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Jul 06

Venturing Outside Your Comfort Zone

While aviation is likely the first thing that comes to mind when a military member hears the word “runway,”  fashion model Heidi Klum could just as well be talking about the abrupt nature of military to civilian transition when she tells aspiring fashion designers:

“One day, you’re in; the next day, you’re out. Auf weidersehen!”

After years of military service, you belonged to an inner circle of colleagues who had walked in your shoes and understood where you’d been. Inside this professional silo, you found a safe place to share insights and observations, develop friendships, lend advice and leadership ideas, without fear of being judged or rejected.

The day after separation from military life, you find yourself outside that circle. You haven’t changed, you still have the same experiences under your belt, but you are now viewed as an outsider.  Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, no one likes to be on the outside of a tightly-held circle, looking in. It can be a very disconcerting experience.

Intellectually, you know that you cannot turn back the clock or return to the familiarity of the military community, yet the temptation is to stay with what and whom you know. Instead, take this transition period to bravely venture outside your long-held comfort zone.

Here are some steps to consider as you go through your transition from military life:

  • Expand your connections outside the military services. While it is important to join professional military associations and speak with former military colleagues about the challenges and opportunities associated with transition, be sure to expand your network well beyond those individuals and groups. Research and join professional associations in industries or fields of interest to you; membership will provide avenues to meet new people who might open doors to your next career.
  • LinkedIn isn’t just a place to post your picture and resume. Incorporate social media in your outreach strategy. I have been delighted to see forward thinking, active duty military leaders already joining a diverse range of professional groups on LinkedIn, including industries that have no connection with a particular branch of service or with the defense sector as a whole. Without violating any ethics rules, these individuals are doing their homework well in advance of their transition to explore industries that might be of interest for their next career. Follow the group conversations to learn industry concerns, trends and the latest developments.
  • Attend events where you know you will have the opportunity to speak with individuals in a range of different fields and professions. While there will be constant reminders of your past life in the Armed Services, make a conscious effort to devote the bulk of your mental focus and energy to exploring new professional and personal interests that could open new doors to you. Talk with friends, family and neighbors about possible fields of interest and individuals who might have useful background and information to share. Getting out to attend events sponsored by local chambers of commerce or by professional associations of interest to you will also help grow your network beyond current and former military colleagues. Soon, you will find yourself getting beyond what may seem like a lot of “small talk” to begin building new relationships and opportunities for professional engagement.

As you connect with new communities, don’t be surprised when you run into former colleagues. After all, auf weidersehen doesn’t just mean “goodbye;” it’s also used to say “until we meet again.”

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