Career transition can present a significant challenge for many of us. Leaving the armed forces is not really as simple as just changing a job; it involves leaving an environment which has structure, that is familiar, and which has given a defined role and identity. Transitioning to civilian employment means having to leave all that behind and operate in an environment which probably has less structure, will be unfamiliar – and requires us to adopt a very different identity.
This is meaningful change. And if the change is forced upon us – such as through redundancy or medical discharge – and this change can be very difficult to accept. Generally, our initial reaction to enforced change is denial, refusing to think about it and not being willing to start thinking about the future. We might also feel anger; the positive effect of anger might be a drive into action – its negative side can be destructive, and we might shut out the very people who can help us. Unfortunately, until we are ready to explore our options and start thinking about how we can create a happy future we are unlikely to accept help from others. When we are ready to move forward the challenge is not being afraid to ask for help!
Being able to ask for help is a great strength, but as I recently discovered we don’t seem to be particularly good at doing it. A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to be invited to join a Future For Heroes personal development course in the beautiful surroundings of Lake Windermere. I joined a group of people experiencing career transition, and we went on a learning journey together. It was an enlightening experience for me – and also for the whole group. Over four days we were guided through a self-discovery journey. We reflected on how we connect with others, and on what lessons we can learn from our past that would help us move forward. We set ourselves stretch targets and using physical challenges pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone and learnt how to control our fear. Most importantly we learnt that with the support of others we can achieve the seemingly impossible.
We also looked at our behaviour and how it often holds us back. For example, some of us felt that we were too defensive; we were not open to feedback as we felt that it was a personal attack. The lesson here was that others can often see what we cannot – our blind spots, areas that are holding us back. If we really listened and reflected on feedback we could realise so much more of our potential. In essence, we can achieve more if we remain open and stop trying to protect ourselves.
I asked my Future For Heroes ‘team mates’ what one piece of learning they felt would be most valuable to share with others. One person (who might recognise himself!) said ‘diary keeping’. He wanted to bring more order to his life, and be able to self-reflect so that he could be easier on those around him. Loss of routine, chaotic thinking and taking our stress out on those nearest to us are probably things than many of us recognise. It might sound like a simple thing to do, but keeping a diary allows us to process our feelings and thoughts safely and ultimately make a commitment to change.
I think my key message when the transition challenge kicks in would be – stop and do some self-reflection. And if something like a Future For Heroes course appeals to you, go for it with open arms and an open mind.