3 things to do before you transition

This is your chance to map out the rest of your life

March 19, 2018 - 12:27 pm

So you're thinking of getting out.  You've got an ETS. Now what?

Long before you sign up for TAP classes, resume writing and interviewing classes, have a long conversation with yourself.  What do you want to do, and who do you want to be?  This is your chance to map out the rest of your life, but there are several issues you can trip over to get there.

"Getting out of the military, regardless how long you served, affords an ability to explore new opportunities and redefine what matters most to you in your life and new career," says Keith Hauk, associate vice president, Veterans and Military Support at University of Maryland, University College. 

Hauk knows. He spent 29 years in the Army. He now helps transitioning veterans plan the rest of their educational lives.

Ask yourself these three questions:

1) What do you want to do? 

This might be the hardest question of all.  It takes soul searching. It takes guts. This is your chance to decide what the rest of your life might look like.  Whether you've been in for five years or 25 years, whether you want to go to school or not, whether you want to dive right into the workforce - all of these take planning.  Do what the military trained you to do: start with your end-state in mind, and backwards plan from there. Realize, though, that if you're planning to do something completely new, it will take you longer to get there than civilians in the workplace who have a leg up on you in the career field. That's not a bad thing, it's just a reality. Plan accordingly. Decide to work smarter and harder. But make it part of your plan.

2) What is the 'number' you want to chase? 

Life outside the military is expensive. Be prepared for it. Build a budget and create a realistic salary expectation.  The 'number' you made in the military is not equal to the lifestyle you'll live outside.  Here are some issues you need to understand and factor into your bottom line:

  • State and local taxes: which you may not have paid in the military.
  • Taxable income: Basic allowance for housing and basic allowance for sustenance allowances are not taxed by the IRS, which has given you an extra stream on nontaxable income.  That won't happen when you're out.
  • Medical and life insurance: no longer free.  According to the website eHealthInsurance, the average family of four pays $833 per month for unsubsidized health insurance.  That's almost $10,000 per year, and with a deductible of nearly $8,000.  And even if your new employer offers insurance as a benefit, be prepared to pay around $5700 per year (that's about $475/month) as your contribution. 

3)  Where do you want to live? 

Where you settle will affect your quality of life.  It'll also affect your job choice, your career path, your salary and your cost of living.  Consider where you want to live as your end-state, not just where you'll hang your hat once you've got your DD-214.  Look towards the long term.  Moving isn't easy.

Hauk says once you've given these three questions serious thought - prioritize them. Which is most important?  Where you live, or how much you make?  What you do, or where you do it?

Then, Hauk says, "do a 'common sense' check to ensure they 'make sense.'  Here’s an example of what that means: If you decide the most important thing is 'where you want to live,' and No. 2 is 'the number you want to chase,' those two things need to make sense.  If you really want to live in Fargo, North Dakota, and the number you want to chase is $100,000 annually that could be difficult. Current US Census data indicates that Fargo’s median income is $60,000 per year.  You may need to adjust your expectations, and plan, relative to those three things if Fargo is really where you want to be."

Most importantly, don't make your decisions at the last minute, and don't make your decisions in a vacuum.  If you're married, include your spouse in your conversations. If you have friends who've transitioned, talk to them about what they'd do differently. There are hundreds of online resources that help you calculate your wages and plan your career.  Explore the Connecting Vets' Get Help section. 

University of Maryland University College is a proud partner of ConnectingVets.com. Click here for more information about UMUC.