There is no shortage of horror stories about the military retirement process. Thankfully this isn’t one of them. After serving 20 years in the Marine Corps, I retired in the summer of 2018. I started planning my transition almost two years out by researching the information needed, documenting every ache and pain, and following the rigorous processes as advised by personnel and my peers. Everything from our final TMO move, retirement pay, disability claim, medical, and career opportunities was a smooth transition.
However, I was not prepared for the sobering realizations of what my career life would indeed be like as a civilian. As a former Marine Corps recruiter, getting myself in front of the right people and selling my skillset is my strong suit. I prioritized networking and made some lifelong connections at a Hiring Our Heroes career event. The following month I attended an NC4ME Hiring Event and was offered a job before I exited the parking lot.
One month after we relocated and settled into our home in Florida, I accepted a field management position with a different company. Ideally, this job would allow me to use the best parts of my military training. I wasn’t required to sit at a desk all day, and they offered a flexible work schedule that would allow time for me to get my kids to and from school. Immediately I was thrust back to my SNCOIC days of being overworked and understaffed. It was at that moment when I realized I don’t desire a job that closely reflects my military career. For the first time in 20 years, I was able to walk away without consequence from something I didn’t enjoy. I resigned three months later.
I spent the next 365 days home with my family, enjoying my kids, reading, attending school part-time, and doing routine buddy checks with my comrades. While it’s not common in the military community, taking a professional gap year was the best and right decision for my family.
Here are four reasons why:
Mental health. After countless deployments and years of enduring stress, I owed it to myself to rest and recover. No more early alarms and standing in formations. No more meetings that should have been an email. No more canceled birthdays and holidays. No more office politics. It’s just me being fully present as a husband and dad, puttering on the golf course, and selling houses in my spare time.
Discover your passion. First, you are not alone in the process of discovery after the military. We’re all trying to figure out what we want to do for the next 20 years. Use this downtime to inventory your talent. Immerse yourself in activities and do only the things which bring you joy.
Endless family time. The best part about retirement is getting my time back. I waited for 14 years to take my kids to school every morning and have random lunch dates with my wife. Family time is non-negotiable.
Learn new skills. Don’t plunge into a new career right away; spend some time learning about it. Take classes at a community college. Attend desired industry conferences. Expand your comfort zone — rather than leave it — and know that it’s OK to start from the bottom and work your way up again.
Retirement for any military member is an intimidating, frustrating, and yet a rousing experience. Career anxiety is a real thing. The struggle to find a career that’s aligned with your newfound passion without sacrificing stability and income is also real.
The great thing about retirement nowadays is that there are no rules or clear paths. The only way to know how to retire is to actually do it. The way to figure out which opportunities are best for you is to learn more about yourself. The way to figure out who you are and what you want is to try new things. We hear a lot about transferable skills in our community, which is essential. Culture fit in the workplace is equally important. Take your time. Don’t chase the quick win only to end up in an unsuitable position. We champion for employers to hire more veterans. It is our responsibility to ensure they made the right decision.