“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
— Rudyard Kipling
A year ago I was struggling with a problem I had never encountered before.
I had lost my identity.
I wasn't a victim of fraud or anything criminal, this was far worse.
I didn't know who I was anymore.
I had spent my entire life competing: in sports, school, military promotions boards and then suddenly, just like that, the competition ended.
I was rudderless,
... probably depressed,
...angry and trying to find some way to get back to center.
Looking back now, I would describe it similar to losing a parent, or a sibling.
Grieving for what could only be that sense of pride and community that we all have when we serve in uniform.
During the latter part of 2019, I decided to pursue my passion of photography full time, it helped me re-discover my identity, once I got out of my own way.
Now I use my expertise to support other Veterans with their transition. I figured out a way to stay connected to the beloved community I grew up with my entire life.
Last month, I visited a local Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Seminar to provide complimentary headshots; TAP is typically when we Veterans start taking LinkedIn profiles more seriously.
Unlike my previous visits, this time was a little different because I decided to solicit some anonymous feedback on how each of the Veterans were feeling.
I told them, "you just spent a week of death by powerpoint, and now you have a tool bag full of some great resources.....but have you stopped to think or talk about how you feel about your transition?"
Most of them hadn't, I know this wasn't on my mind when I went through TAP. I went on to briefly explain to each of them about the grief-like symptoms I felt and how it snuck up on me months after I retired.
After each headshot I took that day, I gave everyone an opportunity to pause and answer my brief survey with the following two questions:
"What are you most excited about in terms of your upcoming transition?"
"What are you least excited about or scared in terms of your upcoming transition?"
Below are their responses.
Most excited about:
"More time to spend with my family."
"Stepping back and thinking about pursuing my passions."
"Not do standard military stuff."
"Honestly follow my heart wherever that may lead."
"The chance to go find something exciting and not have to deal with military bureaucracy from the inside anymore."
"Rejoining extended family after 24 years of being away."
"Looking forward to moving into the civilian sector, having more time and less stress."
"Opportunity for stability for my family...seeing them grow in their careers and teenage years."
"Having freedom and flexibility in my career choices; do something I'm passionate about."
"Less travel, more time with family. Focus on a job related to what I studied and enjoyed as a student."
"Freedom to pursue my own interest."
"Owning a house and actually live in it."
Least excited/scared about:
"I won't find 'my people' out in the corporate world."
"Not allowing myself to dis-engage from people/community; the military has provided a team/family I have used effectively."
"The amount of work it will take to complete medical and prepare for a job search."
"I have watched several bosses retire and they were all surprised by how long things took."
"Missing the camaraderie amongst my friends, shipmates and mentors. None of us get to this point without huge investments from others and the thought of distancing myself from these core foundation pieces in my life is sad. The work is work, but the people in all services are what makes this special!"
"I am not looking forward to buying an entire new wardrobe. Just kidding I'm totally looking forward to shopping. I think I'm most concerned with the unknown."
"The scary part of retiring is the process, the finality of the season of our life. With all the timelines, deadlines, and must do's, I feel overwhelmed with ensuring that I hit all the needed requirements to set myself and my family up for success in our next season of life."
"Going into a work environment where camaraderie isn't second nature, expected or present."
"Stress from the possibility that I will lose income or not be able to live where we want."
"Uncomfortable with having to sell myself."
"Blow to the ego when a company you are interested in doesn't respond to you."
"I know I will be fine for a few months, but at some point I'll miss the work."
"This is unfamiliar territory, I have a lot to do in a short amount of time."
"Worrying about where the paycheck is coming from as the main provider for my family."
"Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable. " - George S. Patton
Now that I'm almost two years past my own retirement date, I still find it challenging explaining to those who didn't serve what it's like to "re-join" the rest of society.
The next time you encounter a Veteran who says he/she is transitioning or recently transitioned, know that they are likely struggling to find their center. I hope this blog post gave you a little insight as to why.
Laura Hatcher is a retired Naval Officer, Mother, Harley Rider and Published Professional Photographer located in Northern Virginia. Her Studio is on 218 North Lee Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
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