No April Fools: Should I stay or Should I Go?

When speaking with clients about their resumes and branding themselves for the transitioning process, I always ask a few simple questions.  One of the most important questions I like to ask is, “Why are you leaving the military early?”  If it is after 15 years of service I always follow up with a few other questions like, “Why don’t you have your degree?” and “Are you prepared for not having a retirement income and the stress that will come with that?

Retirement can, in fact, be a very good thing for the longevity of your life and your family.  But I always want someone who is leaving before retirement and has been in the military for more than 15 years to consider some factors before pulling the trigger.  I am writing this article so that others who may be considering leaving early can hear from someone who sees this issue and knows first hand the benefits of retiring rather than leaving early.

Here is why I stress the importance of waiting for retirement.   I have been doing this since 2009. I  speak with transitioning veterans every single day and I have heard every reason why one decides to leave early.  I have even heard why veterans struggled after they stayed 20+, and feel they should have left early.  I always let them know that they were wise for staying and they are just as capable of doing the job of someone 10 years their senior.  In my opinion, they are better qualified.  Why?  They have stood the test of time, through hell and high water, and then some.  They survived the Wild West Middle East and they persevered, stuck it out, and came out on the other side.  For their efforts, they will get a retirement check, possibly a disability check, health insurance, the ability to fly all over the world for free, and that only begins to scratch the surface of the benefits one receives from retiring vs. leaving early.

What many do not tell you, is that the struggle is the same whether one is was in for 10 years or for 20+.   A wise man and someone I look up to greatly once told me, “You never truly start your career until after 40.”  He went on to explain that when you are young you are still learning, growing, evolving and getting all the training and education to bring you to that true thing you were called to do.  This man has been retired 3 times over again and still keeps going.  He is retired military, a retired police captain, a retired professor, somewhere along the way worked for the FBI, and now runs his own company!  This all came with hard work of course, but he choose to embrace the suck and grind on and it has paid off in a huge way.

I tell you all this because I feel many get out early due to being told they cannot be successful unless they do “now” when this is not a fact, just an opinion. The  transition will always be a challenge, no matter how many years a person has been in.  Anything in life is obtainable if one applies oneself, stays focused, and keeps pressing forward.  If someone has been in the military for the past 15 years, I always encourage him to stay longer, to persevere and tough it out to reap the rewards.  Waiting another 5 years can make a huge difference in their lives and those of their families, more so than they may think at the time.

Staying for 20+ gives them a paycheck for life, pays for their education, gives them insurance for life, allows them to grow their network all over the world, gives them time to grow and mature and get a solid foundation, and to discover what they truly want to do.  They can prepare for it long before retirement, so they can have a smooth transition into their next career.

I do not think it as simple as A, B, & C.  I am aware of many of the challenges one faces and considers when leaving early.  One of the biggest reasons for getting out early is being tired of the travel and being away from family.  I understand this completely.  Sadly, when one doesn’t properly prepare to get out he may end up still traveling as a contractor with an unstable paycheck or may take a random job with a lot less pay, and both of those scenarios bring new added stress.  Not to mention the PTSD that sets in after leaving the military anyway.  (It does for everyone, it is simply part of the process).   This is all part of the transition and happens no matter how many years they have been in the military.

There are so many factors many do not consider before getting out early. It is one of the biggest reasons I work so hard to help them.  I truly care about their well-being and the success of their lives for the long haul.  Consider the pay cut for starting a new career and not having retirement pay to off-set this. What about not having base access and privileges any longer? Consider how leaving a community that has become family for so many years not only affects you but also your family who have grown accustomed to that lifestyle.  How about now having to pay a hefty monthly payment for health insurance on that pay cut? These factors will bring added stress and new forms of stress as you navigate this foreign territory.  If you have already made it over the hump, press forward and finish strong.  The retirement package is worth its weight in gold.

I have seen men get out of the military early and struggle for many years after. Those years could have been spent in the military, building life lessons and skills, building and growing their personal brand, obtaining their education while moving up in the ranks and setting themselves up for a nice retirement ready to take on the world after 20+.

I realize staying longer isn’t for everyone and everyone doesn’t struggle after leaving early.  But many do and it truly hurts my heart to see that happen when embracing the suck a little longer could set them up for life-long success if they only stayed until retirement.

                                                                       – Jena Muller

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(Disclaimer: The Commander in this photo retired after 26 years. I took this photo during his trip to Hawaii prior to a pinning ceremony on the USS Arizona in 2011.)

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