Accommodate me if you will for a little professional theft. I stole “drop anchor” from a Naval officer. He used it to bring pause to the room when he wanted everyone’s attention or to spend time on an important topic. To drop anchor quite obviously means to slow or stop the movement of a ship for a specific reason. The more anchors you drop, the harder it is to recover them especially over time as they sink further and further into the mud. With respect to transition from military service, anchors can be the purchase of a home, exhausting savings dollars or a big job. These are heavy decisions and commitments that are not easy to alter or reverse.
Take it from this soldier as I approach three years since retirement, be cautious not to drop too many anchors.
Your military career was quite predictable. Of course, you were going to move from base to base and job to job but you always knew there would be a house, job security and a lifestyle which you could jettison when the next set of orders arrived. My family and I cherished our life in the military, moving from place to place. However, as children grew and our household belongings amassed, the novelty wore off. With a grateful salute and fond farewell, we were thrust into the ocean of unpredictability upon making the decision to retire.
We traded familiar for the abyss — a society we had grown apart from after decades of service. Transition is a period of wonder, fear and emotions. I confess, my wife and I felt entitled. We had served and sacrificed for our Army and our nation, and we felt entitled to all the riches of our new world. I’d venture to say we were bitter as if we were held back from something which should have been ours long ago, such as stability and a home we could paint. Once we began scripting the post-military chapter of our life, we thought it was time to drop anchor.
Those anchors included buying a beach home, immersing ourselves in a new community and becoming entrepreneurs. The decisions brought a new level of peace – and still do – free from the grips of wartime service. Along with this new freedom, however, came the shock of an isolated, polarized community, one which did not live by the values we had long embraced. Now, almost three years into the journey of military transition, we are expecting our next set of orders — that will never come.
Looking back, we’ve learned a few things. We may have been better served to rent a home, take temporary jobs or scale back on expenses. Perhaps we could have placed our household goods in storage in order to navigate the transition period and assimilate to new environments. We’ve even discussed buying a motorhome to free ourselves from financial commitments. The lure of freedom still tempts us. A friend told me it takes two years to deinstitutionalize, and my wife and I are still in that phase. I’m not sure when it will end.
Here is some military transition advice: beware the anchors.
Be cautious of making a permanent decision (house, job, car, community, etc.) to address a temporary problem (emotions, entitlement, a lofty salary, etc.). Indeed, there will be demands, such as children in school or an existing mortgage, to steer you but think long-term, remain flexible and know that you will change. You will change.
I wonder about that often. What will I be like 10 years from now, far removed from my service, knowing very few who still wear the uniform? Listen to and understand the data. Sixty-five percent of veterans leave their first job following their service due in part to misalignment with their values, passions and as a result of poor leadership.
After I decided to retire, I started to chase a CEO job but I reeled in that anchor as I feared it would be like jumping from one frying pan to another.
Talk to your spouse and family often about this military transition. Strip away emotions and listen to your inner voice about what brings fulfillment to your life. Don’t think that you’ll be fine with “sweeping floors.” You are wired differently now and you should understand that. Be true to what brings you fulfillment. I was asked when transitioning, “if you could wake up tomorrow and money was not an issue, what would you do?” My answer is I would write, speak, coach leaders and pursue a PHD. My wife would create art and expand her artistic expertise. It is these things which bring us the most happiness.
I do not sit with head in hands deeply regretting the decisions my family and I have made. There are many commitments or anchors I’m quite proud of. We are pleased with our encore life and excited about the future. Indeed, it is ok to drop an anchor or two. That said, I cannot ignore my inner voice and the vagabond spirit the Army installed in me.
Try not to script the remainder of your story. Let it happen; make informed, unemotional decisions, be authentic to your own true passions as you navigate the rough waters of transition and remain flexible in order to change course.Read comments