Unmotivated? How to Stop Being Squirrelly About Transition

squirrel with grocery basket full of nuts

Once you decide to leave the military, everyone thinks you should be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about your transition. You should be working on your resume and networking like crazy. You should be hobnobbing with your fellow transitioners and snatching up every nut of knowledge like you have your own grocery cart to fill.

You know that is true. So why are you so unmotivated today? Probably because people keep "shoulding" all over you.

Despite what other people think, just making the decision to leave the military is not particularly motivating over the long haul. As Military.com's transition master coach for the Veteran Employment Project, I get to talk to lots of transitioning military and spouses at the beginning of their search. I see you hunting down job listings. Talking to a few people. Registering for everything. This is all good work.

Then You Get Squirrelly.

Despite your best efforts, all that job-hunting motivation starts drying up. You find yourself putting off your transition work in favor of, well, just about anything else.

I like that about you. It says you are on the verge of getting motivated. Here is a list of the top four ways veterans, spouses and transitioning military like you get unmotivated and squirrelly about the job hunt -- and how to get started again.

1. You Are Shoulding on Yourself Too Much

It is not enough that everyone is shoulding all over you. Every transitioner I know spends a lot of energy shoulding on themselves. It sounds like this: I should have started sooner. I should know what I want to do by now. I should be taking every one of these 99 certifications!!!

Wow. No wonder you are frozen in place and getting nothing done on your transition.

One strategy I like to use to get rid of the shoulds comes from psychiatrist David Burns, author of Feeling Great: The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety. When you catch yourself with all these shoulds -- often right when you sit down to start working on some part of your transition -- write them down. Then replace the words "I should have" with "if would be great if" or "I wish that."

  • I should have started sooner turns into: It would have been great if I had started sooner.
  • I should know what I want to do by now turns into: I wish I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
  • I should be taking every one of these 99 certifications becomes: I wish I had time to take all these certifications.


It is amazing how getting rid of the should in your head allows you to move forward on the work you want to do today.

2. Job Listings Are Boring.

Have you read a job listing lately? Not only are the job titles unfamiliar, but the descriptions sound so boring that you suspect if you took that job, your entire body could turn into sawdust overnight. Spend enough time on a job site and you won't know what job to apply for, much less what you actually qualify to do.

That, my friends, is uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to doubt -- about yourself, about your abilities, about your chances of being picked up by a civilian company. During transition, that doubt leads directly to procrastination. And sometimes to all those lies you tell yourself about transition.

One way to overcome the uncertainty/doubt/procrastination cycle is to put some constraints on your search. Start with time. You are only going to work on this transition project for 90 minutes. Or 60 minutes. Or 30 minutes. Make it a number so low that it would be impossible not to stick with it. Nine minutes are always better than three minutes.

Then put a constraint on location. Only look in your target location. If you intend to stay in San Diego or you plan to move back to Florida, only let yourself look there.

Finally, put a constraint on the company or agency. I like my clients to set up an alert on a kind of job. When you see a job that looks interesting (or less boring than most), go to the website for the company and look only at availabilities at that company. When you are done with that company, you are done for the day.

3. You Can't Make Any Mistakes.

One way to make yourself completely squirrelly is to tell yourself you cannot afford to make any mistakes. Since you spent your adult life mastering the military, you don't know enough about the civilian terrain to avoid all possible mistakes.

I'm not going to feed you any nonsense about how mistakes are learning opportunities, because I know you won't believe me. Instead, I'm going to remind you about the incredible ability of deadlines to make mistakes less of a problem.

"Nothing so concentrates the mind like the sight of the gallows," English essayist Samuel Johnson wrote. When you are thinking you can avoid making mistakes by stopping the work you meant to do on transition, remind yourself that the end of your military career is near.

Make the time to attend a military retirement ceremony of a work friend. Visit a family member at assisted living and notice how many of the residents are wearing a military cap. Look at a picture of your young self on the day you enlisted. Try on a snazzy business suit. Buy a copy of Harvard Business Review, Wired, Fortune or Fast Company. Read it like it is a foreign country you plan to visit soon.

4. You Can Do This Better Tomorrow.

When faced with so much uncertainty, it seems perfectly logical to put off a stress-inducing resume, networking note or certification until tomorrow. Or later. Tomorrow, it will make sense to you. Later, you will know what you are doing. Tomorrow, you will not be so tired or the kids won't need something. Or -- the grandaddy excuse of them all -- you will feel like it later.

"Doing something later is not the same as doing something better," notes clinical psychologist Meg Jay in her book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter. No miracle is coming. Remind yourself you will not do this task better, just because you waited until later.

One of my senior military clients came up with a motivating method to get ahold of all those laters and tomorrows. When he put in his papers to leave the service , he wrote a post-it note of how many tomorrows he had left in the military and posted it on his work computer. "There is nothing really motivating about 298 tomorrows," he told me. "But there is something very motivating about 103 tomorrows. Or 76 tomorrows. Or 45 tomorrows."

Getting squirrelly during the job hunt is all part of the game. Get over your mental barriers, stop procrastinating and make real progress on your transition by applying these tips today.

Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.

Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project

To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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