Sixteen months ago, with one year remaining in my 20-year Army career, I wrote an article sharing what I had learned after two years of planning and executing my three-year military career transition plan. My original intent was to write a follow-up article that shared the lessons learned during that final year of military service and how I transitioned into a new career in the private sector. After compiling my notes that I kept during that time, I realized that I couldn’t fit all of that information into one article. Instead, I choose to share my experiences in a limited series of LinkedIn articles as a way to pay it forward to current and upcoming military career transitioning veterans. For those readers in the private sector, who haven’t served in the military, these articles will provide you some insight and a better understanding of some of the challenges that some veterans experience prior to joining the private sector.
By no means do I desire to be a military transition “expert,” “guru” or “influencer.” I’m just a regular veteran, who went through the process and was able to find a career after being in the military for 20 years since I was 17 years old. My articles will provide candid information on how I approached my military career transition and what did or didn’t work for me. With that being said, I will start this first article with the very first thing I did in my military career transition plan – emotionally letting go of the Army.
After 17 years of serving in the Army, I knew that I would not stay longer than 20 years. While it was effortless to tell someone that I was getting out, it was a complete challenge for me to dedicate the amount of time needed to compose an actual plan to follow. During the last half of summer and fall of 2015, I struggled with crafting and arranging my military career transition plan. I increasingly grew frustrated at myself since I felt like I had selective writer’s block. Each session ended with what I started with – a blank piece of paper staring back at me. One day, while driving to work, the answer to why I was struggling to commit my transition plan to paper came to me – I wasn’t emotionally ready to let go of my relationship with the Army.
The best analogy I can use regarding the feelings and emotions that I felt at that moment and in the subsequent months ahead were that of realizing that a long-term relationship was coming to an end and that person (the Army) was no longer going to be a part of my future. Simultaneously, it dawned on me that I was going to have to continue to figuratively live (complete my military obligations) with the Army for a couple of years after the break-up. It was figuratively going to be similar to the initial living arrangements agreed upon by the characters that Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston portrayed in 2006 movie, The Breakup. I knew that no matter the opportunities and temptations (promotions, pay increase, new executive management role, new location) that the Army presented to me to stay longer in the relationship, it wasn’t going to change the inevitable fact that the Army was going to eventually break up with me and move on to someone else. It was just a matter of time.
I was pretty bummed out for the next few weeks. For some reason, I also felt guilty and disappointed in myself since I thought that I was in some way quitting. I coped by doing what I saw many within my senior management peer group do – ignore talking about it to anyone and fully immerse myself in work projects by voluntarily putting in a lot of unnecessary extra hours on the weekdays and weekends to avoid dealing with the issue. I was constantly connected to my work cell phone. It made the situation worse. It cost me a lot of unnecessary missed time with my family and didn’t help with the figurative heartache that the Army caused me.
It took me until the first week of December 2015 to go through the entire stages of heartache and grief. It was during this time that I realized that I was not addressing this inevitable break up in the best way that I could and was getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had finally hit the point in the mourning process where I decided to accept the end of my relationship with the Army and move on with my professional life. Emotionally, the Army went from being a long-term career and top priority to merely becoming a short-term job that would serve as a figurative bridge to my new life and career in the private sector.
Looking back, giving myself a few months to emotionally mourn and accept the end of my military career, before starting the career transition process, gave me the following advantages:
- Peace of mind, emotional closure, and self-motivation to fully accept and commit to the work and effort needed to plan and execute my military career transition over the next few years. I chose to focus on the fact that I was the one determining to leave on my terms and focused more on the great experiences that the Army had provided me. It was no longer a breakup; instead I viewed my upcoming retirement from the Army as a celebration and challenge. It was the end of a great chapter, not the end of the figurative novel of my life.
- Daily life in the Army no longer frustrated me since I knew that some of the bad days, bad people or bad moments were temporary and that these things had a definitive end. I knew that I had the rest of my life and a responsibility to provide for my family.
- My decision making and goal setting skills continued to stay focused as I knew that the work I was putting in on a consistent basis with the Army and my transition plan was helping with achieving my long-term goals.
- I was able to plan and meet all of my military out-processing and regulatory closing milestones on time. I was able to research, apply, and participate in any veteran career transitioning program that fit my specific post-military goals. Too many times, I saw veterans separating from the military finding themselves in a position of having to complete their out-processing requirements late and in a short amount of time. They also missed out on some great and free military career transitioning fellowship programs due to finding out about them after the registration windows expired. They didn’t emotionally move on from the Army and before they knew it, time caught up with them and added an unnecessary amount of stress to the career transition process.
- My high quality of work for the Army didn’t drop. The Army was still paying me to work for a few more years, and I ensured that I met my part of the obligation. Gone were the days of voluntarily working late and on weekends. It was easier to set boundaries for myself-especially by knowing when to exercise self-control and not work past a particular time. This mindset allowed me to finally take care of myself and to schedule and attend numerous family events, military career transition programs, and professional self-development opportunities.
2016 was right around the corner, and the first steps of planning and hard work towards my new life and career in the private sector were about to get underway.
Daniel Sotoamaya is a Program and Project Management Professional with 15+ years of experience and possessing a strong and demonstrated track record. Strong leadership and proficiency skills in program/project management, time management, strategic planning and optimization, risk management, budget management, process development, and improvement, change management, developing key performance indicators, and utilizing strategic communication analysis and optimization.
He is Highly experienced in leading multiple sized, cross-functional, geographically dispersed program/project teams in fast-paced and ambiguous global environments and very comfortable and skilled in balancing, prioritizing, presenting, and influencing progress and requirements to multiple levels of stakeholders.
Daniel currently works at PACCAR as a Customer Center Supervisor and can be reached at:https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-sotoamaya/