Out of the Wilderness
A year in the wilderness...that's how I'll remember my transition to civilian life. When I retired from the Air Force I secured a job; a great job flying with people that puts a smile on my face. But something was still missing. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt they wandered in the wilderness for forty years before entering the promised land. It wasn't 40 years, but 18 months seems like a long time when you know something meaningful is missing from your life. For 22 years my purpose was to support and defend the constitution of the United States and serve the citizens of my country. When that that was gone it left a hole deeper than I anticipated. Somehow I thought the laws of retirement physics didn't apply to me. I'd bounce right out of the uniform and into my second act without missing a beat. It didn't play out like that.
I've written on this subject before, but without the clarity I have now. When you spend the greater part of your life contributing to an organization whose premise is public service, losing that is a Mike Tyson uppercut to your identity (surely you made it past Glass Jaw Joe). You can find another career, but unless it has a service aspect I think you will find yourself in the same situation; happily employed yet still looking for a way to plug that hole in your heart. But here's the good news...you don't have to look very far. In retrospect, the answer was right before my eyes the entire time; I just didn't recognize it. Boiled down to simplest form, the answer is easy: help others.
Help others. Is that really all there is to it? I can't guarantee that it'll take care of everything, but if you still feel like something's missing that's where I'd start. But don't just dip a toe in the water; take the Jan 1st polar bear plunge. I volunteered a good bit straight out of the gate when I retired, but I don't think I fully committed. I didn't pour my intellectual and emotional capital into leading efforts. You don't need to lead every project or organization you are involved with, but you probably won't exercise those muscles if you don't lead at least one. You learn a great deal and can really connect with people when you just show up and help volunteer as a worker bee. I think it also makes you a better leader because you can experience the hands-on aspect of whatever it is you are helping with. But you'll also find many service organizations heavy on worker bees are also looking for folks to take the risk of leadership. You don't have to be perfect. You just need to commit and do the best you can.
Here are the organizations I've decided in invest my time with: wear blue: run to remember; RVs For Vets; 40 Prado Homeless Services Center; SLO High Band and Through Our Eyes photography project. Draw a 10-mile ring around your house and you'll probably find dozens of places you can contribute. My level of involvement in these organizations runs the gamut from "showing up ready to help" in some, to significant leadership responsibilities in others. To be honest, I've probably taken on a little bit more than I can handle, but that's a good problem to have and I'll neck it down as required eventually. Jenni and I like to watch "The Profit" with Marcus Lemonis. In the show he helps failing businesses and offers to invest in them if he thinks he can help turn them around. I love one of his quotes from the opening sequence. With employees of a business he's turning around gathered near he tells them, "You aren't going to wake up in the morning wondering if you have a job, you're going to wake up in the morning wondering which job you are going to do!" I love that quote so much I modified it. It echos in my head as I go about planning my days now. "I don't want you to wake up in the morning wondering if you are going to help someone, I want you to wake up in the morning wondering which group you are going to help first!" The Wilderness can be a lonely place until you realize you are surrounded by people that need your help. Volunteering and pitching in with local organizations might be just the thing to help you find your way out. It worked for me.