Senior leaders leaving military service to transition into civilian life may go through a period of adjustment as they adapt to a different pace, culture and work environment. While new adventures and opportunities lie ahead, it can take time to find one’s footing.
Let us know if your experiences mirror those of Rear Admiral (ret) Ty Pile, Royal Canadian Navy,who has successfully transitioned and is now Vice President, Electric Cable Supply Ltd. in Canada.
Here’s Ty’s story:
I suspect fewer military careerists think about life after retirement than careerists in most other professions. The inevitability of retirement is generally accepted, but after decades of life in uniform and an extraordinary commitment to serve one’s country, the transition to life out of uniform can be difficult.
I am delighted to share my story here because it offers an open forum on an important issue that is long overdue and under-represented. With only 18 months of post-retirement experience, I think it is the perfect time to share some thoughts on transition, especially while they are still fresh.
First, let’s be honest about military folk. We don’t like to admit weaknesses related to our personal lives – it’s not in our culture. As my own countdown to retirement approached, I thought a lot about the last week and the last day, but aside from the exciting prospect of free time and more time with family, I didn’t give much thought to the weeks and months after retirement.
I found the transition from uniform to “civvy street” a unique challenge, notably for the first six months. It reminded me of the sensation you get when stepping off a high-speed sidewalk. Mind and body must be prepared to adapt to the sudden deceleration or one can be thrown off balance. In retirement, the body adapts quickly to the slower pace, but the mind continues at three times the speed. Occupying much of this off-balance mental energy is the issue of identity and answering the question, “who am I without the uniform?” The process can be very disorienting, especially if these concerns are internalized. For those interested in starting work immediately after a military career, the transition from the moving sidewalk can be less dramatic, but can still be a challenge and put a dent in that “type A” personality and confidence.
For senior retired military in Canada, I believe this situation is more pronounced outside the National Capital Region (Ottawa) where service to country and experience in the higher echelons of the profession of arms are not as well recognized or accepted as I understand them to be in the United States. In conversation with some of my colleagues, their feedback seems to suggest that job rejection for some career high achievers has resulted in a form of depression. At a recent defence conference in Ottawa, I took the opportunity to discuss these observations and thoughts with some of my former colleagues – both retired and active. I suggested we should have a better support system for transition and everyone I spoke to in the retired category agreed, regardless of how successful they have become as civilians.
Something as simple as realizing that the uncertainty and doubt experienced during transition are not uncommon can unlock many solutions. The ability to share these stories encourages the formalizing of ideas, recommendations and mutual support opportunities that will allow others to successfully and happily reach the other side of post-retirement transition.
Did you have a similar transition experience? Do you think the experience varies by country? By military service? Let us know how yours was the same or different!