Civilian Transition Struggles: How to Find Your Balance
By Stephanie Nukis
Alumna at American Military University
Recently I decided to leave active duty after 13 years and transitioned to being a civilian. In the course of this decision, everyone talked about financial planning and stability as well as how to get my next job. I was set, I was ready, and I was confident that I could handle the change.
As it turns out, I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I thought.
I was given numerous resources for the various expected changes, but in the course of all the conversations and transitioning seminars there were many things that never came up. No one ever mentioned I would need to adjust how I manage my time, or the steps I would need to take to accomplish the normal activities of my life.
I was ready for everything that had been discussed and drilled into me. I was not prepared for the drastic change in lifestyle. Once or twice, mental preparation was mentioned, but it wasn’t really a focal point of any meetings.
As a mom, student, and active duty person, my time management and focus was set. I had all my life balanced and knew how to accomplish everything in a way that was effective and successful. I knew how to manage multiple tasks and complete activities.
As a civilian I find that I feel completely lost from time to time; this has gotten better as I adjust to a new normal. I have way more time on my hands than I did in the last 13 years. I have just as many activities and tasks to accomplish, but I didn’t realize just how much of my time was determined by my military job. I find that managing my time and accomplishing things is much more complicated than I ever found it before.
I took a bit of time off, which gave me time to volunteer and focus on school, but I found myself procrastinating on most things. I didn’t have to get up for work, so I didn’t — I slept in a lot! I had this attitude of “plenty of time to get all this done” and then the next thing I knew I was behind in class or missed an appointment.
What I have learned is that I did a LARGE amount of my studying during work hours when I was on active duty. I was an administrative person so could squeeze studying in between tasks or on lunch. I no longer have that time. I go to work and I am busy from the minute I walk in the door to the minute I leave.
On active duty, I had my routine down, which I feel is how I had time to study at work. Now I have more flexibility in my schedule and, while exciting, it caused me much stress. My confidence in myself and my abilities had dropped greatly, simply because no one knew me, what I can do, or expected me to do as much as I have in the past.
Your transition advisors help prepare you for many things, but they do not prepare you for the day-to-day adjustments related to new expectations and more freedom with regard to how to accomplish a task. There is a lot of second guessing yourself that no one ever mentioned.
I have adjusted and continue to adjust to the many changes in expectations, finances, competing needs and activities, and the feeling of unstructured time. The adjustment is ongoing. While military life often requires moving between units and changes in schedules, those adjustments and changes seem easy compared to the freedom found with civilian life.
These are adjustments and changes that I don’t believe anyone could ever prepare me for, but I feel that they should at least be mentioned to anyone who is transitioning from military to civilian life. We look forward to the freedom and the extra time, but that freedom and time, at least initially, can quickly become stressful.
Find activities that take your focus and dedication, things that require you to get out of bed, and things that you enjoy but that also challenge you. This will help ease the adjustment. That is advice I wish someone had given me.
Come up with a written schedule of your day as a way of managing time. Consider what your day will really be like once you transition, and have a plan before you depart active duty. This will help to ease the transition and keep you from falling into the stresses I have felt.
About the Author
Stephanie served 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard, serving in locations throughout the country from southern California to Rhode Island and in between. She is now a Reservist with the U.S. Coast Guard. Originally from Oklahoma, she currently resides in Virginia with her two children and boyfriend. Stephanie received her Bachelors of Science in Legal Studies from AMU in 2013 and is currently enrolled in a Master’s Program for Environmental Policy and Management through AMU. She is a member of the AMU student chapter of National Association of Environmental Professionals, and has served as the chapter’s secretary and vice president. She works full time for Habitat for Humanity, in her town, as both bookkeeper and office manager.