Things Veterans Need to Understand About the Civilian World

Things Veterans Need to Understand About the Civilian World

Photo by the Veteran Art Project

Walk on any publicly funded liberal arts university campus here in the United States and you will normally see the same things: students rushing to class, people sitting in grass reading books, and probably a good amount of people who’ve never been in the real world.

Under the surface, however, there’s a clash of civilizations occurring. Amongst the general student population lurks a group of people who have been in the real world and who know it and it’s horrors better than most Americans: veterans.

Stories of veterans trying to adjust to civilian life as students are ubiquitous. We hear lots of tales of encounters with liberal professors trying to tell these young warriors how the world really is, and testimonials of veterans who feel disillusioned from their fellow students.

Though the college campus is where the clash occurs most severely, it also occurs in the working world, where we hear of veterans also feeling alienated from their co-workers.

There are many of you going through this process right now or getting ready to make “the transition” from military to civilian life. And while many veterans web sites have delivered funny memes and motivational headlines surrounding this issue, we wanted to give you a no bullshit approach to developing a winning mindset for your transition. Here’s some tips for developing a mindset that will ease your transition.

  1. No one cares and you can’t make people care.

Here’s the biggest thing you need to understand…no one cares that you served. That doesn’t make you any less important or any less brave, and it’s definitely not right, but it’s important to realize. Most Americans have no idea what military life is really like and even fewer understand what you would have gone through in combat.

The sad fact is that having those experiences isn’t going to win you any favors in the civilian world aside from a few discounts and some medical care. People may come up to thank you and shake your hand when they find out you are a veteran, but this will not entitle you to anything other than that pat on the back. Except for some government jobs, being a veteran will likely not get you preferential treatment in interviews.

So how do you remedy the fact that most people do not care about the fact that you served?

You work to be the best person that you can be. Study hard, participate in class, and show that you have it all together. At work, be the best team player that you can be. Put in the extra mile to impress your superiors. Show up to work early and with a smile on your face. Be all the things that would be expected of someone serving in our armed forces and show them who you are rather than bragging about what you are or what you have been. That is what will earn their respect and it will move you forward far faster than expecting them to be impressed by your service.

  1. The Civilian World is Hard…Deal with It

A lot of us spend the remaining months of our active duty fantasizing about what it would be like to live where we want to live and not having to deal with all the BS that comes with military life at times. But the first thing that you get reminded of when you step into civilian life, however, is that being a civilian carries it’s own fair share of BS. Bills, taxes, commutes, shitty bosses, lines; these are all normal parts of civilian life. Just as it was up to you to rise to the occasion in the military world, you will need to rise above your own problems, fix them, and move forward. Do it, and do it without complaining. Everyone has problems, what makes the difference is how you solve those problems.

  1. You Need to Find Mentors and Upgrade Your Social Group

In the military you had unit leaders and NCO’s that cared about your mission accomplishment and troop welfare. They may have been gruff with you sometimes, but they were mandated to care. In the civilian world, these people are not given to you. You have to find them or go about it yourself.

That’s the problem with freedom, it gives people the freedom not to care about your life or your success. We can complain about missing our brothers and about how screwed up civilian life is, or we can make civilian life better. We can find mentors and surround ourselves with positive people who will help us to get to our goals, and we can build a life that’s just as productive as military life.  This takes hard work and desire, but it is well worth it and will set you on a path to living your best life.

You cannot expect to hang around with people who are not doing anything to better themselves and better yourself in the process. Get out there, meet people, but meet good people. And if you can’t find any good people, then work at it: network, attend conferences, join organizations, take leadership positions, and build your own support group.


I know a lot of this may sound harsh, but sometimes I think that we are highly ineffective at being honest with ourselves in this community. The last thing any of us ever wanted to be were victims, but becoming a victim is tempting. We make ourselves victims whenever we complain or when we talk about a problem without delivering a solution. Rather than patting each other on the back for our complaints, lets sharpen each other and make each other better, stronger, and more capable.