For those of us who have lived a life in the military, the experience of being uncomfortable often became the norm. It seems that during our military career we constantly longed for that next “comfortable” experience. Whether returning from a field exercise, deployment, or simply a hard day at work; that comfortable feeling afterwards felt like a euphoric high.
How each of us defined comfort looked much different, but regardless we longed for it while we were in the grind. However, like most warriors it wouldn’t take long until we started to long for that next challenge. We yearned for the satisfaction of facing a mountain in front of us, pushing ourselves to the limit, and conquering our next mission. But what happens when it’s all gone? What happens when we spend years of our lives going from one uncomfortable experience to the next, challenging our minds and bodies, and all of a sudden we are thrust into society? A society that rarely sees us for who we are, and what we are capable of. There are no bullets left to dodge, planes to jump out of, or wars to fight. For some veterans to simply be alive is surprising and overwhelming. This point right here, “the transition”, is a defining moment for each and every one of us. Whether you are retiring after 20+ years or simply completed your initial contract, my challenge to you is to stay uncomfortable.
That’s right, keep pushing yourself to the limit, conquer your fears, seek out challenges, and take chances. Too many veterans leave the military and accept a life of complacency. This cannot and should not be you; you are destined for so much more.
Too many veterans fall prey to the ideal that their days of being uncomfortable should be over. Many head back to their hometowns, and try their best to resume the life of comfort they once knew. While there is nothing wrong with going back to one’s hometown, whichever decision you make during “the transition” make sure that you are not simply taking the road most easily traveled. Warning! This pursuit of comfort will soon breed a life of complacency. Continue to challenge yourself, and use this opportunity to better you and your family in whatever capacity that may be. Webster defines complacency as “satisfied with how things are and not wanting to change them.” Do not confuse this with being content. An individual that is content recognizes that they do not need more to be happy, but continues to challenge and better themselves. Author Scott Miker says it best in his article Content not Complacent (http://www.scottmiker.com/content-not-complacent/): “Being content means being happy. Being complacent means refusing to work to improve. A complacent individual is never working to reach their potential because they feel that it is pointless. Instead they just go through the motions and do the minimum, always blaming external things for their shortcomings.” The bottom line: be content in all that you do, but never ever stop challenging yourself by seeing uncomfortable experiences as opportunities.
1. The mind, specifically education: No matter your age, IQ, or educational background always strive to challenge your mind. Put your mind in positions where it is challenged and forced to learn from new experiences. This is most often accomplished through pursuing higher education. However, this does not always have to come by formal education systems. Some examples may be learning a new language, earning a degree (or another!), or achieving a new certification. After your transition you should relentlessly pursue opportunities to make your mind uncomfortable so that you can become better prepared for future challenges, increase marketability, improve leadership abilities, and set the example for your children and family. You are never too young, old, or smart to learn something new. Pablo Picasso once said “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Continue to chase those opportunities in life that force you to achieve things with your mind you thought were never possible.
2. Your physical being: I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, you can still push your body after leaving the military. However, time for physical training will no longer be set aside for you and it will be up to you to take the initiative and have the drive to continue to push your body. There will be times in life that may place limitation on you such as the birth of a child or going back to school, but the key is to never become complacent. Never accept that being overweight and out of shape is a result of leaving the military. Keep pushing your body in whatever capacity that fits you. Lift heavier weights than you’ve ever lifted before, run farther and faster than you ever thought possible, or simply be the most fit dad or mom on the block. The military forced you to put your body in some of the most uncomfortable and physically challenging positions, but through these experiences your body grew stronger and better. Keep this mentality as you move through the transition, and find ways to continue to challenge yourself. Run a marathon, half-marathon, climb a mountain, or complete a triathlon. I’m not saying this is an easy task by any means. Yes, it’s a constant challenge on the outside, but never become complacent and never give in. Be the best you, and walk around each day confident in your physical appearance and capabilities. This will spread into every part of your being, and dramatically improve your quality of life.
3. Your spirit: This is often the most ignored and untouched opportunity. No, this is not just a touchy-feely thing that people like to talk about. There are countless opportunities out there to pursue uncomfortable spiritual experiences. Don’t be afraid to take the leap and allow yourself to become vulnerable. Author Brene Brown says that “you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” The best leaders in the world recognize the importance of vulnerability, while maintaining an attitude of confidence and strength. In fact, strength in spirit is often what many POWs attribute to surviving the harshest of treatment. I don’t know your spiritual background, or if you even have one. However, as a Christian, I know that I must pursue these opportunities. Examples may be volunteering at your local place of worship, mentoring others, mission trips, or simply spending an extra 15 minutes a day on your daily devotion. Not only will it require sacrifice, but often you will find yourself in a vulnerable, uncomfortable position. This is where you will learn the most about yourself, others and build your faith and resilience.
My hope is that as you face this defining moment of transition (or if you already have) that you passionately pursue the countless opportunities to be uncomfortable. Through these uncomfortable experiences I am confident that your mind, body and spirit will continue to improve. See these experiences as opportunities, push yourself to achieve what others think is impossible, and keep grinding every day.
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