How to Balance Your Military Career, Civilian Job and Family Life

How do you balance your military career with your civilian job, family life, hobbies and other commitments? That is really a tough question to answer with no magical answer.

Keep in mind this advice is for Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, not Active Duty soldiers.

Having spent six plus years in the Maryland Army National Guard myself, I quickly realized that my responsibility was much more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year.  Depending upon your job and rank, it could be perfectly normal to work 10-20 or more hours per week (unpaid) just to fulfill your one weekend a month responsibilities.

To help you be effective, and not get burnt out, I want to share some simple and practical advice to follow.  I learned this from one of my former mentors and it really put things in perspective.  Here’s the advice he gave me:

Your family comes first first, your civilian job comes second and your military responsibilities come third.  He also told me that the military will take as much time as you give it.

Your Family Comes First

Since you only have one family, your job is to keep them happy, healthy and taken care of.  That means they should always be your # 1 priority.  Spend lots of time with your family, schedule in date nights with your spouse, activities with your kids, and family time.  Never place your civilian job or military career over your family.

The last thing you want is to have a long and successful military and/or civilian career only to get divorced and have kids who don’t know you and don’t like you.  It’s also important to remember that at the end of your life, when you are laying on your death bead, you’re not going to think about your military service.  Instead, you’re going to think about the wonderful memories you had and the people you love.

Your Civilian Job Comes Second

Next comes your civilian job.  You have to remember that your civilian job is what pays your bills!  Unless you are a full-time AGR or a Technician, you need to make sure that your civilian employer is satisfied with your work performance, so you don’t lose your job and primary source of income.

Don’t do your military work at your civilian job.  Make sure that you never do anything to compromise your civilian job.  If you plan on making a career out of the Army National Guard or Army Reserve, look for a military friendly employer who is flexible and willing to support your decision to serve.

It’s also important to remember that your civilian career will probably be twice as long as your military career. Even if you retire from the military after 20 years of service, most people will keep working another 10-30 years (depending on their age) in the civilian sector.  As I see it, it makes more sense to focus on moving up the corporate latter rather than the military latter.

Next Come Your Military Responsibilities

balance your military careerFinally, you must take care of your military responsibilities.  By no means should you neglect your military responsibilities.  Soldiers deserve leaders who are competent and caring.  You have an obligation to get your work done on time and to standard, and to look out for your troops.  But you shouldn’t let your military duties consume your entire life either.  That is a big mistake that I made while I was in the National Guard.

You need to learn how to work smart and manage your time effectively.  You also need to have boundaries. Delegate as much as possible and set up a work schedule (to do your military work at home) that works for you and doesn’t interfere with your job or family life.   For instance, set aside a few hours one night per week to take care of your ARNG or USAR duties.

I should also chime in and tell you that if you have a family, a civilian career, and military career, you might not have a lot of time for hobbies or personal time.  That is something you might have to sacrifice until your kids are grown, and/or you leave the military.  It might not be fun, but the other three things I covered in this article are more important.

My Experience

I thought I would take a moment and share my own experience with you.  I spent about 6 years in the Maryland Army National Guard.  During that time I served on a 17 month deployment to Kosovo, spent about 2 years on ADOS, spent two years in Company Command and about one year as the Regimental S3.

By nature, I am very committed to everything I do.  I don’t half ass things.  I always do my best and set a high standard for myself.  As a result, I probably spent 10-30 hours per week, on average, unpaid, doing my military duties, outside of drill weekend.  This really had a negative impact on my marriage and my business.  In fact, it almost cost me my marriage.

It also led to my burnout and influenced me to resign my commission.  I just couldn’t maintain the same OPTEMPO, and still have a life. I was burning the candles at both ends. If my military duties were my only responsibility that would have been one thing.  But trying to run a business, keep my marriage healthy, and do my military duties was just too much on my plate.

Knowing what I know now, I should have delegated more and tuned things back a notch or two.  I shouldn’t have been so hardcore and committed.  This would have led to more balance in my life and I probably would have continued my military service.

I don’t say any of this to brag or make you feel bad for me.  I just hope you won’t make the same mistakes that I did.

Final Thoughts

Learning to balance your military career, civilian job, and family time can be a daunting task, especially if you are in a leadership position!  But, it’s important to set priorities, be disciplined, and stick to it.  By following the advice I shared in this article, you should do a better job at keeping things in balance.

What are your thoughts? What do you do to balance your military career, civilian job and family life?  Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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7 thoughts on “How to Balance Your Military Career, Civilian Job and Family Life”

  1. Thanks for the advice, Chuck. I know I have been all too guilty of focusing 100% on my military duties, especially when I was a technician – it was too easy to get wrapped up in everything! I do wish that my civilian schedule wasn’t so time consuming right now, because I want to spend MORE time on my duties preparing for upcoming deployment. Family, I agree, should be first.

    1. It’s definitely a balancing act. It’s also much easier said than done. Our responsibilities as military leaders seems to be a 24-hour commitment, even though we only do training a couple days per month. You definitely need to be proactive and disciplined to keep things in perspective and balance everything in your life.

  2. I like the statement that your ARNG leader said, “Your family comes first, your civilian job comes second and your military responsibilities come third.” That is a powerful statement and would really put things into perspective for someone in this type of role.
    But two, coming from the other side of things, I think that the family needs to understand just how much the military career demands of someone. So I agree with the above comment that it just boils down to time management.

    I know how hard it can be to have to share your husband, son or friend with the military – it can be a pain in the butt, but you also just have to be understanding of the situation as well.

  3. It all comes down to organization and time management. Many of the same skills that serve you in your civilian employment will assist you in your military career. I definitely agree with not handling military business at work, but one thing I’ve found as I’ve assumed more and more senior leadership positions is to be reachable. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a key piece of information or making a quick decision, and for better or for worse the AGR staff work the same hours that most people do.

    1. I agree with Dan. Many people ask me how I do it, juggling Army life, my civilian career and everything else I do. It is all about time management and the ability to prioritize your tasks. Yeah, there are things that do not get done during my day, but I always make sure my “big rocks” are in the jar before I fill it with “sand” and that ensures that I get things done and can still make todays small things my big things tomorrow.

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