Some people stay in the military forever. But a lot of people who serve stop serving at some point. With all the lessons, skills, and knowledge learned from the experience, it seems like “normal life” should be a breeze. How could anything be as difficult as everything you’ve already gone through?
Then reality hits. It turns out that civilian life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. You probably already knew this intellectually. Still, on an emotional level, the adjustment is difficult. And coming to realize that things are still difficult can be a real psychological blow.
Fortunately, a lot of related issues can be overcome with the right mindset. To start living your best life after service ends, you just need to adopt a few good strategies while adjusting to life as a veteran.
1. Discover a New Purpose
One of the hardest things about leaving active duty is the feeling that you are losing a sense of belonging. The clear purpose you lived every day is now often replaced by a relatively low-stakes and low-stress job that doesn’t offer the same environment or energy as your previous life.
To be sure, a lack of purpose is not just something that veterans struggle with. Many people go their whole life without finding anything that really drives them. But if you can establish new habits and discover something to devote yourself to, it will help fill the void. It can be a “higher calling” like religion, charity work, or political advocacy. But it can also just be something simpler like truly devoting yourself to your family and diving into a hobby that drives you.
2. Build a Community
Even worse than losing “purpose” can be the loss of your military “family.” The bonds formed with the men and women you serve alongside are not something that you can easily replace in civilian life. You will always have your family and dearest friends. But something often feels missing on the outside when you aren’t sharing a barracks.
It will help to build a new community. It may just be your actual local town or church community. Or perhaps it can be a group of hiking friends, BBQ postmasters, or hunting buddies who all share the same interests. Again, the “what” is less important than just trying to find somewhere that you feel comfortable and a desire to help and care for one another.
3. Create Stability
The military provides a sense of order and stability that you may struggle to find after you stop serving. After years spent on a rigorous schedule — with your entire day planned out in 15-minute increments — adjusting to a normal schedule can be difficult. The normal world is much more chaotic and it’s easy to feel like you have lost some control.
It will help if you seek out as much stability as possible. Chances are, your daily routines, like eating and shaving, will stay pretty rigid. That stuff usually lasts forever. But you can also work to keep tight schedules for work and personal task lists to complete. And one of the best ways to feel like you’re in control is by achieving some financial security.
Aim to manage your budget strictly, set up accounts to manage your money, and get a credit card with Veteran-related benefits. USAA, the preferred financial firm for military members, has some of the best offers that will help you get ahead and establish financial stability.
Adapting to Life After the Military
Life as a veteran can be very hard. It can be made even worse by the fact that so many former military members are tough-headed and refuse to acknowledge any challenge that isn’t on a battlefield. But admitting that life is hard — especially to yourself — is not a sign of weakness. It’s growth and wisdom.
To adjust to veteran life, you will need to do a little work. You will be especially well-served by discovering a new purpose, building a new community, and creating some stability in your life.
This is all easier said than done. It might take years — or decades — to feel like you’ve actually accomplished any of this. But every journey starts with a single step. So just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there eventually.