In today’s climate, the thought of transitioning out of the military is never far from any military family’s thoughts. Whether it’s a medical discharge, a reduction in forces, the end of a contract or a long-awaited retirement, leaving the military can be both exhilarating and scary.
No matter your situation, there are some steps you can take to ease your family’s transition from the military world to the civilian one.
Envision Your New Normal
At our home, we have an ongoing conversation about what life will be when we’re no longer a military family. Where will we live? What kind of house do we imagine living in? What are our careers like? Our community activities?
While it’s sometimes frustrating to have this never-ending conversation hanging over our heads, I am so glad that we are envisioning what our life after the military will be like. It keeps us both on the same page and working toward the same goals. And that’s the most important thing: that you and your family know that you’ll tackle the transition out of the military together.
Invest in Your Education Now
Focus on the credits, degrees or certifications you need to make your post-military career everything you envision. Take advantage of the scholarships and grants available for military spouses now while you’re able to. And if you don’t think you can afford it, do a little extra research. Some colleges and universities may offer extra scholarships or tuition deductions for military spouses in addition to governmental grants, programs, private scholarships and student loans.
It’s good to have a little fun with your hard-earned cash, but your family should also be paying close attention to your savings and retirement funds.
Transitioning out of the military will be so much less nerve-wracking and aggravating if you know that your family has a financial cushion to fall back on in case things don’t go as planned.
If you’re not sure how much to save or how to get started, you’ll want to talk to a financial advisor or counselor (which you can do at no cost through Military One Source).
Have the Hard Conversations
This kind of conversation is different than the one where you envision the future with your family. Depending on your family’s situation, transitioning out of the military may stir up difficult emotions. Being able to talk about the fears and worries and address them is important, especially if life will be radically different for your children.
Don’t forget about your feelings too—you and your spouse might have to shift the way life always has been to accommodate your family’s new lifestyle. That’s worth talking about too.
Network, Network, Network
I’ll be honest: I absolutely, 100% hate networking. I hate going to awkward cocktail parties, feeling self-conscious about my outfit choice and never really making any deep connections. I don’t know many people who do benefit greatly from formal networking events.
Instead, I advocate slowly and meaningfully growing your network. Sure—reach out to new people, but do it in an authentic way.
Join Facebook groups, attend meetings of real-life organizations and follow relevant social media in your field or niche. Cultivate genuine relationships with people and help them when and where you can often—and certainly before “using” them for what or who they know.
Spruce Up Your LinkedIn Profile
And while we’re talking about networking, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is eye-catching and up-to-date. If I’ve learned nothing else from job-searching as an unemployed, newlywed milspouse, it’s that you absolutely never know where the next career opportunity may come from.
LinkedIn is a great place to make connections, groom and grow those connections, and yes—actually field job opportunities. (It happened to me!)
Keep an Eye on Resources
As you come across organizations and websites that can help during and after the transition, save them. Create a Pinterest board or a folder on your desktop and then pin or bookmark articles and websites as you see them. There is no shortage of help out there—you only need to do a little research and keep a weather eye on the future.
Build Your Resume
There is no better time than right now to work on shoring up your resume. Many military spouses feel self-conscious about their resumes.
Raise your hand if your resume has at least one of these characteristics:
- no jobs in your chosen career field
- long periods of unemployment
- a ton of short-term or temporary jobs
- dead-end jobs
I’m guessing we all have one of those issues. Identify where your resume can improve and then work toward making those areas stronger now before you’re in an interview trying to answer why you’re trained as a CPA but have only ever held down retail positions.
Shed Debt (and Avoid New Debt)
If you’re not sure what the future will hold financially, spend time now working on paying down as much debt as you can while still contributing toward your savings.
You want to ensure that your minimum payments for any outstanding debt can be comfortably made during the change from military to civilian life. You may also have outstanding expenses during transition related to moving, buying or renting a house and relocating your careers.
Make sure that you avoid big purchases or taking on new debt until you and your spouse have a steady income flow again or are sure that you’re able to pay on the purchase.