“You’re bored, aren’t you?”, she asked as I milled about the kitchen. She caught me cleaning the same spot on the counter, staring blankly into space. My retirement ceremony in Virginia had been only a few days prior. My use of time, the finite resource I had earned, wasn’t going well. It’s going to be a long six weeks…
When I retired from active duty, I didn’t truly realize how much free time I would have on my hands. Aside from a couple shore duty assignments sandwiched between several at sea, I didn’t have much of it to manage. My sea tours consisted of aircraft squadrons and a ship’s company tour. We didn’t have to look very far to find something to do. Time spent with Family was usually quite brief. Right or wrong, I always had plenty of mission oriented tasks on my mind to make sure it zoomed right by.
When I began my military transition to civilian life I had taken six weeks off to acclimate. Should be enough, right? Get a bunch of stuff done around the new place, reacquaint with the Family and friends, then right back after it with my new job. Knock a few things off the check list and get back to normal. Check, check, check!
We sure are an overly confident, ambitious bunch. We are accustomed to things being organized, lined up nice and neat. At least until the stuff hits the fan, that’s when the fun begins! We’re used to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and having a team around us who gets it, gets us, and has got our backs. So why would this transition to civilian life be any different? I’ll just knock it out like any other task list. Yeah, right.
The Struggle is Real…
Yes was the answer to my wife’s question by the way, and I struggled well past that initial six weeks. I didn’t quite know how to deal with civilian life, it had caught me off guard. There were no deployment work ups to guide my focus. No flight schedule to determine my day’s priorities. I couldn’t find Sailors to work with, no Chiefs to discuss our maintenance plan with, no Maintenance Officer or Skipper to discuss how things are going. No pressure, no mission, and most disturbing, no purpose representing something bigger than myself. Just time.
You’d think this would be a huge blessing after running full speed ahead for all those years. Quite the contrary when you aren’t prepared for it. I had no idea how to transition to civilian life, where the chaotic blessings of a military career’s mission and purpose did not exist. Sure, I had a new job lined up and would be filling my time, this finite resource, soon enough. However, the culture in civilian life would be quite different. The mission wasn’t even comparable. The camaraderie wasn’t there at the level I was accustomed to. The need to get things done so we could tackle the next task wouldn’t be nearly as focused or intense.
The Good News is, You Aren’t Alone
Recently I ran into a string of comments on a friend’s social media page where they were talking about how different it is working with “civilians”. There were several comments about difficult transitions and how the longing for a purposeful mission never goes away. How they were experiencing some of the same challenges I have experienced. For many service members, transition stress is very real. While studies on the subject haven’t been wide spread, it is safe to say many Gulf War era service members struggle with adapting to civilian life.
It has taken me nearly seven years to truly relax and adjust to my new normal. I’ve had to adapt to what it means to no longer have my mission and purpose focused on the military. It’s OK to focus my mission and purpose on my Family and our needs. I’m starting to come around and have begun to enjoy guilt free time at home, with friends and even at work.
Time is a Finite Resource, How Can We Learn and Get On With It?
It’s been a long road to get here and the adjustments have not come easily. I’ve struggled with many issues regarding how to shift over to my new normal. Attempts to fill the gaps with a lot of busy work and small business ventures have proven fruitless (and quite expensive). They filled my time with distractions and kept my mind busy. However, each lacked the satisfaction of mission accomplishment I was seeking.
One of the great mysteries to me has been how I didn’t see it coming or figure it out more quickly. If I really think about it, a cultural transition of this type is similar to others I’ve experienced. When we joined the military, the first objective was to transition into a drastically new culture via boot camp. Boot camp kick started the transition, which was fed for years until the day I retired from active duty.
We attended Japanese cultural classes upon arrival overseas. They knew the typical American service member would not latch onto the local way of life without some coaching and conditioning. The best ways to navigate in public included enjoying the food, cultural norms, and respectful communication. The few days we spent in the classroom with Japanese instructors was a huge help in getting us off on the right foot. I won’t even go into the multitude of liberty port briefings we endured aboard ships the day before a cool port call. Duh, why would someone venture out into a new environment without preparation?
When The Light Bulb Comes On
What was happening began to make some sense to me over a roughly 18 month period of time. The light bulb really came on when I read The Keys to a Successful Retirement. Pursuing a life lived in the past wasn’t going well. I was the only person on this path and it was creating a great deal of stress, anxiety, and conflict in my life. Stress within my Family, at work, and how I dealt with things in general. All of this began to change when I took ownership of which direction I’d like to see my life take. After all, our time is a finite resource, we only get so much of it.
Intentionally thinking about my purpose and how I’d like to spend my time, this finite resource, in the coming years helped create clarity for me. I’m not implying I have it all figured out, because I don’t. Not even close, this hasn’t been an easy task to take on. What I am saying is I have clearer expectations for what it means to be fulfilled. My intentional efforts have resulted in time more clearly focused on my Family, friends, and supporting others at work.
How are you spending your time? Do you feel fulfilled? Are you ready to take ownership of the change you want to see?