In honor of Veterans Day, former United States Marine Joshua Jacobs leads off a series of articles about the challenges facing men and women returning to civilian life after military service. For starters, writes Jacobs, one must quiet one’s inner critical voice. When faced with a transition to the unknown – especially when burdened by aspects of the past – it is “okay to be overwhelmed.”
It seems that everyone is happy to talk about the “transition” veterans undergo in order to become successful students, but the conversation usually glosses over the middle part. Everyone understands that servicemen and women have had life experiences that most of the population will never know of or comprehend. They also understand that veterans bring an unparalleled set of skills and work ethic to the job market. Finally, they all understand that this transition is a very difficult time in our lives – especially in regards to the classroom. So, for the veterans out there who have been silently begging for an answer to this question, I ask you: What about the middle part?
The transition is tough because we generally haven’t been in the classroom for more than four years; some of us for more than 20 years. We’re no longer in an environment that we are familiar or comfortable with, even if we’re at home. Our finances are constantly fluctuating, and at the same time we try in vain to make sense of the GI Bill, its payments to both us and our school, while simultaneously navigating the financial aid offices of our respective institutions. We are forced to become masters of bureaucracy and proportional payment systems that directly affect our checking accounts, all while we reside in a completely foreign environment or location. It’s a pretty tall order, and it all happens before our first day of class.
These challenges are just a glimpse of what every returning veteran must face when returning to school. In addition to these, there are challenges relating to family, commuting, disabilities, and any of a hundred other things present for the thousands of veterans in educational institutions at this very moment. If you are a veteran who is in school and reading this right now, congratulations – in all seriousness! You have made it further than many of your brothers and sisters have, and it is up to you to show them the way. You are the ambassadors to those with whom you served, and it is up to you to lead by example. And don’t worry; I know what you’re thinking.
Without highlighting some of the difficult things that I am certain are present for many of us in our transition, I offer you this: It is completely okay to be overwhelmed. No one has all the answers and you can’t do it all. I know we are not used to this concept of being overwhelmed, because we had all the answers when we got out of the service. We had our plans, we followed them as best we could, and we sometimes got overwhelmed precisely because we weren’t used to being overwhelmed. It’s a viscous cycle, so let it go.
Take a deep breath, scale back a little, and execute. The civilian world tolerates setbacks because it understands “failure” is necessary for greatness. Our only problem is that we are genuinely intolerant of anything less than complete, inarguable success in our own personal lives. Therefore, we are our own harshest critics. So let it go, accept setbacks as they come, and push onward. You must be the example for your brothers and sisters to follow. You must pave the way for the future generations of veterans to come so that they can navigate the waters you have coursed. Don’t be so hard on yourself and strive to make your mark wherever you are. Remember, it’s okay to be overwhelmed.
Joshua Jacobs currently attends the University of Southern California, where he is both a student and the President of the USC Veterans Association. He is a senior in USC’s Marshall School of Business and will begin the Master of Accounting program at USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting this summer. Josh served four years in the United States Marine Corps, deployed twice with 1st Battalion 5th Marines, and was honorably discharged in June of 2011.
Would you like to assist a transitioning veteran? ACP AdvisorNet is a free online Q&A community that offers business professionals the opportunity to give back to the men and women who have served our country. Click here to sign up as an Advisor!
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