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Spouse Series: Avoiding the Deer in the Headlights Look

by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor

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The deer in the headlights look. I’ve seen it many times plastered across the fearful face of someone who realizes that the military life he or she has become so accustomed to will soon be ancient history.

I’ve seen it on the face of a service member who is retiring after 20-plus years, never mind that he knew this day would eventually come. Denial, as we all know, isn’t just a river in Egypt. It often wears a uniform and hopes beyond hope to land the perfect job with a first-draft résumé and a firm handshake.

Military Transition Process

I’ve seen it on the face of a service member who was unexpectedly told, “Thank you for your service. You can go now. Really. Right now, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

I’ve also seen it on the face of a military spouse who may not wear a uniform, but gets to experience the thrills and chills of a military-to-civilian career transition just the same. Sound familiar?

Certainly, a respectable dose of fear can be a positive thing in the military transition process. A huge amount of it, however, can be downright paralyzing and totally unproductive in a moving-forward-in-life kind of way.

Whether you are the transitioning service member or the person married to one, you can avoid experiencing the deer in the headlights look in these most unsettling of times.

Here are several techniques for doing so:

- Feel the fear and embrace it anyway. You’re probably pretty good at this anyhow. This isn’t your first challenging situation in the military, is it? It’s just another one. Rise to this auspicious occasion and take care of matters...like you always do.

- Get educated about the transition process. Take advantage of the individual career counseling services, workshops and briefings offered by those who work at the transition assistance and military family centers. Listen to what they have to say even if you think you know it all - because you don’t. Information changes all the time and you need to keep up.

- Surround yourself with positive people. Two of my favorite positive people, Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer, co-authors of the recently released book “Military Spouse Journey: Discover the Possibilities and Live Your Dreams,” suggest that you form your own dream team, or small group of people whose only goal is to support every member of the team in creating a life that works for them. In such a situation, every team member wins. It makes sense to me.

- Think positive thoughts. If you believe you will find a good job, you will probably find a good job. Likewise, if you think you will never find a good job, well then it just sucks to be you, doesn’t it? You need to bluff: Where the mind goes, life follows.

- Develop a list for the transition process and establish a realistic timeline. Divide and conquer where possible, and don’t forget to celebrate the achievements, great and small, along the way. Remember, life is a journey, not a destination. Tired cliché? Perhaps. Spot on? Absolutely.

- Finally, don’t be so one-dimensional. While your joint military-to-civilian career and life transition may well be the elephant in every room of your house, don’t let every conversation you have with each other or with your children center around it. Talk about other things that bring you joy. Talk about the weather. Whatever you do, just don’t let the elephant win.

Janet Farley is a career strategist, a workplace consultant, and the author of “The Military Spouse’s Guide to Employment: Smart Job Choices for Mobile Lifestyles” (Impact Publications, 2013). Janet blogs at Life’s Too Short to Hate Your Job.

 

Return to March/April 2014 Issue