There is a lot to think about when a veteran decides to leave the service (ETS). Many lists are focused on preparation, the transition itself, and maintaining resilience once you have your DD-214. This top ten list is not focused on work. It is focused on YOU.
1. Do nothing for a whole day. Whether at a park, a friend’s house, a coffee shop, or out at the beach, spend the day being bored. Your interests will surface and you will discover what fills your mind when you have no responsibilities.
2. Put away everything to do with shaving your face. I shamelessly followed this advice from a medically retired veteran, and my friend has a point. You have spent years, possibly decades, keeping your look—your personal brand image—in line with another organization’s standards. See what you look like with long hair, a beard, a goatee. The crew cut and skin fade does not have to be a part of your lifestyle forever. See what fits into your new identity. If your new job or lifestyle allows it, go for it. You can always shave it off if you (or your spouse and kids) do not care for it.
3. Go see a movie in the middle of the day. Freedom rocks.
4. Call or reconnect a long lost civilian friend in your local area. We all have those friends from high school, college, work, that we lost touch with over the years. Reach out, get together, share drinks and food, and catch up. It’ll be one of your first insights into how other people live.
5. Discover happy hour. It is one way young and old professionals network. Have a few drinks…or not. Explore new food, from the hole-in-the-wall local place to an upscale bar. If you end up becoming a regular, all the better.
6. Attend a charity event and donate something. I went to the St Baldrick’s Foundation charity event downtown at the invitation of a friend. It was great to see a large gathering supporting the fight against child cancer and I realized I did not give enough of myself when I was in uniform. Sure, I supported a friend’s fundraiser and gave money to Combined Federal Campaign and the Army Emergency Relief, but I really did have more time, money, and effort to give on my nights and weekends. Use your skills for the good of the community and become involved.
7. Take your spouse or partner on a day trip. Discover something new, like a local art gallery or a music festival in the next town. Hike up the Barr Trail near Fort Carson, see a minor league or professional sports game. Go out for a drive…just to drive. Enjoy freedom together. You’ve earned it.
8. Get a pedicure…in fact, go for a whole spa day and add on at least a facial treatment or a massage. Don’t judge me, you will thank me later. My boss went for one and was told by the esthetician that she extracted sand from his face from our last Iraq deployment. Your skin is the largest organ on your body and your feet carried you through hell and back. Thank them with some pampering and tip the spa employees extremely well.
9. Visit the grave of a fallen comrade. It will hurt and that is okay. You may cry…that is okay too. Release the tears and be thankful you knew such wonderful people while they lived. Your fallen comrades do not want you to suffer or be in pain in this life. They want you to thrive and enjoy life as they did. Bring some water to pour at the grave, as tradition holds that soldiers are always thirsty.
10. Open a new chapter. You are part of a privileged few. It is a PART of your life, and it does not have to DEFINE you. Let your service and experience enhance your new endeavors. Like World War II POW Kurt Vonnegut, two-time Vietnam veteran and Army Ranger Jim Kimsey, or millennial Daniel Rodriquez, a Bronze Star for Valor and Purple Heart recipient, you have an opportunity to live your wildest dreams. You can build a billion-dollar business, write timeless works of fiction, or play professional sports. Look no farther than the upcoming Range 15 movie (Warning: Trailer NSFW). That is veterans doing what they do best: giving one hundred percent and then some to a new challenge and kicking ass.
The point of this list is to help you relax and enjoy life. When you leave the military, life will shift to a slower speed, at least temporarily. You are under no obligation to maintain the same high-intensity lifestyle you had while in uniform. You don’t have to pile on activities or responsibilities. Take time, relax, and adjust accordingly.
Enjoy your new life and remember, the family of veterans is everywhere. Welcome to a brave new world.