For junior military officers reaching the end of their initial service obligation or the end of their obligated service due to other commitments, choosing the right path can be stressful. Conversations with the military personnel offices needing to fill certain positions and meet operational requirements can be challenging. For officers who know they want a career in the military, working through these time periods is essential to getting the right assignments. For officers who are considering options outside of the military, there is the added stress of a significant change in career direction. Keeping emotion from impacting judgment is difficult, but key to making the right decision for you. Using a “diagnostic” approach can help you identify the right long-term solution.
There are two key factors to consider in reviewing the reasons for a career change. Change is spurred by a negative present or the desire for an improved future. While these factors may seem obvious, addressing these factors effectively can help you “diagnose” the right path for you. Addressing the “negative present” involves thinking about what you are trying to leave behind. Developing a list of the aspects of your current career with which you are unhappy can be a useful way to quantify your current issues. For each issue, consider whether it is something that can be “fixed” or whether it is inherent in the organization or career path. If there are areas that you can impact, change or improve (military specialty, job performance, location, etc.), you may be best served by staying with your military career and working to address them. If your dissatisfaction derives from realties of military service that cannot be changed (deployments, pay scale, etc.) then evaluating how significantly these factors impact you is critical to analyzing your options. Fully understanding these areas will also help you to consider career paths that will actually improve your situation and prevent moving to a new career with the same issues.
Addressing the “improved future” takes more effort. In looking at your current career path, identify what would be missing from what you hope to work toward. Again, starting with a list of the aspects of your career that do not appear to be possible in your current direction, evaluate whether they are factors that you can address or not. This is more difficult than looking at effecting aspects of your career that have already happened. Looking ahead will require more estimation of expected results. However, this exercise, while more challenging, can result in some of the most significant insight into whether to change your career direction or not. Considering how your career will balance with family goals, retirement plans, quality of life, and where you will fit into your organization, can help you clarify your path and set key career goals.
If you have a spouse or significant other, involve them in this discussion. As you build your life together, balancing your objectives while planning your career can help you avoid conflicts later on. Trying to separate out emotion is difficult, but will help you come up with the best professional decision. Critical decisions about your career are tough to make overnight. Giving yourself time and having the ability to research options will help you arrive at key career decision points armed with the right information. There will still be stress involved but not at the same level as if you feel you are having to “guess” what the right path is. Using a “diagnostic” approach, will enable you to come to a logical decision as to what is right for you.