Why You Still Need to 'Embrace the Suck' When Transitioning

Lance Cpl. George Redhead low-crawls through the muddy water of the 'pit-and-pond' section of the endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center on Camp Gonsalves in Okinawa, Japan, April 17, 2014. (Cpl. Stephen Himes/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

While you were in the military, you likely became very familiar with the term "embrace the suck." From your first day at boot camp or officer school, you learned that things won't always come easy, life will get hard and you can't run from pain. "Embrace the suck" speaks to "that threshold where your body breaks down, and your mind takes over. If you're weak-minded and ready to quit, your body will follow suit. If you're expecting 'the suck.' Then you welcome it. You embrace it. You won't succumb to it, and you push yourself through it."

The Transition Suck

Transitioning from a military to civilian career is filled with "suck." Some of you are told before you separate that your skills are in high demand, and that you'll have no trouble at all finding civilian employment with your background. "Employers are just clamoring for someone like you!"

Then the reality hits that finding a job -- let alone a civilian career -- is not easy. You craft a well-organized resume, send it to employers by the hundreds and wait for the phone to ring. And it doesn't.

Remind yourself that, while you had many jobs in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, you had one employer -- and you got to know that employer very well. Positioning yourself to a new employer, with a completely new culture and set of systems and rules, is not easy. No matter how skilled and credentialed you are, finding your civilian career path can (and likely will) be difficult.

You will see others alongside you land jobs before you. This sucks. They make it look easy and seamless. It's not. Perhaps they had good timing, luck, a good network or they had positioned themselves into their next career far before they actually hung up their uniform for the last time. Regardless of how they secured their job, if your experience is different, embrace that it's your path and you have to make it work for you.

You may hear that you're overqualified or underqualified, or that you don't have enough private-sector experience. This sucks, too. How can you get civilian experience if no civilian employer will hire you? Consider volunteering, internships, apprenticeships and other less than ideal entry points into the civilian community.

When you have your foot in the door, it's much easier to move upward.

The Good News

Many people, resources and communities are ready and willing to help you. You don't have to do this alone. Letting your (in-person and online) network know that you need support and guidance is a huge step toward finding the foundation for your next career. Civilians are great at asking for help and guidance. Learn from them.

Take advantage of your GI Bill benefits to extend or enhance your education if it is preventing you from pivoting into a great job. Many before you have focused on schooling after leaving the military in order to bridge the gaps needed to secure a good career.

And if entrepreneurship is your path, remember that the suck doesn't end when you get your business license and business cards. That's when the work starts. Having a clear, focused path forward is critical for any business owner.

Whether you seek a civilian job, pursue your education or start a business, it's not going to be easy. Then again, neither was your time in the military. Think about it this way: You know how to work hard, you know how to "embrace the suck" and be resilient. Having an honest view of the transition will empower you to make the challenges work for you to build a successful career.

Lida Citroën, a branding expert based in Denver, is passionate about helping veterans learn how to compete for careers in the civilian sector. A TEDx speaker, Lida presents her unique personal branding training programs across the U.S., at military installations and events, volunteers with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), and has produced numerous programs and materials to help military veterans successfully transition after service. She is also the author of the best-selling book, "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition."

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