A Coaching Power Tool By Michael Rauhut, Executive Coach, Life Transition Coach, UNITED STATES
“Each year, nearly 200,000 [U.S.] service members transition from the military back to their civilian communities.”[i] U.S. Service members transitioning today experience much-improved transition services from decades past, but challenges remain. The scope, scale, and unique needs of each veteran test the mandated, 5-day transition Assistance Program[ii] in ways the program cannot fully address. Chief among these stresses is the typical Veteran’s need for continued purpose and meaning.
Veterans transitioning to civilian life following two- to thirty or more years of military service face unique challenges. For many, the loss of collective & individual meaning, purpose, and/or identity after prolonged service can lead to post-service frustration or dysfunction. Often, veterans lack clarity and are on an ill-defined path forward. They may have more choices than ever before but feel uncertain without the structure to which they have grown accustomed.
For a few, newly gained and complete autonomy sometimes leads to unrealistic expectations or worse, a degree of hubris whereby the veteran feels “owed” something. Veterans may be exacerbated further by feeling a lack of community or tribe that was organic to their previous lives. All these challenges (and others), to varying degrees, impact how veterans view and experience a major life transition, one that benefits from a helpful perspective when available.
Change of Mission vs. End of Mission Explanation
These challenges can induce limiting beliefs in veterans. Many feel they have few options and are anxious, dispossessed of the luxury of finding purpose or meaning. The pressure to “just get a job” rests heavily, especially upon more junior and mid-career service members with families and fewer benefits. Some feel they must settle for comfortable or familiar jobs that may or may not align with their strengths and passions.
Feeling too old; too unique/different; too experientially labeled may limit thinking as veterans take for granted how valuable their skills and experiences truly are. Feelings of impending loss, especially relationships (camaraderie, community, and collective sense of mission), sometimes stifle creativity and momentum and lead to an “end of the mission” mindset. Veterans feeling loss and anxiety around these, and other issues, may benefit greatly from a shift in perspective from an “End of Mission” to a “Change of Mission” mindset.
In military parlance, refining a unit’s mission must occur when one of two conditions is met. Either the purpose for which a unit received its original mission is achieved, and thus necessities a new purpose; or the unit retains the same purpose, but the situation has changed substantially and makes the current approach (course of action) invalid. In the first case—purpose achieved—the higher headquarters issues a new purpose (a “Change of Mission”[iii]). In the second case—purpose not yet achieved—the unit itself (or its higher Headquarters (HQ)), recognizes that the current course of action must change as it cannot achieve the intended result. The unit must either change its current course of action or the higher HQ must end the unit’s mission (“End of Mission” – perhaps replacing the current unit with another).
The transitioning service member faces a similar scenario, albeit absent in the combat environment. The military member must discover their new purpose outside of military service. No longer is purpose defined narrowly by a “military occupation specialty” or a unit-type mission. The critical component for a successful transition is self-awareness, yet the current TAP process focuses more time on mechanics than meaning. This may be an overt acknowledgment that guided self-discovery (group or individual coaching) is beyond the scope of available resources and that the mechanics of resumes, elevator pitches, and understanding entitlements and benefits are universal needs.
Still, this lack of dedicated resources incurs costs to the transitioning service member, principally borne by the member after the transition is complete. Suboptimal results follow, for service members and employers alike: “Roughly two-thirds of veterans are likely to leave their first post-military job within two years because of problems like low job satisfaction and limited opportunities for advancement…”[iv] Unfortunately, far too often during the transition process, service members’ limiting beliefs creep up and keep them in an “end of the mission”, rather than “change of mission” mindset.
The benefits of the “change of mission” mindset are clear. The Army, recognizing the value of the language, encourages its service members to reframe their perspectives.[v] Purpose/meaning, community/tribe, and camaraderie are all available to service members once they complete their military service, provided they are sufficiently self-aware and know where to find resources. Who am I? What defines me? What are my strengths? What drives me? What am I passionate about? The answers to these types of questions pointed at but not explored during the mandatory, 5-day Transition Assistance Program, can drive service members toward a “change of mission” mindset, rather than getting stuck in the past trying to accomplish a collective or individual purpose only available to those still in uniform. Self-aware veterans who have explored these questions (and others) are far more likely to experience excitement and energy during, and into, their transition. Coaching can greatly enable this exploration and is necessary given the Transition Assistance Program’s current curriculum, which provides no dedicated time to explore purpose and meaning individually or in groups.[vi]
Choosing an “end the mission” mindset mires service members in their past lives. Defining self and one’s worth on the rank attained, badges earned, or medals awarded in the past limits the possibility of future growth and meaning. Important as these seminal achievements and experiences are if not carried forward in proper context and with a view toward future application, military members are likely to have sub-optimal transitions and experience dysfunction following their service. Alternatively, focusing on purpose and strengths enables service members to use the best within them, past and present, to improve their, and others’, futures while honoring the past.
I personally experienced the benefits of a “change of mission” perspective during my recent transition from the Army. I experienced great purpose and fulfillment in uniform and took time to deliberately seek professional coaching to frame and structure my exploration of my “second half.” My approach, still ongoing, is very iterative, consisting of “low-cost probes” (reconnaissance) into areas of interest; seeking knowledge and understanding of self/others; permitting myself to explore; shifting my mindset to reconnaissance vs direct contact; learning to be still rather than equating busy with effective/purpose; the list goes on.
Recognizing my journey included others was an important aspect of my “change of mission.” Applying the idea of liberating self to explore all options and forgiving self for not just doing, but being, were important ideas. Seeking purpose requires real introspection and exploration, something a“busy” mindset may be uncomfortable with. Cultural pressure, wherein“busyness”=status=wealth, is difficult to overcome without proper perspective and great self-awareness. Making less money, but having more discretion with my time, to pursue interests proved immensely valuable, despite the questions from others about “what are you doing?” and the “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality our culture fosters. I remain immensely grateful that my journey has included vistas only available to those that get out of the car long enough to take in the joy of the moment and be. Coaching through a “change of mission” perspective greatly enabled my exploration, and I trust improvements to the military TAP made achieve the same for a greater percentage of the transitioning population.
[i]The Military to Civilian Transition 2018, A Review of Historical, Current, and Future Trends. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, p iii.
[ii]Ibid, pp 11-13.
[iii]The Army itself makes this distinction in referring to the retirement process as a “change of mission.” It went so far as to title its official transition newsletter, “Change of Mission, The official newsletter for soldiers with 17 or more years of service”, https://soldierforlife.army.mil/Retirement/change-of-mission, accessed 21 June 2021).
[iv]“Survey: 65% of vets likely to leave 1st civilian job within 2 years”, Military Times, RebootCamp.
https://rebootcamp.militarytimes.com/education-transition/jobs/2014/10/01/survey-65-of-vets-likely-to-leave-1st-civilian-job-within-2-years/ (accessed 21 June 2021). So, by our earlier statistic of 200,000 annual transitions: up to 134,000 service members will quit their first job within 2 years. Consider the financial costs to individuals and companies alike. What if coaching could alleviate some of those abrupt departures by more closely aligning people-purpose-profession/vocation?
[vi]See Department of Defense “2021 TAP CURRICULUM, MANAGING YOUR, TRANSITION” booklet, pp 9-10, which addresses finding a new purpose and identity. The TAP 5-day workshop allocates no time to explore purpose and identity and very little on self-assessments of strengths.