Green Is Not The New Black

Managing expectations is an important process during a military transition – not to mention life in general. This is not to make a statement for or against a sense of optimism and positive thinking, but to provide a strategic lens for decision making as you begin to look for new opportunities, engage in professional networking, and eventually take the next step in your career.

Cultural Challenges
Anyone watching Orange is the new Black may already know the message in this article – Green (or blue… meaning no disrespect to our brothers and sisters in the Navy and Air Force), is most definitely not the new black. “Support our Troops” is more of a tag line to virtue signal, rather than the substance of a cultural norm or tangible policy.

Season 4 of Orange provides a window into the subconscious cultural norm in the United States – veterans are dangerous, a bit on the crazy side, and inclined towards exhibiting behaviors of power and control (not to mention a younger veteran is probably a wash-out). To be clear I am not advocating for these positions, nor am I trying to shame the series (I rather like OitnB), this is just my interpretation of the cultural meta-narrative that is most easily recognized in hit TV shows and Hollywood. While these are more extreme examples, and are certainly products of dramatization, I caution against any veteran assuming that their potential employer will not be influenced by this cultural ethos.

The short answer is that employers have little time, and will default towards an easier decision more often than not – and veteran status in many industries raises red flags.

Over and Under Qualified
Veterans are often caught in a catch-22 – you will often be both over and under qualified for many positions in the eyes of an employer. This is something that I have personally experienced. I encountered roadblocks and questions during the hiring process due to my qualifications (e.g. it’s an anathema for many employers to hire an entry-mid level employee who has more executive leadership experience than Director level staff). This made what came next even more challenging – being told this is my first professional job after being hired.

It is difficult to prepare for that level of cognitive dissonance, especially when many service members transitioning out of the military are excited to move on. This is the bitter truth, but we have all been there. Seeing the end of your military career approach, for many, is a day that can’t come soon enough – off to bigger and better things in the civilian world where “things makes sense.” It is largely in perception alone that things are radically different across sectors, industries, and organizations.

The simple point – the challenges and headaches you faced with the people you served with, and in the military as a whole, are not going to go away after your transition.

Manage Your Expectations
I can promise you though that your time in the military has prepared you for the above challenges and illogic. The new is exciting – keep your excitement. But also keep in mind a lot of timeless knowledge, like ‘the grass is always greener,’ and ‘the wizard is just a man behind the curtain.’

So be prepared for nearly everyone you come across to have no idea what your military service was, or what it meant to you. Be prepared for some people to view your years in the military like a summer camp, as opposed to a dynamic and challenging professional endeavor. And most of all be ready for many people to treat you like your entire mindset is military driven, whatever that means.

Keep your excitement and energy during your transition – but be prepared. Enter the new job market with realistic expectations and understand that you will be misunderstood and undervalued. Use this as a warning for encouragement and stability, rather than negativity and uncertainty.