5 Ways to Keep Transition From Making Your Head Explode


I’m sure the kind people who put together transition checklists didn’t mean to launch full blown panic. Surely they’re aren’t that mean, right?

The words “transition” and “getting out” have been floating around this house recently. Maybe it’s that time of year. Maybe it’s just that time of his career. But whatever is going on, life on the outside is starting to look better and better. Because of his current service situation, my soldier could start the process of getting out today if he really wanted to and be out quickly. And while “quickly” in the military is super relative, he could, in theory, be looking at as little as 90 days.

And so we’ve started looking up transition resources and checklists. I like to think we’re pretty responsible people. We have a nice little retirement savings, we keep our lawn trimmed, we call our mothers once a week and have never gone into debt to buy a yacht. But these transition checklists make me feel like we are the Least Prepared People Ever.

For example, according to an article from USAA, one of the first steps to a successful transition is to create a transition spending plan TWO YEARS before your anticipated transition.

Two years?

While that was probably written with a retiree in mind (who has a better idea of when they are getting out — after 20 years), it still sent us into a tailspin. If the first step to getting out is have a super long term plan, well, we’re sunk.

That got me thinking about calm things we can do as a family to get through transition without our heads exploding from frustration.


5 Ways to Keep Transition From Making Your Head Explode

1. Know that we probably won’t die.

The odds of us starving to death because we got out of the military are pretty low. I mean, really — it’s going to be OK. So what if we didn’t start planning this 17 years (or two) in advance? We are skilled, scrappy people who can make this work. And so are you. Transition is scary because it means a huge life change. You’re going to make it.

2. Adjust spending habits today.

The very first thing we did when we started discussing transition was go over our budget. We use Mint.com to keep track of our spending, but we are still pretty loosey-goosey about the whole thing, not living as carefully as we could. We don’t go into debt for toys, but we also don’t save at the rate we could be if we, for example, seriously reigned in the number of times we eat out each month or the number of new shirts from Target we absolutely MUST own. We’ve challenged ourselves to take a hard look at our budget and make simple changes. Do I really, REALLY need another pink tank top even if it is only $6 and super cute? Sadly, no.

3. Start building that resume now. 

Maybe you plan to move to a specific place and find a job there. Maybe you plan to move to wherever you find a job. Either way, now is a great time to start massaging that resume and Linkedin profile. Bonus! Since you’re still a military family you have easy access to all the job hunting tools offered by the military’s employment support offices. We’ve got a hole hill of great employment tips over on Military.com. And while most of these ones are written for you, the spouse, they can easily apply to your service member as well. You can also send him trotting to the Military.com Skills Translator, which can help him figure out how his military expertise can translate to The Outside.

4. Find a social life and identity outside the military.

One of the reasons transition is such a hard idea for many military families is because we have worked so hard to tie up our entire identities in the military. Sometimes doing that is a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress of deployment and frequent moves. But the reality is that when it’s time to get out, you aren’t just looking at changing careers — you’re looking at redefining who you are.

That’s why now might be a good time to start thinking about you and your family beyond the military. Use today to start taking steps away from that identity. If you’ve built your family fun and social life around on-base and military social events, start looking outside the gates for things you can do. Maybe now is a good time to make a few non-military friends, or to start doing family activities like nature walks in nearby state parks. You want to find things that leave the military with you and become a part of who you are going to be, not who you’ve become while serving.

(And p.s., if your spouse really wants to still have a foot in the door, he should consider the Reserves or Guard. Here’s some awesome tips about that.)

5. Practice mind over matter.

When the stress of a potential transition starts to mount, it can be easy to get caught up in some stinkin’ thinkin’. Since there are few actionable steps you can take for transition right now, it’s probably a good time to start using the power of positive thinking.

It could be as simple as purposefully no longer thinking about transition in terms of something scary, and instead making yourself think about it as an exciting adventure, full of opportunity.

Also — why wait to deal with the emotions of transition until later. This great list of tips helps you deal with them ahead of time. Do it.


What are your best transition tips? Share them in the comments.


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Okko Pyyko under the Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • retiredusnnavywife

    Just a couple more ideas from someone who has been there:
    Move to a place where jobs are available.
    Don’t buy a house right away. You may need or want to move again and that one will be on your own dime.
    You may hold two or three jobs before you find a good fit – expect that.
    While still on active duty do something everyday to move your transition forward, even if it is only uploading your resume to another website or adjusting your budget.
    Dispose of unnecessary possessions. You will actually feel physically lighter and won’t require a place large enough to hold so much stuff.
    Use the GI Bill. Consider having your service member return to school if you can do without acquiring any more debt.

  • BestGuest

    When I was getting out, the transition office was more concerned with helping people get disability and unemployment than giving advice on how to get jobs. For example, we didn’t have practice job interviews, but we had practice interviews for getting disability from the VA. We were encouraged to make up ailments if need be because we “deserved it”. That experience made me proud to leave.

    My point – don’t take advantage of the tax payers by getting undeserved disability benefits because you occasionally get headaches (the TAPS people actually tought us to do this).

    Have some pride, be ready to work harder than you’re used to, and remember you will probably start at the bottom of the ladder. Get out of the military mindset, promotions will be based on performance, not seniority.