The Reality of Military Resettlement
Guest Blog by Kate Mizon.
The Flocking Crowd
If you are due to leave the services soon, many of you reading this are focusing your attentions away from the military, but you would have had to have had your head in a water bowser to not be aware of the impending Coronation plans for King Charles III. Whichever way you intend to mark the occasion, you may feel slightly displaced, detached from the national excitement and inevitable military pomp. It may be the first time, or the last time of celebrating or taking part in an official parade and knowingly watching the hype, that you certainly will not be part of it in the future. Well, there may be some of you that will jump straight into the reserves but let's face it, the only ‘perky perk’ is ushering at Wimbledon and let’s be honest, strutting around SW19 mid-July in ‘twos’ is about as comfortable as wearing full Gortex on a steady state run. In Akrotiri.
The fact is, momentous occasions such as these will hit different, because doing your part will no longer be about strutting your stuff on parade shoulder to shoulder with your muckers or marching through the town centre with cheers and Union Flags waving from the crowds. Instead, you will be one of the crowd, no longer standing out as a member of the Armed Forces. That is a hard pill to swallow but a necessary one, nonetheless. However difficult that may be, it is normal to feel that way and understanding this will aid your transition into ‘the crowd.’
For me, this recent stage of resettlement was the lull in the battle, so-to-speak. I was receiving job offers in abundance, which was positive, but the offers were for jobs that I did not want, though I was qualified for. I was in a battle with myself to get a role that I could do vs the role I wanted to do. The jobs I wanted, I lacked experience and qualifications, the jobs I did not want were inviting me to interview and insight days. Great (not so much). Frustrated at the back and forth, I threw my teddy out the pram and decided I was taking a break from anything remotely close to a job search; deactivated apps, Linked In and unsubscribed like an absolute menace.
I chose to leave the British Army early as I was unhappy, it made no sense to jump from the frying pan to the fire, so why was I? You may have experienced the same; whether you have opted to leave, you are being medically discharged, or you have served your full contract, undoubtedly others will take interest at your soon-to-be alien life and pose the dreaded question...”so what are you going to do?" The default setting answer (in my head) was “none of your f**king business” but I duly answered, regardless of how tedious it became. These exchanges flow if the response is “project management,” “construction,” “personal training” or “close protection” etc. So, imagine the response when I answered “Copywriting.” I can now hand-on-heart say that the murmur “huh,” officially has a facial expression. It is true. I have seen it more than I care to, and it inevitably leads to more questions. The best retort to my seemingly 'mic-drop' career choice was, “can you write?.” Now, whilst this may be subjective, I am sure that no one else is asked if they can manage a project, construct, protect or train, because let's face it, that is covered in every career stream of the Armed Forces. My answer was always coupled with a wry smile and nod to hide my frustration and, if I am honest, my embarrassment. The repetitive question began to chomp away at my confidence like a desperately hungry squaddie on a 'D shaped' pasty, fresh off the range and still hours from a decent (edible) meal. Doubt was starting to creep in. Eventually, I caved and prepared a much easier response of “project management,” which was a guaranteed conversation stopper. Although you have lied to yourself and others, you have done so to give the answer they want to appease their own insecurities – which is leaving the Armed Forces.
The “huh” faces got to me in the end, so much so, that when I began to slope off after de-kit, I applied for project management roles. My transition was not shaping the way I thought it would be. I was dreading it. Dreading the type of job, I was lining myself up for, thinking back at what I had left knowing I was equally as unhappy and stuck firmly between a rock, a hard place and seriously considering a job as a delivery driver. I had, up until this point, been reluctant to accept advice or assistance because if I was honest with myself, I did not know what I wanted my second career to be. That ‘what do you want to be, when you grow up’ line bounced around my grey matter like a pinball. I had lost sight of why I tapped the 7 clicks.
I should say I went back to the drawing board and consulted SWOT analysis, or I contacted CTP and other forces affiliated agencies for advice and guidance. No. I redecorated my bathroom. I mean, completely redecorated - tiles, under tile heating, flooring, stud walls and door. Instead of focusing and obsessing about my next career move, I did not move at all in any direction of resettling myself and instead, settled on a cold bathroom floor, attempting to install white brick tiling with black grout. Talk about going in at the deep end. I did not have a plan, I knew roughly how I wanted it to look and watched some tutorials but, it was a mess to begin with. Plenty of mistakes, on the job learning, unfamiliar territory (plastering a ceiling is the epitome of nails), a near miss for my pinky finger, - my admin was everywhere. I continued to graft, my back was in clip, and I was quickly reminded of my tenacity to keep going and was back in force (fuelled on a good few strong cups of coffee). It then dawned on me, as I stood in the doorway of this daunting project that this was how my resettlement has gone. Plenty of mistakes, on the job learning, unfamiliar territory and unless I am to commence a new career as a tree surgeon, I would say my pinky finger is safe. The result was not perfect, and there were a few adjustments to be made but I had just thrown myself into the unknown and it turned out to be a decent effort - if I do say so myself.
Confidence restored (ish), if I have learned anything about serving is that when the going gets tough - we get on with it. We regularly throw ourselves into the unknown and just crack on, doing our absolute best. Resettlement and a new career in the civilian world are no different. I was annoyed that I had allowed myself to become blindsided by others' opinions or suggestions at what I should do with my qualifications and experience, I allowed myself to be misguided and be part of the flock that I did not belong to anymore. Truth is, you belong to a different crowd now, or at least you will do soon – the veteran crowd. A healthy mix of the two realms. Able to break away and ‘do you’ but still enjoy the Coronation with pride and appreciation of the effort involved, but equally grateful that you are not stood in that get-up in the blistering heat, sweating like you just lost crypto on Salisbury plain. Thank f**k for that.
1000% correct. I wish I’d been that proactive during resettlement. The bathroom did not get done. Worst thing I ever did was take a role because it came to me through a recruitment company. Lasted less than 3 weeks. Now I’m in project management because of the veterans network. That’s the best resource we all have. It’s a bit like Wolf of Wallstreet except without the drugs and throwing of midgets (which I still joking suggest for the Christmas party). Use that network ruthlessly. Imagine it’s your back up comms network that never fails. Got a problem? Dial a friend and ask. Want to get behind the HR iron curtain? Go to a networking event or reach out to someone.
It’s been 6+ years since the JPA clicks in a cold office. Do I miss it every day? F yes. Do I regret it? F no. Do I occasionally wish I could throat punch someone who makes a jack brew or says something stupid that extends the meeting that could have been an e-mail ? That’ll probably never go away.
But do I try to bring some of the skills we ex-forces have: problem solving, networking, working to a strategic direction under pressure but not letting it get to us, to work every day? Honestly most days. After some phys. Not even sure I like project management but I do like solving problems and project management is full of them. I’d swap my greatest week in work for a day in the hills without hesitation but I do have those great weeks.
Keep at it and remember to help another veteran out when you can. Everyone needs a battle-buddy.