Military to Civilian Career, Planning Ahead: Step 1

Plan ahead to minimize adjustment problems for you and your family.

Life-style changes are among the first of the transition issues you will face. By hard work and years of dedicated service you have earned certain benefits and privileges of rank, some of which extend to members of your family. When you separate, these normal and customary courtesies are no longer available. For example, access to base personnel and services becomes particularly difficult for the spouse and family members. A simple appointment with the base doctor or dentist may become a major ordeal in negotiation and diplomacy.

There may be a substantial change in take-home pay after separation. You may need to relocate to be where jobs are, which may mean the loss of income from the spouse's job. Together, these may affect the kind of financing you can receive for housing in the new location.

The change from Col. or Sgt. Smith to plain Mr. or Ms. Smith may be the most troublesome of the emotional and psychological issues you face. The comfortable routine and prescribed duties, your rank, and the way people relate to you -- define your identity -- and all of these will be gone.

To minimize the impact of these problems,

  1. Begin planning your departure from the military as much as a year in advance.

  2. Make a list of the potential negative consequences of your decision to leave the military. And, write down others as you think of them. Then, plan for how you will cope with each one, if it occurs. Scientific studies of decision-making show that this is a very important and helpful step. See "Quality Decision-Making" for more.

  3. Keep in contact with military families who have successfully established themselves in civilian life. They can be very helpful in giving advice on dealing with the stress and tips on how to simplify the transition.

  4. Use the base family support center. They have experience counselors available to help you and your family deal with these issues.

  5. Consider getting help from a professional career counselor. The military will provide you with some assistance, but you (and your spouse) will likely benefit from the greater depth and extent of a professional counselor to help with career and other transitional issues.