How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

In this post, we discuss the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life and how the discomfort of not fitting in can be an asset. Drawing parallels with the nomadic experiences of the Israelites, the post emphasizes the enduring values developed in the military and advises veterans on tweaking their presentation to effectively convey their work ethic and commitment in a civilian workplace. The discomfort of not conforming is portrayed as a valuable tension that can contribute to building a successful civilian life.

Written by Kevin S. Bemel

Wednesday, 19 July 2017 03:30

Employers Value What Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

Transitioning to civilian life can seem like walking in a barren wilderness. Few of the familiar touch-points of daily life exist. Nobody asks you to verify your identity to access your workplace or computer. You don’t hear the recording of the Star Spangled Banner each morning. Lack of a muster might even make you feel nostalgic. At least it seemed like someone cared if you showed up for work.

How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

How You Benefitted from Rootlessness

When I first left active duty, I found civilian life devoid of meaning. Part of it stemmed from my working from home and being alone much of my workday. In the military, you're never by yourself. There’s always someone to meet with or check on. Counterintuitively, the nomadic nature of military life builds roots. They aren’t place-based. They’re deeper, in the people and mission that require constant attention.

At 2.1 million active and reserve duty personnel, we’re similar in size to another famous, nomadic group. During their wanderings, summarized in parshas Mattos-Masei, the Israelites found meaning amidst upheaval:

“…and these were their journeys, according to their goings forth.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 33:2)

Events, at each location the Children of Israel visited, had meaning. In the Wilderness of Sinai, they learned G-d would fill their needs when He gave them manna from heaven. But most of the gifts they received were spiritual.

Kivros Hataavah is a case in point. There, many Israelites died because they gave into their craving for meat. Kivros refers to the word kever, a grave. Hataavah means desires. A person who gives into his desires gets rewarded with an early burial.

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The sum total of their wanderings was an enduring set of values. These would see them through their transition to a settled life in the Land of Israel.

Tweak Your Presentation to Be More Effective

While in the military you moved every two or three years. But each new duty station reinforced the values you learned in basic training. On time is late and ten minutes early is on time. Stand at attention no matter where you are when the National Anthem plays. Address superiors respectfully.

Rarely do you see these values in a civilian workplace. That we continue to hold them post-military is part of what makes us feel out of place. Yet private sector companies prize our punctuality, dedication to duty, and respectful treatment of others.

Learn to convey your work ethic and mission commitment in a way that engages civilians. Show up ten minutes early. But rather than waiting for latecomers, help the meeting organizer get set up. Don’t criticize millennials’ lack of commitment. Be the employee who helps them learn the value of mission. Speak with respect to every colleague. Leave off the sir and ma’am. It’s not too different from what you did in the military, is it?

The Israelites had to adapt from a nomadic to a settled life. Many faced culture shock. They had to give up longstanding practices, like bringing sacrifices on private altars. But their values remained steadfast. Only the way they expressed them changed.

The same plan will work for you. Alter your behavior a little. Learn to express your values in a way that doesn't shame your civilian colleagues. You’ll always feel a little uncomfortable. But that tension is your greatest asset. Use it to build a successful civilian life.

What makes you feel like you don't fit in?