Institutions Create Soft Language
Ever heard of the swear jar? It’s a tool that’s meant to help break the habit of using “bad” words: whenever you say one, you have to put some designated amount of money in the jar. It works on the theory that no one wants to throw away money for no good reason; and yet, if you are a veteran who is following the standard routine of saving for the vague goal of “retirement” then that is exactly what you are doing. Sure, your money may be “safe” in a retirement fund, but if you can’t touch it until you are 65, then what you are throwing away is not money as money but money as opportunity.
That’s why today I want to propose that we add two new words to the list of “bad” words we need to stop using: military-transition and retirement.
The language that we use is so important. Language is not just about how people communicate; language goes on in your head. Language describes the reality around us. Language creates thoughts, and thoughts are your reality. So what kind of reality are we creating with words like military transition and retirement?
The word military is synonymous with combat, warmongering, fighting. It’s an abrasive term, it’s very limiting. Why would we attempt to use a word to describe ourselves individually that really describes the entire population of people?
When a person is leaving the military, we’re talking about just one person — an individual veteran. What does that individual veteran want? Who is that individual veteran? Transitions suck — transition is about change, and for many, change is synonymous with uncertainty. Fear comes up. The words we are using — military transition — are literally creating fear and uncertainty. Look how people talk about this transition process. You can see it all over LinkedIn. It just seems so damn scary, going to job fairs and watching military guys put on a business suit, another uniform, and this one they don’t know how to wear properly. They look very uncomfortable. They’re walking around with resumes that look exactly like the resume of the guy next to them, hoping that they’re gonna get a job with one of these companies as a data analyst or project manager. It’s scary because of the tremendous amount of uncertainty. Transition is bad language. It offers zero motivation or guidance for self-discovery and self-leadership.
You Define How It Ends
Retirement is just as bad. Retirement is an end. Veterans should never end, they should continue serving. A veteran serves. We don’t retire. We don’t give up. We don’t want to live on a lake and kick our heels back and say, “Let’s just ride off into the sunset.” What for? That’s boring. We can do better than that. We must do better than that. If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose the liberty that our forefathers gave us. Retirement is not life. Retirement is not liberty, and retirement is not pursuit. Veterans need to continue to grow. The most successful people in the world don’t stop. Why would we stop?
I’m passionate about leadership, both from a personal level and having come out of the military. I thought I was doing all the right things: getting a good job, making a good paycheck, creating my own hours. Yet even I realized I wasn’t actually helping people, I wasn’t serving, and there was no true calling in what I was doing. I was literally just justifying some sort of existence with a paycheck, and the prospect of not having to live that way anymore was my reason to save for retirement.
You may think that I am going to propose alternatives for these words, something along the lines of choosing to employ cutesy, kid-friendly language when you really want to let loose with a string of expletives... but I’m not going to do that at all. In proposing that we change our language, I am proposing that we change our lives.
I don’t just want us to change the words we use in the conversation, I want to change the conversation itself.
I think that it’s time, as servicemen and women and as veterans, that we stop talking about transition and retirement and start talking about leadership and service. There’s no better time than now for such a large group of honorable and service-oriented people to stand up and lead again for the rest of their lives. But in order to do that, we need to get educated about our finances. We need to start thinking of money not just as something we need to keep our heads above water from month to month, or as a nest egg for later, but as a tool of empowerment, an instrument of liberty.
At US VetLife, we provide a network of like-minded businesses and non-profits to help post-military families live a civilian life of intention. If you want to stop talking about transition and retirement and start talking about leadership and service, then contact us to talk about the unique opportunities you may have available to you that will give you the financial freedom to transition to a new mission when you leave the military.
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