by Ben Garrison
The ability to find moments of joy can be a key to professional success. I find this as a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) Dungeon Master, and I found it to be true in my 14 years in the Army.
Today in the private sector, I get great satisfaction when I’m able to walk a peer through a tech challenge and empower that person in their use of technology.
With D&D, you don’t know how things are going to turn out — but the journey is the joy. With the right mindset, the same can be true with the not-always-easy transition from military to civilian life. This uniquely challenging process faces the approximately 8.5 million veterans in today’s workforce, including nearly half a million veterans who are currently seeking employment. Employers may not be well informed about how your skills are transferrable to the private sector. Veterans may be facing the challenges of PTSD or other mental health issues associated with their service.
Fortunately, drawing on parallels can help you move beyond the challenges. So, to my veteran peers who are looking to work in or who already work in the private sector, I offer the following three tactics for success in the civilian workplace.
1. Leverage the flexibility you learned in the military.
I spent 14 years in the Army National Guard. I was aware that plans — for an individual, for the military, for our country — change instantly.
Many businesses change rapidly, too. That’s certainly the case with technology and has absolutely been the case as all of us adapt to the ongoing changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s strategy won’t necessarily be tomorrow’s strategy. This uncertainty can be stressful or jarring for some, but veterans have a certain kind of superpower that comes with understanding how to cope with and thrive in a shifting environment.
2. Learn continuously.
In the Army, as well as in IT today, processes and equipment changed rapidly. New active-duty assignments brought new training (and retraining) requirements. The Army also taught me how to take many things in stride.
Tapping into your natural curiosity can point you in the direction of professional success. In my case, wanting to know how things work helped lead me toward a career in IT — first in the Army, then in the private sector. Learning on the fly, always part of the military experience, is excellent preparation for the workforce.
Our economy and its drivers are undergoing rapid change. Key to individual success in the midst of it all: the ability to learn and grow. This can take many forms. Become familiar with best practices for your job search, such as how to optimize LinkedIn and other job boards. Dig into the benefits available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA). Explore continuing education that will help you advance your particular career goals.
3. Communicate clearly.
In the military, when your supervisor needs information to make the right decision, you must be ready to provide your expertise efficiently and confidently — no matter your rank.
Interacting candidly with service members of all ranks and from all walks of life prepared me to communicate with teammates of all backgrounds. In the business world, you need to be as confident talking to your CEO as you are talking to any other colleague. Rely on your experiences to get your point across in a respectful way. Not only can this help you gain the ear and respect of senior staff, it will help you find the joy of personal “a ha!” moments when you deploy your expertise in a way that helps others.
The private sector presents new challenges and new opportunities. Remember: you’ve been in tougher situations. You can do this.
Following 14 years in the Army National Guard, Ben Garrison now serves as a Technical Evangelist for JumpCloud. He is a D&D Dungeon Master and player, and a self-proclaimed overall nerd.