So you have left active military service? Whew! No small feat! As a former military member, you may be 30 or 40, still young these days to
embark on a new, civilian career. Frightening? Maybe, however, I am here to support you with your next career choice.
If you dream about having a different career, but don’t act on that dream, you may be operating under the assumption of a career myth. In this article, I expose 8 myths, sayings you’ve heard before that simply are not true.
Let’s explore them.
Career Myth #1: You can’t make a living doing something you really, truly love.
This is the ultimate career myth, the belief that you can’t have a “practical” career doing something that you were passionate about. It
has to be one or the other. This myth is rooted in fear. Fear that we have to sacrifice our happiness to make a living. Don’t buy the myth
that you can’t earn a living by doing what you love. There is still time!
When I first started career coaching, I heard from plenty of people that it would be very difficult to make a living doing this work. I just decided to find coaches who were successful, and to learn from them- simple!. If you find yourself buying into this myth, consider this question – As you look back on your life, what will you regret more? Following your passion or following your fears?
Myth #2: Changing careers is risky.
Not necessarily. What’s riskier than leaving what you know (the military culture and the military life) to pursue the unknown? Changing careers means leaving behind a piece of your identity. During a Christmas party, my military partner’s friend said, “You have to be ready to take off your uniform (psychologically) before you transition to civvie street.” I completely agree!
During your military career, you’ve been used to presenting yourself as “Captain ____,” “Sgt ____”, “PO____” Corporal___ …” you get
Your identity was closely entwined with your rank. The potential “identity crisis” of leaving the military to pursue a civilian career or job can be daunting. It might mean admitting to yourself that you made a mistake with an initial career choice. Or it might mean acknowledging that you’re unsure of what’s next. And smart people always know what’s next, right? Not exactly.
Successful career changers often don’t have a plan. They rely on two underestimated factors:
serendipity and intuition. In Working Identity: How Successful Career Changers Turn Fantasy into Reality, Herminia Ibarra provided evidence: waiting until you have a plan is actually riskier than just doing and experimenting.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, is riskier than not changing careers if you’re longing to do so. Here’s why: The longing won’t go away. It will always
be there, under the surface, waiting for you to do something about it.
I think of one of the ancient Romans, poet Virgil, who said, “Fortune favours the bold.”
Career Myth #3: Always have a back-up plan.
Career change is NOT linear. Sometimes there is NO plan!
Sometimes having a back-up plan is the smart and prudent course of action. Yet, aren’t back-up plans so grown-up and responsible? You’ve been trained to
have a back-up or contingency plan in military service. But what happens when you’re standing with one foot in and one foot out?
In my experience as a counsellor at two military bases, we usually close the door and retreat. We are reluctant to commit to ourselves, and we end up denying ourselves the satisfaction of playing full-out, getting dirty and sweaty. We end up with feelings of regret and the nagging “What if?” question. Back-up plans sometimes (not always) diffuse our energy. Diffused energy equals diffused results. Give all that you’ve got to your dream/passion/risk and you’ve
got a better chance of being successful.
Myth #4: Asking “What’s the best thing for me to do?” is the right question.
This is one of the most common questions asked when considering a career change. It seems like a logical analysis – weigh the pros and cons and
evaluate the balance.
Do not ask yourself this question!! It rarely leads you to the answers you’re seeking. It will lead you to feeling overwhelmed with options (sound familiar?), or feeling like you have to choose what’s practical over what seems to be impractical.
The question that will lead you to answers is simple (but not easy!!) It is “What do I really want to do?” This is a very different question
than “what’s best?” Even more powerful is a question I learned from a prominent career coach, “What would you do if you knew you could not
Myth #5: If you don’t like your job, you’re probably in the wrong career.
Cause and effect, right? One way to tell if you’re in the right career is whether or not you like your job. If you’re dissatisfied with your job,
it’s probably a sign that you need to re-examine your whole career choice. This is frequently what I hear from new clients who have decided
to work with a career coach. They know something isn’t right because they don’t like their jobs. Their natural assumption is that their
dissatisfaction is a symptom of a larger underlying issue – their career choice.
This is an example of false logic. Not liking your job might be telling you you’re in the wrong job. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re
in the wrong career. It doesn’t even mean you’re in the wrong job. You could just be working for the wrong person, the wrong company or wrong
work environment. It takes a skillful approach to discern the source of discontent, and I think it’s very hard to do it on your own (shameless
plug for career coaches here!)
Career Myth #6: Everyone needs a mission statement. A brand? Yes!
In the military, you have had your fair share of completing a mission. In the civilian world, mission statements are supposed to guide companies,
particularly non-profits. But what if you don’t have a personal mission statement (essentially your values)? Does that mean you’re destined to
never fulfill your potential career-wise?
A client who was a successful professional contacted me because she was at a career crossroads. This client felt that if only she could find her
mission in life, she would know which career path to take. The client had a clear goal for coaching – find her mission! Instead, the most amazing thing happened. she decided that she didn’t need a mission. She chose to trust that she was already fulfilling her mission statement, even though she didn’t know what it was. After the client shifted her focus from finding her mission to living her life, an amazing opportunity came her way and she pursued it.
Here’s a tip: If your mission statement is elusive, stop chasing it. Be still and let it find you. And in the meantime, keep living your life
and see what happens.
Career Myth #7: Expecting a career epiphany.
When you see a link to “Find Your Dream Job,” do you immediately click on it to see what’s
Do you look at every “Top Ten Career” list out there to see if anything catches your interest? Do you know your MBTI (Myers Briggs) type? If you do, you might be falling prey to the career epiphany myth.
I’d love, love, love it if most of my clients had a career epiphany that indicated to them, in crystal-clear terms, their next step. Instead, I see career “unfoldings” or a journey of discovery much more regularly. That is, being willing to not ignore the obvious, the pokes, the prods, and listen carefully to the whisper within. Yes, for most of us, the career epiphany is a quiet whisper.
Career Myth #8: Ignoring your career dissatisfaction will make it go away.
Oh, if only this worked in the long run!! Granted, it does work at first. When you find yourself beginning to question your career, you’ll find
it’s rather easy to push the thoughts aside and pretend they aren’t there.
You know what I’m talking about: the “what ifs” and the list of regrets.
Over time, the random thoughts become nagging thoughts. You spend more and more time daydreaming about options. You build your list
of reasons to ignore your growing career dissatisfaction: You’re too old.
You don’t want to take a pay cut (I DID in the last five years!)
You don’t want to go back to school. You missed your opportunity 5, 10, 15 years ago, when you were rising amongst the ranks in the military.
With clients in this situation, namely, vets and former military members, we work on identifying and challenging these fears. Sometimes the fear of change remains, but there becomes a greater commitment to living than to feeling the fear. So now that you know that one or all of these myths have been holding you back, what are you waiting for?
Need a career strategy from a certified career coach?
Head to my career strategy page on this site.
Melissa C. Martin
Bilingual military to civilian career coach