Military to Civilian Transition Challenges – “If you miss this present moment, you miss your appointment with life.” That was the constant refrain and uncommon wisdom of my coach in Fayetteville, N.C., while training for my first full-contact kickboxing match at the age of 22.
I was stuck in my head about my lack of experience and training, the failures and losses I had previously endured, what the future of my fight career might look like after this first bout and whether my then-girlfriend ought to attend the fight three weeks from now. In many ways, my mind was racing about everything other than the challenge in front of me of military to civilian transition challenges. In addition to my haphazard approach to fight training and part-time commitment to martial arts, I was a full-time active-duty service member going through the MOS Qualification Phase of the Q Course, trying to get into the U.S. Army’s elite Green Berets. “Your body is here, but where’s your f***ing attention?” he barked!
Daydreams and distractions might not be a matter of life or death as you go about your normal day, but when you’re in a 20-foot ring with someone who wants to knock the head off your shoulders, it’s rather important to remain focused on the present. I’ve done enough therapy outside the ring at this point to recognize that I often dwell on the past, or fret about the future, to avoid the clear and present danger of feeling the pain, fear or frustration of the moment. Does that sound vaguely familiar to you? I wish I could say I’ve mastered the art of being present, but it’s a discipline that continues to elude me.
While leading a mentoring call this morning with a current Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force, I was asked about the key hurdle I had to negotiate as I transitioned from active duty. I reflected on how I continued for two years to relive the high-speed glory days of life on an SF A-Team, how excellence was the standard then and on being resentful of how mediocrity was a way of life with “civilians” in my life “on the outside.” I pined for the old days and was miserable. I don’t recommend that approach!
Like most people, you may dwell on the past, even if it’s only about what happened earlier in the day. Or you may obsess about the future, anticipating what you need to do and what might eventually occur. You may find yourself wondering why your neighbor or former roommate seems to get all the lucky breaks while, after years of serving others, you struggle to make ends meet. As a result, your mind is rarely present.
Occasionally, like a vapor that’s here and gone, our awareness may be almost complete, but we find we’re not satisfied. We dwell on how we would change matters and alter events, given a chance. Yet, we must recognize that our desire to alter events means we’re unhappy. Nonetheless, we can adjust our trajectory and steep ourselves in the present by engaging with and accepting the present while drinking in the wisdom of those who have gone before us.
Sisters and brothers, I challenge you to enjoy the present. Rather than focus elsewhere, engage with the moment. When you join each second as it unfolds, your senses become activated. You notice scents, tastes, sounds, sights and textures. You might feel the weight of your body when seated and be aware of it in motion as you walk. You may recognize subtle smells wafting through the air and hear sounds coming from several directions at once.
One of my favorite quotes by Aristotle says, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” The act of knowing ourselves requires a bit of staring at our navels — which includes doing a review of our past. The challenge, though, comes when we become overly critical of ourselves and our past performance. Rather than beating ourselves up, we ought to act more like firm and loving parents by reminding ourselves what we did right and what we did wrong and develop a plan to be better the next time around during military to civilian transition challenges. A critical element in developing that plan, however, requires the pursuit of wisdom.
Maintain your attention by accepting each moment as it unfurls. Don’t imagine how events could be different. Take them as they occur. Acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t improve. It means you don’t fight what has happened. Trying to alter the past is futile and removes you from the present.
When you recognize your attention is somewhere else, intentionally engage with the present. You’ll soon realize that you miss the joy and satisfaction of the present when your attention is on the past or future. Also, notice whether you’ve been following a negative thought pattern. For instance, do you want an event to happen, but when you reach it, you’re not content because you’re not engaging with the present?
If you want to take part in experiences fully, heighten your awareness. Let your senses feed information to you about the present. When you catch yourself thinking of another place or time, take a deep breath and attend to the moment. The effect will be that you enjoy the here and now with acute consciousness. Be warned, though, that the danger of living in the present is recognizing the clear path to a future of significance. Here’s a golden nugget of wisdom once shared with me by a former spiritual mentor, “Two things steal your joy: living in the past and comparing yourself to others.”
The older I get, the purer my understanding that the counsel woven from experience, in concert with clear-eyed reality and unconditional love, results in uncommon wisdom. During these military to civilian transition challenges, there’s no better anecdote to self-sabotage and tyranny than divine wisdom and the courage to act on it. Courage, based on wisdom, changes everything!
Larry Broughton is a former U.S. Army Green Beret, best-selling author, award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker and leadership mentor. TheLarryBroughton.com