You Can, But Should You? 9 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Post-Military Career Path

(U.S. Army/Misty Cunningham)

Question: I am getting ready to exit the military and have enjoyed a great career as a logistician. I'm good at what I do, and I like to solve problems. Everyone is telling me to pursue a career in project management or logistics-type work in my civilian career. How can I be sure there isn't something else I might enjoy more?

Answer: You're not alone in wondering if what you've been doing is what you should continue doing. Even civilians struggle with this career challenge.

Many of the clients I counsel have spent years -- even decades -- developing skills, a reputation and deep knowledge in a certain career path. They're paid commensurate with their expertise and the idea of making a change feels risky and daunting. Here's what I advise them: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should (or want to). Just because you know how to perform a job, have the credentials to do certain work or are skilled in an area doesn't mean it's in your heart to make it a career.

Here's an example: I love to cook. My family and friends will tell you that I'm a creative and talented cook and they always leave my home with full bellies. That doesn't mean I should open a restaurant or become a chef. I can cook (and love to!) but I don't want to cook for strangers, or under the pressure of a professional cook.

When deciding if what you know how to do is what you want to do, ask yourself:

  1. What is it about your work that inspires and ignites you?
  2. Are you as passionate about your work today as you were when you began?
  3. Do you continually seek out new ideas and learn to keep your skills sharp and fresh?
  4. When you're not at work, do you find yourself talking about what you do and why you love your work?
  5. Have you mentored others coming into your industry and been motivated by their enthusiasm?

If you answer positively to those questions, you likely are passionate about your work and have enough enthusiasm to warrant continuing to look at working in that area. If you struggled or answered negatively then perhaps your career to date has been more of a function rather than a sense of purpose.

Next, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you continue in this career field, where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? Does that vision excite or depress you?
  2. How does your work tie to your sense of self (are you proud to tell people what you do?)
  3. If you were to imagine another career path, what could that be?
  4. Do you have any dreams tucked back away in your mind that are worth exploring now?

These questions get a bit deeper and harder to answer for most people. There may be parts of your work that you enjoy, but the larger career path doesn't inspire you. If that's the case, see what other career paths might leverage your talents and skills, and allow you to explore more of what makes you happy.

A career is not a static entity. Particularly in the civilian sector, we morph and evolve our careers many times over our adult lives. New technologies, market segments, challenges, communities and opportunities open doors that offer tremendous professional satisfaction.

Just because you have skills and experience in one area doesn't need to feel limiting. Open the possibilities to see where else those talents could be used that are more fulfilling and meaningful as you navigate your civilian career.

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