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Mil2Civ - Find Your Purpose

Posted 3 years 146 days ago ago by Admin

Last year when one of my best friends was preparing to retire from the military, he expressed to me that one of the greatest challenges for him in the transition process was his difficulty imagining civilian employment could ever provide him with the same sense of purpose and fulfillment that he had experienced as a member of the military. For many of us who have served, defending the American way of life and serving in the country’s most trusted profession makes pay and earnings seem like an almost secondary motivation. For my friend, the thought of working at a job where—he imagined—salary and benefits was the sole reason to get up and go to work every day sounded like a rather unhappy way to live life. Fortunately, I had transitioned from the military two years prior and had already found my new purpose, which provided me with a few insights that I was able to pass along to him. Don’t get me wrong: redefining your life’s purpose after so many years of living with “duty, honor, country” as the default is not easy. It’s not easy at all. 

Purpose is defined as, “for which something exists.” This seems to be a fairly straight forward notion, but in fact, “purpose” represents one of the most powerful concepts in the human condition. When people ask, "What should I do with my life?" or "What is my purpose in life?" what they are really asking is, "What can I do with my remaining time on Earth that is important, fulfilling, and life-enhancing?"

Redefining our life’s purpose after separation from the military is a deeply personal endeavor and the path will vary from person to person depending upon innumerable factors, including family background, cultural attitudes, and individual preferences. 

Finding your purpose can be difficult, but oftentimes it is right there in front of you, hiding in plain sight. For example, as a former member of the military, maintaining the altruistic desire to continue serving one’s community could potentially be satisfied by joining a police/fire department, or flying helicopter air ambulance (HAA) missions, or by becoming a teacher.

We are all unquestionably entitled to satisfy our wants and desires, but it seems to be a basic human truth that focusing on yourself and yourself alone will never provide real or lasting meaning to life. Living for others adds weight and significance to our day-to-day actions due to the sense of fulfillment we experience when we know that our efforts have benefitted others in some way.

We can begin our pursuit for an updated post-military life purpose by starting at home. For example, perhaps now is the perfect time to actively focus on the objectives of our family members who for years have quietly set aside their professional and educational goals in order to support your military career. After so many years of living reactively, moving every two or three years, and sacrificing short-term happiness for long-term success, maybe now is a good time to focus on your spouse’s dreams and aspirations. Or maybe it is time to reconnect with your children and focus on becoming the parent you have always wanted to be (and your children deserved), but for which you never had the time nor energy due to the relentless nature of your job.

Many people find purpose by donating to charitable institutions they feel passionate about. Donating money is admirable, of course, but offering your time has the  potential to be far more rewarding, as demonstrated by folks like Lyn Burks, (publisher of this magazine) and Jan Becker, owner of Becker Helicopters and HAI Board of Directors member. Lyn travels to Haiti every year to help rebuild communities in one of the poorest nations in the world (and the poorest in the Western Hemisphere). Jan travels to Tanzania each year to work as a midwife in a country that suffers one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. Lyn and Jan are as busy (or busier) than most of us, but they both still find it in themselves to sacrifice their valuable time and energy to help those in need. This, to me, is “purpose” personified. Of course, Lyn and Jan may seem like extreme examples, but the rest of us do not need to travel across the globe to find situations worthy of our time and efforts. If we look around in our local communities, I would wager it is pretty easy to find a way to help. 

As a former member of the military, I believe that part of your life’s purpose should be to the live the life of somebody who has done their duty and has earned the right to do something for yourself after having done your part for your country. What that means though is, naturally, up to you.

For the curious-minded, I too had to look deeply inward to find new purpose after transitioning from the military. Mine includes being the best father I can be to my son, and giving back to my military brothers and sisters by assisting them to the best of my ability as they take that enormous leap of faith of transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce.

About the authorMarc Stanley retired from the U.S. Army in 2015 after 26 years and is now a corporate pilot for MassMutual, flying AW139 helicopters. Stanley regularly teaches military-to-civilian transition classes at industry events and volunteers with veterans outreach programs.