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How to Use Emotional Intelligence to Transition Out of the Military

May 19, 2017


Remember when you had to learn navigation and you thought this was the worst thing ever? (Some of you probably loved it while I struggled to navigate my way out of a paper bag!) But you got better and this navigation tool (land, sea, etc) helped you get precisely to where you needed to go. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is like that, but with even more possibilities for directing our path.

One of the best ways it can help us is when we transition from the military because it can be a challenge; a downright uncomfortable or paralyzing experience. For many, even the idea of leaving the military is so uncomfortable they stay longer than planned because they just don’t know how to figure out what to do after the military. And how in the world can we as military personnel, not have things figured out? We are the world’s finest military after all!

Well let’s back up a bit, shall we?

Think back to when you first joined the military. You may have had some idea what you were getting into but did you really know everything? Chances are you probably didn’t. I know I jumped in head first thinking, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can always do something else.”

Why do we lose that feeling after 4 years, 10 or even over 20 years? Why do we fear trying something new?

As young military personnel, we usually fear very little going into the future. We were young, exuberant, ready to conquer the world and perhaps a little foolish. As we grow in our careers, we started to weigh the potential losses we might experience if something doesn’t go right.

Maybe we get married, have kids, and a mortgage. The responsibilities begin to stack up and the fear of the great unknown, a civilian career, grows alongside those responsibilities and the comfort that grows inside of us in the military. The military is a known entity, but the civilian side is not.

And it is that fear which can overwhelm servicemembers to the point of not taking control of their career transition.

This is where emotional intelligence gets to be your navigation. Knowing and understanding how we use these skills of emotional intelligence aids us in our daily lives, just as the tools for military navigation aided us in training. Regardless of navigation type, I remember we always had to do one thing: take a fix or a position report. This was true no matter the end goal.

The reason? Simple. To know where you are going, you must first know where you are. Emotional intelligence is exactly that, a fix on where you are at this point in your life. You aren’t stuck there forever, but it can assist you with mapping out the future you desire.

How can we combat that fear of the unknown of the post-military career? Emotional intelligence is a fantastic starting point. When you conducted any form of navigation, you had to calibrate your compass at the beginning of your journey. The self-perception composite of emotional intelligence is one tool to help you “calibrate” yourself as you begin your journey of career transition.

The self-perception composite consists of self-regard, self-actualization, and emotional self-awareness. Individuals with self-regard respect themselves and accept their personal strengths and weaknesses while remaining satisfied and self-secure.

Some tips for implementing self-regard can include asking for other’s feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, openly admitting your weaknesses, and using mistakes as an opportunity to demonstrate your awareness of the areas you need to improve.

Self-actualization is to fully realize your potential or to find purpose and enjoyment in both work and life. A tip for spreading the passion and joy in your work and life is to try starting something new at work in line with your interests and brings people together.

Lastly, in the self-perception composite is emotional self-awareness. Individuals who are conscious of their emotions and the impact they have on their performance have a solid footing on how to interact with others. A couple of tips for developing emotional self-awareness include truly observing your colleagues’ reactions during intense interactions and taking into account those emotions.

Emotional intelligence is an excellent starting point in military career transition. If known and understood, this set of emotional and social skills, which influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way, can have a positive impact on career transition. Taking an emotional intelligence assessment can help a military transitioning member visually see and talk through with a coach, where they are in their lives today.

Unlike IQ, EQ can grow as we educate ourselves and practice the skills associated with it. According to some studies, emotional intelligence also tends to grow naturally as we age.

I feel it was self-actualization and social responsibility, two of the 15 sub-skills of the EQ-i 2.0 model which helped me determine when I retired from the military, I would focus my business on ways to improve the veteran unemployment and underemployment issues — particularly being able to empathize with those transitioning who often feel lost and unsure of what direction to go after service. That’s how I felt when I initially left the military in 2005 and had not calibrated my compass and had no understanding of emotional intelligence.

Although the EQ-i is not a skills assessment or a career profile assessment, studies show the factors that are most important in employees feeling satisfied in their work. The data, collected by Multi-Health Systems and published in the book, “The EQ Edge,” provides telling information.

For example, in the Personnel and Human Resources field, the top 5 EQ skills of highly satisfied and high performing employees were happiness, self-actualization, optimism, assertiveness, and stress tolerance. This doesn’t mean these people are better at these skills than others, but simply they utilize these skills more frequently.

In Volume 3, Issue 2, 2017 of the “Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research” titled, “Concept Note: Career Transition and Emotional Intelligence”, Nupar Gosian, Dr. Chavi B. Sharma and Dr. N. K Chadha, found that “With high emotional intelligence one can easily reappraise their career and job decisions. Emotional intelligence gives the ability to reason out about one’s emotions and it provides internal motivation and empathy to oneself to make the rightful decision.”

Knowing your emotional intelligence is a useful, valid and scientifically proven step in the career transition process. And the best part? We can improve our emotional intelligence and that means we can continue to develop ourselves and our future careers.

Reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about emotional intelligence and your own EQ-i profile at meghan@hrnavigatorllc.com.