I’m reading a book about executive transition and came to a part about the importance of achieving some level of closure with one experience in order to be open to listening, observing and learning in the next experience. This is not blogworthy in and of itself, as many writers from many academic domains have established this over the last 50+ years. What struck me about it, though, and what I believe is blogworthy, is the difficulty so many people have in stopping to catch their breath after the completion of a job and reflecting before diving into the next job. I’ve done it myself. Especially in these economic times, fear is a powerful motivator of behavior, so it is completely understandable. However, this is something I have been observing over the last 15 years, most of which offered a better job outlook that we see today.
My focus, as you know, has been on military transition, so I am especially attuned to the challenges of service members embarking on civilian careers. The military has a super strong culture, meaning, it can be easily described by insiders and outsiders alike. Separating from any strong culture is a process rather than an event. In other words, you may retire on a Friday but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to start a new job in a new organization the following Monday. The process of “taking off the uniform” takes time and is different for each individual. However, failing to take off the uniform is immediately obvious to civilian co-workers. Many a bridge has been burned and first impression foiled by this dynamic.
I experienced something similar when I left Booz Allen after 10 years; my instincts had to be intercepted constantly. In other words, when I entered a new organization to coach or consult, I had to be vigilant for the instinct to see, hear and do things the way I had for the last 10 years; and intervene on myself with the mantra, “This isn’t Booz Allen, this isn’t Booz Allen.” This is how it is when one leaves a strong culture.
So, while it is easy to understand the instinct to leave military service and jump right into another job, your success and satisfaction in the new job will likely be compromised by the lack of breathing room. Consider giving yourself the benefit of time for a metaphorical (and literal) wardrobe change. It doesn’t have to be six months or even three months, but it should be more than a weekend. If you are currently unemployed and looking for work, consider parallel processing the task with using some time to detach from your military identity and get to know who you are without the uniform.
* For more on this, see chapters 3 & 6 in “Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing & Retaining Veterans”