Building an Influential Civilian Career While Serving In The National Guard or Reserves
by James Boscia
Serving in the National Guard or Reserves while thriving in a civilian career can feel like having two parents that speak different languages. While I haven’t experienced the latter, I can relate to the perceived feeling of being pulled in two vastly different directions.
Most people won’t fault a military service member for saying that serving the country while advancing in a civilian career is difficult. To be candid, they are more willing to go easy on you, claim ignorance, or boost your ego for the sacrifices you make. Even when done with the best intentions, these misguided allowances can be harmful for a multitude of reasons, including how those narratives impact employers. It can fuel the sentiment of “since I can’t begin to understand what they go through, why try?”
I choose to view the differences in military and civilian culture as an opportunity. An opportunity to share knowledge and experience, blend varying skill sets, and live my life with twice the passion. I am grateful to advance in two careers, learn from two sets of colleagues, and impact two distinct cultures. However, navigating this dual path comes with challenges that I have thankfully learned to overcome. In the spirit of expanding our perspectives and paving the way for more military members to thrive in civilian careers, here are some key insights I’ve gained during my journey.
Appreciate the Change
For me, when I start a task, it’s very difficult to get my mind off of it until it’s completed. Even if I’m not actively working on it, it’s still in the back of my mind, nagging at my subconscious. Due to the increased connectivity via technology and high rate of new assignments in our careers nowadays, it can begin to feel like a stream of nagging tasks. In some ways, this is actually very exciting. We begin to get addicted to the dopamine release and accolades associated with completing these tasks. At other times, this stream feels overwhelming. It feels as if no matter how hard we attack the work at hand, there’s always more leering over our shoulder.
Working as part of the National Guard or Reserves provides a trip away from the stream. Whether you’re guzzling the dopamine and crushing the task at hand, or drowning in a giant workload, taking the time to appreciate the change is extremely worthwhile. There are numerous books and podcasts nowadays that speak to the beauty of gratitude, and spending a couple of days, two weeks, or six months in a different setting can be instrumental in fostering gratitude. This, again, plays into our perception of the change, and therefore the perception of those around us. When we appreciate the value of part-time military service, employers and military commanders begin to embrace it as well.
Practice Proper Patience
No matter how supportive and accommodating your unit or office leadership, miscommunications will happen. Your First Sergeant wants you to support a late notice mission. Your boss thinks you’d be a great addition to a team tackling a project during your drill time. In these moments, it may feel as if you have to sacrifice advancement in one role to support advancement in the other. When these situations pull you in dueling directions, understand that no matter how hard you try, you can’t be in two places at once. As long as you keep a level head, there will always be another chance to shine. Think of your life as a campaign. No campaign is won by doing just one thing, but by building a series of processes to handle a multitude of tasks— have patience and trust the process.
Understand Your Two Languages
Learning a second language can be a difficult experience as an adult. This concept may have hit home for you when you enlisted in the military, or when you took a job in a new field. New acronyms, phrases, and general procedures can feel completely unfamiliar. And if you are unfamiliar with the new jargon, it’s very likely that your other job is as well. Expecting two different cultures to speak the same language is unrealistic, so it’s our job to be an effective translator. Some companies are far more efficient at learning the military way of life. I consider myself lucky to work for an organization that believes so strongly in the military core values that they seek insight from their veteran and military employees. Like being fluent in multiple languages, having a firm grasp on both your civilian and military verbiage puts you in an advantageous position when dealing with miscommunications while paving the way for others.
Blend Your Best Traits
The person who works as a neurologist their entire life could describe in incredible detail the inner workings of our nervous system. However, if you ask them about how marine life fluctuates around the great barrier reef, you’ll probably get a blank stare. At the same time, someone who spends three years as an accountant, two years as a film producer and four years with a sports marketing firm, most likely won’t be an expert in any of those fields. The “weekend warrior” who trains troop movements during drill, then spends the week drafting briefs for their law firm has the distinct advantage of thriving in two careers at once. The skills that make him/her an effective troop leader can blend into their career as an attorney, giving a distinct perspective on how to tackle problems. Vice versa, being an effective communicator as an attorney can positively impact supervisory skills in the military. Learning to effectively blend your different skill sets is one of the most rewarding aspects of serving part-time in the military.
Ask the Right Questions
They say “you can choose your friends, but you can’t pick your family”; thankfully, you do have a say in who you work for. While there are some aspects of a military career that are out of your control, you don’t have to walk in blind. A civilian career offers more flexibility of choice, but with that choice comes the added responsibility of seeking out a company that values military service as a force multiplier. If you’re already serving in the National Guard/Reserves or plan on joining, avoid unnecessary stress by asking some simple questions during an interview like “Are there any leaders in the company who served?” or “Does your company have a Veteran Initiative and what does that entail?”. A “no” to either question doesn’t necessarily rule out an employer as a Veteran supportive, but the attitude in their response may be indicative of what to expect.
Be the Example
When you appreciate the nuances of having a civilian career and serving in the military, striking a balance gets much easier. This appreciation is no more evident than when you have the opportunity to give back. The people in my life who aided me during the turbulent times of my transition fuels my sense of duty to pay it forward. Engaging in local veteran service organizations (VSO) or community outreach programs is instrumental in changing the national dialogue about service members.
Earn the Change You Wish to See
Thankfully, I work for a company that goes above and beyond in their support of military service. At Power, the experience that Guard and Reserve members receive while serving is valued for numerous reasons; the ability to adapt, the blend of different skills, the selfless mindset of putting country first, and much more. Everyday, as more corporate leaders come to understand the value added from military service, more companies are adopting this mindset.
Every successful transition can be a catalyst to another veteran in a leadership role and measurable change in the national narrative around veterans. Veterans, more than most, understand that nothing is owed to them, but everything must be earned. And in that spirit, I urge any National Guard or Reserve member to reach out to VSO’s (Travis Manion Foundation, Team Red White and Blue, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues…) in their neighborhood. Go in with an open mind and no agenda other than to meet the people supporting that team. Build relationships, learn their mission, and decide on your own how your skill sets can contribute to that aim. With the “One Team, One Fight” mentality, we can change the narrative.