Jul 02

Taking Time to Find the Right Fit in Civilian Life

SanteeMany senior leaders in transition from military service are reluctant to take much time off before beginning a new job in the civilian workforce. Retired Major General Jay Santee is an advocate of using the time in between to actively network, visit family and explore life goals with one’s partner or spouse to determine what comes next.

VSB: You retired from military service just about two years ago, following a 33-year career in the US Air Force. How would you describe the transition process for you and your family back to civilian life?

Santee: I found the transition process to be exciting, liberating, and fulfilling.  I took to heart many of the things taught in the transition courses and listened carefully to those in my ever-expanding network. There was a lot of sage counsel.  First, I made taking time off after the retirement ceremony a top priority.  I viewed this period as the summer between high school and college that I never got. During the transition period, I played so much golf I got shin splints!  I scheduled my 20-minute networking meetings around my golf rounds.  These networking meetings provided me with thought-provoking insights and kept me engaged in work topics and thinking about what I wanted to do in the next phase.

Many think the transition is about finding a job…Getting a job should not be the focus. Getting the right fit should be.

I also viewed this period as a time for my wife and me to determine what we wanted in the future.  This was her transition too.  We traveled to see the sights we’d missed along the way.  We went to see family.  All the while, we spent time discussing our future, our desires, our needs.  I worked hard to listen to my wife; she was always a step ahead of me.  Her advice and counsel about what was important to me was always correct since she knows me better than I know myself.

Many think the transition is about finding a job.  I found it to be more about finding the right avocation for the next period of life’s adventure.  I’d been in high school.  High school was great but I don’t want to go back.  I’d been a cadet.  That was great but I don’t want to be a cadet again.  I’d been in the Air Force.  It was great, but I don’t want to go back and fly jets again.  Those things are who I was.  Today and tomorrow are who I am and they hold the adventure!

I also viewed this period as a time for my wife and me to determine what we wanted in the future.  This was her transition too.

VSB: What do you see as the top three challenges military leaders face as they prepare to meet their civilian and military competition in the civilian workforce?

Santee: The company I work for values collaboration and team work.  We work in the public interest.  It’s a great fit for my personality, leadership style, values, and passion.  This made my transition successful.  I’ve seen others in transition who continued to struggle.  While there are likely many reasons, I’ll touch on three.

  1. During transition, make sure you have the right goals. Have fun. Enjoying your time should be a goal. Just like when you chose a college – look for a good fit. There are lots of colleges. There are lots of jobs. Which one is right for you and the employer? Getting a job should not be the focus.  Getting the right fit should be.
  2. As you begin your new job, learn from your new teammates in the company. Find a mentor you trust in the company.  It could be someone in the company who also transitioned from the military.  Remember that you are in a new organization. Realize that your solutions to problems are not going to be well received until people know you, trust you and like you. Be mindful and respectfully ask “why” if you don’t understand. Encourage your new colleagues to call you by your first name.   
  3. And finally, I never viewed my time in transition as one when I was in competition with other transitioning senior officers. I saw some that viewed it that way; they were lonely, stressed and seemed unhappy. Instead, my wife and I reached out to others we met in the transition courses. Some, we’d never met on active duty. We became friends and mentors to each other. This new network even led to us sharing job announcements and leads with each other. We didn’t compete. We succeeded together.

VSB: What guidance would you give to senior military leaders who are a year out from their own separation from military service to help them prepare for their transition?

Santee: As retirement from the military approaches you’ll find you have three jobs. You’ll have your military job that requires 100% of your effort up until the last day.  You’ll have the job to separate from your current job.  This includes medical appointments, final pictures and biographies, out-processing paperwork, and more.  These activities are a second part-time job.  And finally, you’ll have your job to find a new job — resume writing, researching, networking, and related activities.  This is a lot of effort and represents another part-time job.  You’ll have to balance each of these three jobs during that last year.  Make time for all three as they are all important.

That said, recognize you can’t adequately find the right fit until you are separated from military service and you take off the uniform.  Having three jobs gives you little hope of the kind of reflection and self-inquiry needed to successfully determine what is important to you and your spouse for the next phase of life.  You need that exhilarating transition phase to find what and who you want to be.  Things that were important to me when I was in the Air Force don’t matter to me now.  Much like things that were important in high school or at the Academy were not important to me in the Air Force.  You need time and introspection to figure out what those unimportant things are.

VSB: Any other advice you’d like to share?

Santee: Build the network you want to have for the rest of your life.  Most people will be happy to give you 20 minutes of their time to share their expertise with you.  Think about the mentors you want to help guide you on the path ahead.

Retired Major General Jay Santee currently serves as the Director of Resilient Affordable Space at MITRE following a 33-year career in the U.S. Air Force. In his last military assignment, he served as Deputy Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

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