Do You Really Want to Keep Doing the Same Thing?

Written by Mission Next Consulting

Every year, more than 200,000 service members leave active duty and transition from living a life in uniform with defined sets of roles and values and transition to the civilian realm where roles, values, and authorities are much less refined. Once they transition and get settled into their civilian lives, an astonishing 64% will quit their first job and look for something else in their first 24 months of employment. It's a shocking percentage.

The Wrong Questions

As veterans move closer to their transition date, they have many decisions to make, but there are primarily two questions they focus on answering:

  • Where do I want to live?
  • What am I going to do for employment when I leave active duty?

Which questions do veterans answer first? Veterans often place more emphasis on what they are going to do for employment before they ask themselves where they want to live. This is the easy button: looking for a job that would allow the veteran to keep doing pretty much the same thing they were doing before. Looking for the same type of job gives veterans a sense of comfort because it takes some of the stress out of transitioning. Instead of worrying about whether they will know what to do when they get to their new workplace, the veteran can focus on moving the family and getting settled into the new community.

The most important question to ask is: What can I do to generate income and enjoy it so much that I'll want to go to work every day?

But is this the right way to go about transitioning? Maybe not. Social scientists have studied the human condition for a millennium. They've found that people tend to be happier if they are living and working in an environment that is close to their core values – their true self.

At Mission Next, we've found the same thing in our research. Veterans who choose social and work environments that closely align with their core values and sense of purpose are going to be much happier than veterans who do not. The more aligned the environment, the less likely the veteran will leave their first civilian job so they can find something more compatible.

Start Asking the Right Questions

Going back to the two questions veterans typically ask themselves when they transition, we suggest adding a third question:

  • What can I do that will generate income for me and make me so happy while I'm doing it that I want to go to work every day?

Studies show that veterans leave their civilian jobs when they encounter cultural friction in the workplace. It means they quit working when they realize they're not happy doing what they're doing. They might know their career field really well, but if they're not happy, they'll leave. Most veterans never ask themselves the third question because it's a hard question to answer. Answering that question takes extensive self-reflection and an honesty with who they are and what they want to do (future tense) as opposed to what they've been good at doing when they were on active duty (the past).

Why are Values Exercises Important?

It's important to see how a veteran's personal values may have changed since he or she first enlisted or were commissioned. Let's face it, what was important to an 18-year-old, aspiring infantryman might not be as important to a 24-year-old veteran who is married and looking for a place to raise a growing family. Things change.

What was important to an 18-year-old infantryman isn't going to be the same for a 24-year-old, married veteran who wants to enjoy the next 10 years raising a family. Things change.

Veterans can answer the happiness question by going through something called a values exercise. The values exercise highlights a veteran's priorities, desires, and drives so they can make informed decisions during the military to civilian transition process. The exercise makes it easier to see what jobs might fit better by comparing different attributes of each potential job or profession and seeing how well they align. Sometimes a veteran may think a job would be fantastic because it's just like the job they left. Maybe they think the pay and benefits are amazing, but the values exercise shows that the job just isn't a good fit. The higher the disparity between the veteran's values and the attributes of a proposed job, the higher the likelihood that the veteran will leave in the first 24 months.

How To Complete a Values Exercise

  1. Identify things that are intrinsically important.

    Although there's no right or wrong way to do a values exercise, consider using the exercises in Chapters 3 and 6 of Mission Next since they are laid out in an easy-to-use format. The key is for veterans to forget about where they've been the last couple years and instead focus on the future – their future selves. What do they want in life? How important is having a flexible job that will allow them to coach baseball or attend a child's theater performance? Are they fed-up with deployments, spending too much time in the field, and being away on Temporary Duty (TDY) instead of relaxing at home? Is receiving high pay for the next 10 years the biggest focus? Have they considered the importance of paying down debt or earning a college degree?

  2. Score the job attributes.

    Identify how the prospective job or career field will impact those things that were important and score them. If pay was important and Job A provides great pay, rank that attribute high. If pay was important and Job B does not offer the desired pay level, rank that attribute low.

  3. Compare.

    Veterans can use tools they learned in Military Decision-making Process (MDMP) training, a spreadsheet with columns, or even a simple sheet of paper to do the comparisons. Sometimes “weighting” certain values or job attributes can help force the data to “spread,” which will highlight disparities in what the veteran wants and what the prospective job or career field will provide. As an example, pay and benefits may be very important and autonomy at work may be not as important. One way to force the spread is to assign 9 to high values, 3 to middle values, and 1 to low values. If an attribute is weighted high (with a 9 ranking), and the proposed job contradicts that value, or makes it harder to achieve, the job's score would be either a 3 or a 1. For the example below, the veteran ranks low travel as very important (9), but the Sales Manager position has frequent travel and receives a score of a 1.

Values Exercise Examples

Self Very Important Somewhat Important Not As Important Sales Manager Score
Low Travel 9 0 0 1 9
No Work on weekends or after hours 0 3 0 1 3
More time at home 9 0 0 1 9
Autonomy 0 0 1 3 3
Ability to make friends at work 0 0 1 3 3
Pay and benefits 9 0 0 9 81
  Total: 108

Self Very Important Somewhat Important Not As Important Online Customer Service Rep Score
Low Travel 9 0 0 9 81
No Work on weekends or after hours 0 3 0 9 27
More time at home 9 0 0 9 81
Autonomy 0 0 1 3 3
Ability to make friends at work 0 0 1 1 1
Pay and benefits 9 0 0 1 9
  Total: 202

What Do the Examples Show?

The comparisons show what can happen if a veteran takes a position that is familiar (good pay and benefits, lots of travel, lots of time away from home), but goes against what they're really looking for: more time at home and less travel. When veterans take jobs that simply feel like what they were doing before, while setting aside their core values, the odds significantly increase that they will burn out and leave that job in the first 24 months.

In these examples, the veteran thought high pay and benefits was important, but the total calculations showed that the Sales Manager role might not be right for them. The veteran may be happier taking a job with less pay if the job provides more at home time. Veterans can use this tool to play with different job scenarios before they start looking for work in the civilian sector. Using this tool will increase the likelihood of the veteran staying in the job and wanting to go to work every day. It will also help veterans expand their prospective job searches beyond what they were doing when they were on active duty. Things change.

Connect to What's Important

Transitioning veterans can use a values exercise to compare their potential job prospects with those things that are important to them – things like spending time with family and financial security. It might take a little time to list and rank things that are important, but it's worth the effort. It doesn't matter if it's a 7-point scale or a 10-point scale as long as the most important value is at the top of the scale.

A transitioning veteran should consider doing this comparison multiple times with as many different jobs or factors as it takes. Consider having a spouse or significant other rank each job separately just to see if everyone is on the same page. By continuing to connect to what's important, a veteran can avoid the easy button and find a civilian job that's truly a good fit.

Published: May 18, 2022

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