As if exiting the military isn’t enough of a culture shock, you soon realize there are habits, protocols, systems and traditions that you might need to change for the civilian world. Understanding which military habits will continue to serve you and which can be abandoned will help you reintegrate after your military duty.
For example, consider whether these habits are appropriate in your post-military career:
Habit No. 1: Being Early
Yes, you were trained to be early because “early is on time and on time is late,” but consistently showing up 15 minutes before the meeting starts can send a mixed message to other participants. As you learn to break this habit, strive for being 3-5 minutes early instead.
Habit No. 2: Using Last Names
This might be a hard one to break. In your civilian career, you’ll want to address someone who’s a peer, networking contact and your boss by their first name. In a formal situation — such as a job interview — it’s fine to start off by addressing someone as “Ms. Smith” or “Mr. Jones,” but when they suggest you call them Tina or Tim, do so. Watch for this in person and in correspondence.
Habit No. 3: Speaking Succinctly
The brevity and directness of the military serves a distinct purpose. In the private sector, however, being too direct can be misconstrued as hostility or coldness. Listen and learn how your civilian peers use colorful, descriptive and emotive language to make a point.
Habit No. 4: Showing Your Self-Sufficiency
Sure, it’s great that you can work independently and don’t need assistance, but from time to time, you’ll need help. Asking for help is a sign of strength in the civilian world, and you’ll be respected for your willingness to seek guidance and assistance when needed.
Habit No. 5: Using a 24-Hour Clock
Most Americans, and those who’ve not served, aren’t familiar with what 1600 hours means. It will be easier to relay “11 p.m.” to communicate to your civilian counterparts than, “2300 hours.”
Habit No. 6: Making Your Bed in the Morning
Here’s a habit to keep, according to Navy SEAL Adm. William McRaven. In his famous 2014 University of Texas at Austin commencement address, McRaven spoke of the importance of doing this one thing at the start of the day to set yourself up for success.
Habit No. 7: There’s No “I” in Team
While it’s vital to think in terms of teams and collaboration, standing out and promoting yourself also matters. As you move through your civilian career, evaluate when it’s time to stand up and stand out to get noticed and grow your value to the organization.
Habit No. 8: Overplanning Every Detail
The military taught you to plan, plan again, consider all contingencies, alternatives and emergencies … and then plan again. Some of this will certainly be helpful as you navigate the uncertainties of a civilian career, but resist the temptation to get caught in analysis paralysis — where you overthink each move, action and decision to the point where you miss key opportunities. There will be times when 80% good is better than 100% perfect.
Habit No. 9: Using Foul Language
Not that you’ll never hear a cuss word come out of the mouth of a CEO, but the likelihood that it will flow constantly is low. The private sector has taken huge steps to build inclusive environments, and off-putting language is highly discouraged.
Habit No. 10: Obeying Orders Without Questioning
Your military career might have required you to follow orders obediently, and civilian employers certainly value compliance with rules and directives, but there’s also a place for ideation and creativity in how you’ll do your job in the private sector. As you navigate your post-military career, a mentor can help you move past limiting thinking and toward a growth mindset in your work.
The author of “Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and “Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition” (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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