When you transition out of the military, it’s important to be as intentional and methodical as possible about the creation and management of your professional network. As you set about the task of building that network, keep in mind that the three most powerful relationships that you can develop for your career and peace of mind are a mentor, a peer, and a protégé. Here’s why.
It’s almost impossible to overstate the value of a good mentor. Unfortunately, even a mediocre mentor can be difficult to find, and you will have to search actively for someone in your social or professional network who has the right combination of industry savvy, common sense, and emotional investment in your future. If no one comes to mind immediately, then make a list of all of the successful and interesting professionals in your family, social, and wider community circles. You will eventually find someone willing to help, and when you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking that career advice is all that they can offer. Here are a few examples of ways that a mentor can transform your approach to your career:
Avoiding office politics cataclysms: Your mentor can help you avoid major mistakes in a new work environment, and can give you a better perspective on what your boss is actually trying to accomplish. Ignore office politics at your peril.
Network leverage: If you have a great idea or project, but don’t know how to get it off the ground, a good mentor can reach out to their much larger professional network to help get you started.
Strategic thinking: Sometimes it can be difficult to see beyond the job that you are trying to get, or the one that you have right now. A good mentor will help you to take a step back and think about a job in terms of what it will teach you and where it will allow you to go in the future.
There are few things better for your well being and perspective on life than taking the time to share your knowledge and experience with a young person. Giving back to your community is the right thing to do, but in addition to the satisfaction you will get from it, being a mentor is one of the best ways to improve your understanding of your own experiences. Mentorship forces you to take a fresh look at what is interesting or notable about your own career path, and what choices led you to success or failure. As a mentor for a young person, you will also come to better understand how to maximize your relationships when you become someone else’s protégé. If you’re still skeptical, here are a few things to consider about how mentorship can sharpen you as a professional:
New perspective on old problems: As you offer guidance to a protégé, you will have to take into account how his or her aptitudes and interests differ from your own. Matching the lessons that you’ve learned from your experience to the different needs and goals of your protégé will give you a fresh perspective on your life.
What goes around…: Taking the longer view, being a mentor to another person who then goes on to have a successful life and career provides you with an important ally in your professional and personal network. You never know when your protégé might be able to help you with your career.
It makes you a better civilian leader: As a veteran, you already understand the connection between leadership and mentorship. However, your transition into the civilian world will make direct leadership and professional mentorship opportunities harder to come simply because civilian organizations are often slower than the military to give such responsibility to employees. Providing mentorship for your protégé will help you to develop yourself as a leader outside of the military context.
There are few things worse for a newly transitioning veteran than the isolation and alienation that can come along with leaving the military for the civilian world. This is a major part of why it is so important that you actively find and maintain at least one close professional peer in your immediate circle as you leave the military. Having a peer means having someone you can rely on when times get tough, but there is so much more to this relationship than that. A peer can challenge you in ways that would be inappropriate or even offensive from your mentor, a protégé, or a professional contact that you don’t know well. This is a relationship that you almost certainly already have. Here are just a few of the things that a solid peer can offer you:
Collaboration: Mentors can be difficult to engage in serious collaboration because of their own (usually significant) professional commitments. On the other hand, a peer is a natural collaborator and is more likely to have the energy and motivation to help you start a new blog, get a new business off the ground, or learn a new trade.
Reality check: As an equal, your peer is the person in your network best situated to let you know when you have your head in the clouds. Encourage your peer to (politely) speak his or her mind to you, and you’ll be glad you did.
Pressure valve: Life in the civilian workplace can be just as stressful as life in the military, only with less violence. It is extraordinarily risky to vent your frustrations about the office to a coworker, and it is often inappropriate to do so with your mentor or protégé. A trustworthy peer will often be the best and safest person to go to when you need to let off a little steam about what is going on with your job.