Regiment: 9th/12th Royal Lancers
No one said it would be easy; many spoke of the pitfalls of building a second “normal” career but very few mentioned whether you can get more out of your life after leaving the army.
12 months on from leaving the army I am happy in a more settled way than I could ever have been serving. Military life tends to have moments of exhilaration followed by troughs of equal frustration – do I miss it? Of course – it was a formative 8 years of my life. Many of my behaviours are now defined by that time and oddly can dominate my natural preferences. Great friends, great experiences – what is not to miss? The problem was that I was missing the army whilst I was in it, the inevitable result of becoming increasingly desk bound, and I felt I was missing out on the opportunities my civvy friends were benefiting from. Is my life boring now because there are no operational tours, no uncertainty of last minute decisions and urgent requests? No – I find my life all the more exciting, the possibilities greater and the uncertainty more heightened; I even see my closest “army friends” more than I did in my last two years serving.
Where once my life belonged to the army it now belongs to me.
In truth it probably took me 4 to 5 months of getting used to “civvy life,” finding a routine that fitted me at work and at home. Realising that getting up 20 minutes earlier made the tube ride more palatable or even better how much more efficient it is just to cycle to work. The financial impact of travel in London and the expense of grocery shopping (and having to cook for myself) was an eye opener – as too was working in an office with some very different people – but you adapt and it is fun to do so as you learn much more about those great “interpersonal and communication skills” that you claim to have from the army. You soon come to realise that the misperceptions that people have of ex-military is equally reciprocated by the misperceptions ex-military have of the civilian world – particularly around this issue of commercial awareness or business knowledge. I certainly know more about what each sector or industry does now than I did before – but it is just to stuff to learn just as I had to learn what the cavalry actually did before I joined my regiment. The key is what you understand and what you can do. What I have come to understand is that the game is still the same. Producing results, managing people, exploiting success and strategic thinking don’t change – some people are just better or more experienced at doing it.
it comes down to one thing – opportunity, and your willingness to embrace it.
I have met some who seem to mourn their decision to leave the military, as if they could go back to the halcyon days of their early 20s, platoon commanding yet forget about those many hours sat waiting, or the grind of staff work. Letting go can be hard to do, whether as an ex-athlete or as ex-military, losing that identity and losing the comfort of a known world and like-minded people. Let go and the world becomes full of opportunities, full of risks and full of adventure. Embrace it and enjoy the ride or hang on to what you left behind and miss out on your greatest challenge.
I have opportunities now I never thought could have existed. One can build a stimulating career as well as a rewarding life around it. I am going to start a part time masters in October, I read and write more than I did, I play more sport and exercise more often and my social life is now much more rounded. My secret pleasure: being able to wallow in my Sunday evening blues in my own flat without the worry of which base or camp I might have to travel to.
Post military some people love their jobs, others work to afford to do the things they love. There are inevitably those that neither enjoy their jobs nor their lives. Perhaps we as a collective need to be braver when embracing second careers and opportunities. There is a reason that 60% of ex-military officers leave their first jobs after 18 months. It is not that we are not good enough or competent. It is due to not wanting the job. Be brave and be honest with yourself, take a risk when and where you can. Do not prescribe to the tired advice of just getting yourself into any big company – that is a guaranteed way to not enjoy the start of your second career. There is a whole world out there that we have closed our eyes and minds to and that is exciting.
12 months on I am still proud of my time in the army but I go to work happy and I go to bed happy – what more can I ask for?