How to End Your Army Career Gracefully: 10 Things to Consider When Making the Decision to Get Out

Someone asked me the other day “how can I end my Army career practically and gracefully so it feels good and I don’t have any regrets?”  That is a tough question to answer, but I will take my best stab at it.  I’m going to share ten tips or ten things to consider while you make your decision whether or not to stay in or get out.

1.  Realize That No One is In the Military Forever

The first tip is to realize that no one is in the military forever.  Even if you do 20 or 30 years in the military,you will spend MOST of your adult life as a civilian (before and after the military).  It’s true, all good things must come to an end at some point in your life. We will all eventually grow old and die.

2.  Get On the Same Sheet of Paper with Your Spouse and Kids

One great tip is to communicate with your spouse and kids.  Get their input and find out what they want you to do.  At least consider their input in your decision making process.   I’ve found that if you and your spouse (or loved one) can get on the same sheet of paper you will be much better off.  Making a decision is a lot easier when you have your family’s support.

3.  Talk with Other Veterans and Retirees to See What They Can Recommend

Consider talking with some retirees and veterans to get their input.  Find out what they did to make their decision and what they would do differently if they had to do it all over again. You might be surprised at what you find out.

end your career gracefully4. Never Look Back and Don’t Have Regrets

At some point, you simply need to make a decision.  Whatever decision you make (to stay in or get out) don’t look back and dwell on it. I always tell people: collect your intelligence, weigh your courses of action, and make a decision.  Once the decision is made, move forward, not backwards.  Life is too short to have regrets.

5.  Focus on What You Accomplished, Not What You Didn’t Accomplish

Very few people I know of accomplish every single thing they want to in their military career.  Even if you didn’t complete everything you set out to do, be grateful for what you did accomplish, not sad about what you didn’t accomplish in the Army.  If you spent any time at all in the Army, you probably did some really good things.  Cherish those memories and focus on those memories, not what you didn’t do.

6.  Understand That You Will Go Through a Transition Period After You Get Out

Everyone goes through a transition period after they get out or retire.  It took me close to a year to really get used to being a civilian.  There will be days when you miss the Army and that’s perfectly normal.  But at some point you will really enjoy being a civilian, growing a beard (for the guys) and living a less stressful lifestyle.

7.  Use Some Logic In Your Decision Making, But Understand You are an Emotional Being

We are all emotional human beings.  In essence, there is no such thing as a logical decision.  We make emotional decisions and then justify it with logic.  That being said, be as logical as you an.  Weigh all your options.  Evaluate whether or not it’s worth sticking around to get a pension.  Get the facts and let the facts guide your decision IF the facts match what your heart tells you to do.  If you truly LOVE being a Soldier, there’ no point to get out until you have to retire.

8. Find a New Career, Hobby or Passion That Excites You

One of the worst things you can do after you get out of the Army is to be idle.  I highly recommend you find a hobby, passion or new career that excites you and keeps you busy.  You don’t want to be sitting around the house all day moping about how much you miss the military life.

9. Leave When You are On Top Of Your Game, Not the Bottom Of It

Brett Favre could have learned a lot from this tip.  I’ve always believed it’s much better to get out of the military when you are at the top of your game rather then when you have lost your effectiveness. Don’t wait until you are an ineffective leader or poor performer until you get out.  You owe it to your troops and the Army to be effective.  And if you’ve already lost your effectiveness it’s time to go.  If you study the champions in most endeavors you will see they moved on while they were at the top of the their game.

10. Don’t Let the Military Define You as a Person

What you do for a living does not define you as a person.  Most people I know struggle with this issue.  Fortunately, I learned this lesson a long time ago.  Be proud of being a Soldier, but don’t think that’s the only person you are.  You have many great things inside of you.  You probably underestimate what you are capable of.  Don’t think you can’t be successful after the military, even if that’s what you’ve always done for a living.

Final Thoughts

In summary, all Soldiers will leave the Army at one point or another.  Your key to success is to leave while you are at the top of your game, not after you’ve lost your effectiveness.  Remember that there is life after the Army and that you are capable of great things.  Even though you’re hanging up your combat boots for good, there is still much life ahead of you.

What are your thoughts? What do you think is the best time and best way to leave the Army?  Leave a comment and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes

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13 thoughts on “How to End Your Army Career Gracefully: 10 Things to Consider When Making the Decision to Get Out”

  1. I kind of laughed with #6, Chuck. First thing ALL the men in my family did when they got out was grow out their hair and beards. I’ve got a cousin who looks like a back woods mountain man. I think it’s very important to take time and focus on yourself especially if you’ve been in team dynamic for so long. I remember when my father got out. I was happy because we weren’t going to move every few years but I think my parents were freaking out because suddenly they had all these bills and new responsibilities that they never had to deal with before. There were times when I know he wanted to go running back but he forged ahead.

  2. I remember my husband talking about the transition period from leaving his position in the Air Force a few years ago. Civilian life is so different from life within the military. He was telling me how hard it was to trust again, that people do not understand why he is the way he is now – but he has seen ALOT while serving. That transition period is crucial for getting back into the mindset of a civilian. He underwent therapy, was on some medications for depression and has taken a lot of time to become what we consider “normal” again.

    And to comment on your #1 point, that no one is in the military forever, that is true in some aspects. Even though you are not physically apart of your military position, your mind may still be there! Just a thought :)

  3. All of these are great pieces of advice. However, most of them are easier said than done. Mainly, not looking back or having regrets. I think the trick there is just not to let it consume you. Everyone will look back (in a good way and bad way) and everyone will have regrets. It just depends on how those regrets effect you for the rest of your life.

    1. Everything in life happens for a reason. If you spend all your time living in the past wishing you had changed things, you won’t live a very happy life. We are today from the decisions we’ve made in the past, so it makes no sense to dwell on things.

  4. This advice sure would have come in handy last year when I decided to retire from the corporate rat race, I struggled over that decision forever before finally taking the plunge. I especially like the point about making a making a choice, sticking to it, and moving forward without dwelling over what could have been. With all the hurry-up-and-wait that takes place in the military, I’d imagine there’s plenty of time to read up on various hobbies and potential civilian careers.

    1. All tough decisions can be argued either way. I tell people to way your options, evaluate the information and then to trust your instincts. Once the decision is made, move FORWARD!

  5. These are some awesome points on how to end your career gracefully. Thanks for sharing, Chuck. I think many of these points apply to civilians too.

    1. Amy Skalicky

      I agree, Stephanie, that many of these point apply regardless of your job, military or civilian. “Don’t look back” and “Focus on your accomplishments” both really resounded with me this evening. Successfully serving in the miitary is an accomplishment in and of itself. If you served in combat, that’s one of the highest accomplishments in my eyes, and you should simply mover forward. It’s not easy being a soldier, and you should be proud, not adding unnecessary weight to your shoulders with “what if’s” and “if I had only’s.”

  6. Amy Skalicky

    Hopefully, planning for civilian life started well before the eminent separation date. You are right, Chuck, civilian life is different from military life, and some are surprised by this. The regimented lifestyle is gone, and if you thrive under these conditions, you will have to create your own schedule and stick to it. I have worked with former solders who found the lack of discipline and work ethic among fellow civilian employees to be frustrating. Your best bet is to do like Steven Covey said and “Begin with the end in mind.” In other words, develop a plan for what you want life to look like after the military. Whether retiring or entering the job market, make sure you don’t step out of your boots for the last time with no idea what you are going to do tomorrow.

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