As I hopefully reenter the ranks of the working stiffs later this week, I had to reflect back on what the past months since departing the Air Force have meant for me. How does one survive eight months with no place to be during the week and a loss of identity? So I thought. I've discovered a whole new way to look at my life, myself, and my purpose here on Earth.
During the first few weeks, things were easy...a trip back home to Roanoke, then almost a week at Myrtle Beach with my family and "adopted" daughter, then home to repair wind storm damage for several weeks. That got me through the month of July, what happened from August to March is where things got interesting.
As I settled in for the unknown world of job searching, it became apparent that there are many things I needed to learn. I had a strong resume, confidence in myself, a belief that veteran status would help, and a general feeling that hard work from age 16 until now would mean something. I've since learned that it is a cruel world out there and many, many people are suffering and vying for the same positions to either better their professional lives or kickstart a new career themselves. I did not stand out as I thought I should and would. Getting a job as a vet was supposed to be easy, that's what we are told coming through transition classes. Here I thought it was only the recruiter that was supposed to lie to me.
I went through periods of time where I started feeling I wasn't worth anything; I would never get a job...much less a career, and a sense of complete failing started to overtake me. I became pissed at the world, frustrated with myself for not doing more with my life, and generally lost on what to do next. It was during those periods that I suffered the most stress and anxiety. To top it off, since I received a severance from the military for my honorable service, I was denied unemployment benefits and cannot receive my rightfully earned disability payments for permanent damage to my back until I am 104 years old. After all, it seems only fair to count the severance against me more than once...thank you for your service Captain Ray, right?
Here's where the strong will and cups (if not pots) of coffee came into play.
I refused to be down. I refused to give up. I refused to devalue myself and what I have to offer my family, my community, and ultimately myself. I asked God for strength. He provided me with love, family, friends, courage, persistence, and yes...even coffee.
Each morning, a pot of coffee was started and the computer was turned on. Job boards were reviewed, resumes were sent. Emails were written, phone calls were made. There were even the occassional interviews and job offers. I say job offers because they were not careers and the offers also undervalued my experience, my education, and my abilities. There were so undervalued, they were insults! They caused a wavering of my confidence, but made me even more determined to continue.
I believe that I may be about to win the career lottery and land with a highly sought after opportunity with a very stable, growing organization. I shall join the ranks of the employed, those with a sense of purpose, and return to the tax-paying ways of life. Because of the lessons I've learned during this time, I will not return to the career identity shortcomings again. I will define my career, not my career defining me.
I've learned that time with my family, being there for my friends, volunteering in the community, and giving my grievances and shortcomings to God define who I am. I've become a much stronger, positive person from all my challenges and blessings over the past months. When I left the Air Force, I saw myself as a military member first and then an individual second. I've learned to define myself, not let my source of income do that for me. For that, I will be forever grateful for this time to realign myself, my priorities, and my life.
Now, it's time for another cup of coffee...get back to work!