The bullets slammed into the back of the Land Rover rear bumper with a deafening TANG!! It shook like mad. Thankfully the rear bumper was made from solid steel. More bullets slammed in and I shrunk down as low as I could in the driver’s seat, foot as flat & as hard as I could press it on the accelerator. I just wanted distance between us & those on the other end of those bullets.
A few minutes earlier my Squadron Leader, (let’s call him Squadron Leader mad b*stard Williams) and I were having a lovely drive along the Bosnian countryside on the way to a community meeting.
We came across a local militia checkpoint. The smart thing to do, given there was just 2 of us, would be to stop, let them shove us about for half an hour and then send us on our way. But not Squadron Leader ‘mad B*stard’ Williams. With a nonchalant wave of the hand he ordered me to drive straight through as he carried on reading his book. Incidentally, he continued his reading throughout the mayhem of pinging steel and subsequent short chase & wild driving (albeit a bit lower in his seat!)
I smiled as I sat at my desk 10 years later, thinking of that incident. My current team were telling me how worried, stressed and under the pump they are with our latest deadline. My time in the Regiment has blessed me with many excellent skills. If there was one I value most, it is the calm & clarity of thought I can bring to crisis in my civilian roles. Lets be honest…nobody was ever shot over a missed deadline (not in this country anyway!)
That incident in Bosnia was one of many high-octane moments in my 15 year career as a soldier in the British Army. How do you transition from full throttle, seat of your pants “get it done” action, to a desk job? To the never ending drudge of pointless meetings, bureaucracy, politics, reports, and (what I have coined) general “corporate gobbledy bollocks?”
The simple truth is that if you want to succeed in this next phase of your career you have to find a way. I left my Regiment with no career transition advice at all. I had to learn it all the hard way, and what a learning curve it was. The transition from soldier (or sailor/air personnel or first responder), is a huge pivot. Everything is different. The culture, the language, the work hours/days. Finding your very first job in Civvy Street is daunting, and even more so is the on-boarding and integration into a new culture. As you have in countless situations as a military professional; however, you must back yourself and know that you are a valuable asset to your team and this “New Regiment”
Here are the top three lessons learned on my journey.
1. Slow down, you are not on a battle run.
The military is about quick decisions under pressure. You are trained to act decisively, push forward, make a call and don’t worry if it’s wrong. If it’s wrong, create another plan quickly and push forward with that one. Be prepared to be frustrated at the slow pace of progress, get used to group decisions, discussions & deferrals.
2. Tone down your language & humour…Civvies are different!
The closest I have seen to soldiers for their dark humour, are nurses/paramedics and Police officers. People who experience dangerous and difficult situations, who witness and live with trauma, often rely on dark humour as a coping mechanism. I promise you, from experience, this does not translate into the office environment! You will get to know your office HR representative pretty quickly if you fail to modify this somewhat!
3. Your history can be intimidating.
One thing military training does exceptionally well is train you to be unafraid of having difficult conversations. If there’s a problem or someone’s not performing, you can’t afford to tread lightly and hold back. That can cost lives. So we learn very quickly to become comfortable with discomfort and not to take things personally. Many people in corporate cultures are not as forthcoming and dare I say robust. There is a prevailing tendency to avoid confrontation and difficult conversations. You might need to hone your skills reading emotional responses and becoming more diplomatic at times.
The transition from military life to Civilian life isn’t easy. As proven by Military professionals time and time again, they are fearless. They are resilient, adaptable, loyal and strategic. They put their shoulder to the wheel with their brothers and sisters side by side. These qualities are all you ever need to succeed and excel in the next phase of professional life. The key is translating these strengths to a new environment and learning a new language.