“3 certainties in life for serving military members: death, taxes,  and one day you WILL leave the ADF”

By Stuart Waldon, Partner nXus People

I have been providing career services to clients since 2012, and in early 2016 started to work with senior officers of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as they transitioned from a permanent career in uniform to the civilian world. One thing that has always struck me in this line of work, is that whilst everyone goes along their own journey in their way and in their own time, almost everyone focuses on the same components of what they need to do to successfully change careers. 

Transitioning from military service to civilian life is a significant milestone that many service members face. Whether it’s after a few years or several decades of dedicated service, the shift from military to civilian can be both exciting and challenging. In this blog, we aim to provide a guide to military transition, offering insights, tips, and resources to help serving and recently transitioned members navigate this important phase of their lives. At its core, military transition involves adapting to a civilian lifestyle, exploring career options, and addressing the unique challenges that individuals often encounter during this process. It is a multifaceted journey that requires careful planning, self-reflection, and access to the right information. By sharing our knowledge and experiences, we hope to empower retiring ADF members with the tools they need to successfully navigate their transition and thrive in their civilian endeavours.

When it comes to dealing with your transition at the time it happens, many retiring members feel a compelling sense of loss – even those who think they are going to be OK. Something to use to understand and consider how to manage this, is the SCARF framework developed by David Rock. This framework helps understand and address social threats and rewards that impact human behaviour. In a career transition context, SCARF highlights the significant impact of your transition on your sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. While primarily used in organisational and leadership contexts, it can also be applied to various situations, including military transitions. Here’s how you can utilise the SCARF model as a self-advice tool as you transition:

1. Status: Recognise your need for status and respect. Transitioning from a military environment to a civilian one can result in a change in social status. Reflect on your achievements and expertise gained during your military service. Emphasise how these qualities can be valuable in your new civilian role, helping you maintain a sense of status and importance. Consider volunteering in the interim, giving you a sense of purpose and status (military members are usually co-opted into running the place pretty quickly!)

2. Certainty: Understand that transitions often come with a degree of uncertainty. In the military, structure and clear expectations are the norm. Seek clarity about your new role, responsibilities, and expectations. Establish a plan for transition, including setting clear goals, timelines, and obtaining the necessary information to reduce ambiguity.

3. Autonomy: Serving members have an inherent need for control and independence and are accustomed to making decisions and leading others. Find ways where you can exercise autonomy in your new role, such as taking ownership of specific projects or initiatives. Leverage your leadership skills and adapt them to the civilian context. Again, volunteering can be both a useful distraction and chance to try something different.

4. Relatedness: Acknowledge the importance of social connections during transitions. Moving from a tight-knit military unit to a civilian workplace can feel isolating. Build relationships with new colleagues, attend networking events, and join professional organisations. Take any opportunity to connect with other veterans or military support networks that can provide a sense of camaraderie as well as reaching out to new groups. Take as much advice as you can, ask as many people as you can “If you were me right now, what would you do?” and work up the pros and cons of what everyone is telling you. Having said this, be your own person and look after your own interests and those closest to you. And don’t underestimate the help your immediate family can provide. Those married for most of their military career have a partner who has dealt with their own transition at every posting to a new location and life. They can be your greatest source of strength and support.

5. Fairness: Whilst there are many reasons for transitioning, the hardest is when it is involuntarily with a strong feeling of unfairness playing out. It can feel like the decision was taken away from you, completely at odds with your experiences to date as a uniformed member. Even those who depart of their own accord can feel like the cards were stack against them, or someone superior had it in for them. Regardless, taking control of your feelings is critical with the need to focus on what you can control. Even once safely ensconced in a new civilian career, issues of fairness can continue to present. Military members are accustomed to a culture of fairness and impartiality which may not be the case in the civilian sector and the different factors that influence decision-making processes. This can be the most challenging element to address.

In conclusion, the transition from military service to civilian life is a significant milestone that requires careful planning, self-reflection, and access to the right information. While each individual’s journey is unique, there are common areas of focus that can help pave the way to a successful transition. Understanding the transition process, identifying transferable skills, exploring career options, overcoming challenges, building support networks, and starting the planning process early are key elements to consider.

Remember, transitioning from the military is not a journey to undertake alone. Reach out to those who have gone ahead, seek guidance from peers and support networks, and involve your immediate family in your transition process. With proper planning, resilience, and a willingness to explore new possibilities, retiring ADF members can start on new and successful ventures, even if the path ahead may not be initially obvious.

In the end, the blog aims to provide retiring ADF members with some of the tools you need to successfully navigate their transition and thrive in your new civilian endeavours. By harnessing the valuable skills gained from military service, adapting to a civilian lifestyle, and embracing new opportunities, veterans can confidently embark on the next chapter of your lives. The journey may be challenging, but with the right mindset, support, and resources, a fulfilling and rewarding civilian career awaits.