Being a civilian? How hard can it be?
Harder than I thought, so it turns out. Whilst building a new business, Stotan Group, I realised early that I need to work hard to maintain my inner stoic, something the military nurtured in me. Transition quickly became less about a nostalgic past and more about a re-imagined future. About self-reinvention, adapting my identity and mind set, and re-framing how I perceive a new and often foreign world. Some of my most strongly held beliefs are being challenged, and that is not a bad thing. Indeed, this process is availing me of some unexpected insights as well as busting a few myths.
Think deeply and separate what you wish from what you are prepared to do.
Map and analyse a new network: I booked a board room, a few trusted mates and set about mapping my new network, adapting skills I learned in the SAS. This helped me orientate and start to understand my new operating environment and the key support nodes.
Treat it like a new MISSION: I started writing new Orders to be accountable to. I analysed my Situation, created a Mission statement, planned the Execution phases and tasks, confirmed my Admin & Log constraints, and then took Command. And like my time as an SAS Team Commander, I fight everyday for more resources, time being the most precious, so I try to get up at 5am every day.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Electronically or F2F, I am a walking embodiment of what I want my new life to be. No, it doesn’t mean selling out. I can grow a profile respectful of my unit and mates. Counterinsurgency principles have been helpful.
Find and habituate a local gym: It’s critical. Enough said.
Embracing failure: Just like my military career I have made, and continue to make, many mistakes in the transition. Relaxing my attitude and learning not to be so hard on myself has been a tonic. It doesn’t mean being “soft”, it’s just a different type of tough.
The overconfidence bias: The military can tend to foster an inflated self-assurance, which in the new environment can be a cognitive trap. This takes a strength of character to monitor, something my service also fostered; self-awareness, humility, integrity, empathy, and the discipline to practice them.
I can do it all myself: I sought civilian mentors and asked “I would appreciate your guidance and advice during my transition. Would you mind catching up for a coffee once a month for the next 12 months as I do so?” This simple social contract has super charged my transition, a major turning point.
Civilians are only in it for themselves: “Civvies” are amazing people, and like me, are just trying to navigate their way in the world. I have discovered nothing but respect, generosity, good humour and caring.
The country owes me something: This attitude disappeared immediately my eyes were opened to the amazing work being undertaken by many of the community groups operating in our privileged society. The small team of RSL Advocates, for example, who operate in the shadows and out of hours in their own time, do the ugly and underappreciated heavy lifting for our most vulnerable veterans.
Don’t break ranks: Our emotionless military institution can admonish and stifle the passion and innovation of its service men and women; however, my inner entrepreneur and creativity is welcomed out in the world.
Veteran = Broken: Rubbish! Veterans of all persuasions continue to serve their communities long after they leave. Many are achieving brilliant things and having a great time doing it. In their family lives, across industry and private business, they are kicking goals.
It’s pretty simple, I think. Make sleep your highest priority, keep getting up early, stay strong and healthy, eat well and stay off the grog, nurture a new network and your soft skills, execute the new mission with discipline, and keep your friends and family close. Like drill … transition will be clunky and feel strange to start with but just like the good old days, Practice + Persistence = Progress.
And if you need a hand … ask. That’s an order.
Onward Always Together Stotan