of several people I know who could do what I have without needing to see themselves as the best and the pinnacle of their career.

What I did have (in spades) was patience, a vision and a plan.

I hope that if you stick around to read this, you will identify that the method to accomplishment isn’t some secret winning combination or natural gifts; it is a far more straightforward process that can be applied to any period of change or transition, not simply when separating from the Military.

So, what I want to resonate through this article is a few key themes:

  • Find your anchor.
  • Thoroughly understand your risk appetite, and be sincere in what that is.
  • Be honest about your value proposition and articulate it effectively.
  • Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
  • The point in time to decide may come before you are expecting it.
  • Know the opportunities for assistance completely.
  • The best thing for you may not be to change.

I’ll go through this list sequentially as it is easiest to explain, and I hope my logic flows through. This will be aligned with my tale of separation, but it has utility in other areas.

Finding your anchor. So, this one is the easiest step, but it requires self-reflection and brutal honesty. Like an anchor, it can shift with time, but at the point in time you are doing your planning, it should be static and readily identifiable.

So what are some examples? Job satisfaction, family, lifestyle, money, adventure, fame, etc. This is some physical or conceptual thing that will enable you to do some risk planning. Brutal honesty is required because sometimes there are expected anchors (like family) that may contradict what you derive satisfaction from (the grind). If you say your anchor is family, but you constantly feel you are being pulled away, this will lead to a lack of satisfaction.

Once you know your anchor, think (again, sincerely and honestly) about your risk profile. What’s your financial risk (how much are you willing to risk money), family risk (a decrease in comfort or convenience), house, lifestyle, travel, work satisfaction, friends, etc? Once you have a good understanding of what you are and, more importantly, are not willing to compromise on, you can effectively plan.

In my instance, I was willing to take short-term risks to realise a greater long-term reward, but this may only apply to some. For example, I wanted to do six months of part-time work to care for our eldest child, so I got to do daddy daycare for six months, which was hard but very rewarding.

This is the one that gets many people unstuck, particularly in military transition. I have seen people who believe that their skills within the Army will directly transfer to a civilian setting.

Sure, there are some, but veterans’ greatest skills usually need to be more technical (again, there are these). One of the best ones is adaptability and assimilation of new information and tasks. I say this because you can expect a significantly steep learning curve. It requires intellectual humility to accept that your competition in the job market has spent the same amount of time you were in the Army, working in civilian industries.

On day one, you would be mortified if one of them suggested they could be an effective soldier, NCO, officer, etc. That cuts both ways. Use your strengths (adaptability, teamwork, maintenance of morale, etc.) to create value within the organisation, but have the humility to listen to the others around you. I guarantee your career will accelerate past your civilian contemporaries, but they have to be able to work with you first!

Planning for your separation does not begin when you submit your discharge, resign from your work, or commence the change. There was a genuine possibility of me sticking around the Army longer than I did. Even though I had a career and utility within the Army, I wanted a safety net. I wanted to have value and utility outside the Army. I was in a physically demanding job (mostly), and injury could’ve side-lined me at any time. Therefore, my initial reasons for upskilling had nothing to do with voluntary discharge. I also didn’t want to get to the stage where I would be discharged and feel helpless. Again, that would have led to a misalignment of values, dissatisfaction and resentment.

As I alluded to above, events may occur that force your decision. The worst position I could have found myself in is if my separation was forced on me and I was unprepared. Many people are put into this position, and, to my constant regret, I didn’t help some people then. The point is that if you get to this position, there will be little organisational help. There are mechanisms to support you, and you should access these. But that through no fault of the humans in the system, it will move on.

There are a myriad of ways that you can help to facilitate change or your transition. Know what they are, how to access them, which ones apply to you while in your current role, which ones apply when you change, what the access conditions are, and who is eligible. My limited understanding of this meant that a fair whack of my education in the Army was self-funded. Again, this may be necessary. Once I knew the systems and options available to me, however, I pursued them relentlessly.

Finally, change may be different from what is best for you. If you are honest in your assessments from the first point, it may come to fruition that you derive the most happiness from teamwork, purpose, strategic vision and pursuit of excellence. If this is the case, then there are limited areas that will give you the same feeling. If you feel exasperated in your current circumstance, go back to the entitlements part and review what YOU can do to change your situation. But as per point three, I’d still have a plan.

I am legitimately surprised if you have read through to here, but I hope something resonated. I make myself available to talk to people about this, and I am passionate about helping others achieve the same personal and professional satisfaction I have. In-person, I convey the intent much better, but as I said, enough people have asked that I wanted to share. In any instance, good luck, and I legitimately wish you the best in whatever you are trying to do (and feel free to tell me about it!!).