Filling the Service Gap

The other day I had a chance to talk to service member about life in the military and his thoughts about life after the military. His reply to my question about life after the service struck a common chord - “I will miss the mission and the people, but I won’t miss the nonsense*.” While nonsense was not the word he actual chose, as I engage with other veterans and service members, it is often a common theme.  A lot of veterans miss the camaraderie and the sense of purpose that they felt while serving (it seems no one misses the nonsense). In fact, many of the articles I read about job satisfaction focus on those two things. As I began my own transition from the military a year ago, I wondered if I would miss those things as well. It turns out that I haven’t and I will tell you why.

When I left the military, I began to dedicate some of my free time to volunteering with non-profit organizations. I started out giving one day each week to one of the non-profit organization that supported causes I was interested in. Taking a break from the job search to support their efforts enabled me to maintain the sense of purpose that I felt while in the military. At the same time it expanded my network and helped to reduce stress. I helped build homes, cleaned up trash along the Potomac River, counted oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, and a engaged in host of other volunteer activities. With each project, I maintained the sense of purpose and accomplishment that I had while I was in the military. It was nice to be part of something larger than myself when I wasn’t looking for a job, going to a networking event, or working on my resume.

I also linked up with several veterans service organizations in addition to some more traditional non-profit groups. Working and interacting with fellow veterans kept me connected to people with similar experiences, who were also committed to making a difference. While the missions might be different depending on the group, I found a sense of camaraderie in each organization. Regardless of the group or its mission, the veterans involved shared their military experiences, talked of old comrades and were as committed to each other as they were the goals of the group. Within each organization, there was that sense of belonging that reminded me of my time in the service, so it never became something I missed.  

While I enjoyed my time in the military, and would do it again if given the chance, I do not miss it now that I am out. By choosing to fill the gap with volunteerism while I searched for new opportunities, I found a way to make up for the things I enjoyed most about the military. So as you start to look for new opportunities outside the service, I cannot help but encourage you to do the same. When you find you have some time during your job search, try your hand at volunteering with non-profit service organization or a veterans service organization. I suspect, in addition to the good it does for others, it will do you some good as well.