Veterans Going Back to Work After War – The Hidden Struggle

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Coming Home, Families After War, Finding Work After War, Healing from War, Jobs, Post War Life

Most veterans and families after war focus on going right back to work. Financially, it’s usually necessary. If you’re a National Guard member, you’ve left behind a job or your own business that is most likely waiting for you. If you’re like many vets, though, the economy and your absence has left you without a civilian job to return to. Finding a job after war can be a frustrating and conflicted experience.

Going back to work isn’t just a matter of finding a job so you can pay your mortgage or rent and ease the money burden on loved ones. Going back to work is part of leaving your war duties behind, adapting your skill sets to civilian tasks and creating a new life. All of which is easier said than done. While it is usually necessary to get back to work as quickly as you can, it isn’t something that you should just take lightly and not give any thought to how it affects you mentally, physically and spiritually. And if you don’t have to go back right away, you may be wise to give yourself some time.

Work itself can be a good thing. It gives you something mentally and physically to do, uses up energy, lets you earn money and it sets you back in a social network. But it can also be detrimental if it causes you to avoid dealing with your emotions, memories, or if you find yourself without any “space” to reflect on where you are in life now and how you have changed.

Work is Not a Sign that You’ve Moved On from the War

What many people mistakenly assume is that the primary task of a veteran after war is to “return to normal” – to go back to who and what they were before war entered their lives. For many people, going back to work is a sign that this is what the veteran is doing. And the veteran may think so, too.

The reality is that “going back to normal” isn’t possible. Why? Because you have changed. War has impacted you in many, many ways and ultimately, you cannot go back to who you were before war. The real task of a veteran after war is to look at the pieces of himself, and begin to fit and form them into a new sense of identity, meaning and purpose. Yes, there’s much of you still left that carries on – but there’s much that’s going to be different. (Even if it was possible for war not to cause emotional trauma, it would still change your perspective just from having lived and worked in another culture with different viewpoints, impressions and experiences.)

So work itself can be a mixed blessing and a curse. It can feed and support you or deplete you. It can stifle you or open your eyes to what you really want. Work may magnify a sense that “you don’t belong” and that feeling of not belonging may make you start to question what you’re doing and where you do “fit in.”  While you may feel that you are the one who’s “not normal anymore” – in reality, what you are experiencing is normal for someone coming home from war.  Give yourself the grace of knowing and believing that. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that going back to work is the answer to everything.

You Jump Right Back Into a Job That’s Waiting

If this is you, people may be telling you how lucky you are to have a job. And you are grateful, but you may be so focused on dealing with the job tasks at hand that you forget that you need to give yourself some grace and patience to adjust to civilian life. The job itself may not give you time, and you most likely will feel pressured to “catch up” on what you’ve missed and what has changed while you were gone. Because you feel fortunate and blessed to have work when so many others are struggling to find it, you may also not feel comfortable admitting it if the job doesn’t feel right to you anymore, you’re not interested in what you’re doing, or you’re struggling with missing the battlefield and grieving over friends and relationships left behind.

Colleagues aren’t going to know how to relate to you fully. They’re going to relate to the person they knew you as last and may not have any idea of what you’ve really been through, what you’ve had to do during war or why you may find civilian work unfulfilling and dull compared to what your war-time tasks were. Bosses may give you some leeway, or they may not, expecting you to buck up and get on with it. Depending on your company and responsibilities, you may find yourself pushing what’s going on inside you further and further back into the darkness.

It’s okay if you’re struggling. Don’t keep it a secret. You can be grateful for the job you have and still want something else. And ultimately, your sense of fulfillment is what matters – not the economy or what other people will think. You know your financial circumstances, but you also know how precious life is and how short it can be. So don’t be afraid to let go of a job or sell your business if it’s just not who you are anymore or who you want to be. Your perspective has changed. Others may not understand, but they don’t have the experiences you have to see through your eyes. Don’t be afraid to take command of your life and redefine who you are.  Money will find a way of working itself out.

You Need to Work, But You Don’t Feel Motivated and No One ‘Gets It’

Many veterans struggle to find work, especially in today’s economy. Everyone expects that you the foremost thing on your mind is to get a job or go back to college and so you update your resume, search job banks and apply. You don’t get interviewed. No one calls you back. You’re just one more applicant out of hundreds, sometimes thousands. So, you keep trying. Months go by, you start to wonder if maybe it’s you. You may get depressed. And people start wondering it it’s you, too.

What you aren’t telling anyone is that getting a job is the last thing you really feel like doing. Nothing excites you. You miss your war-zone friends, you miss the consistent routine of military life, you miss having a goal with clear objectives. The war feels close to you, closer maybe than anything else, but you’re not going to tell anyone that.

Why aren’t you motivated? Civilian work is supposed to be the answer, right? Your gut tells you it isn’t, but what else are you going to do?

It can be very hard to feel motivated or excited about civilian work when you come home from war. It may seem pointless, dull, boring – and ultimately, purposeless.

You know what this tells you? You’ve changed. You see the difference between what was once interesting to you and a horizon out there where new meaning lies. The fact that you are asking questions means you are seeking answers – and that’s a good thing. Be open to change. Be open to doing something radically different for your line of work. You may find you want to go back to college, train for something that gives you a sense of purpose. My dad graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history/physical ed. Then he went to the Korean War. He came back and went to med school and spent the rest of his life as a physician. War changes what matters to you.

You have a wonderful opportunity to change course. And you have the opportunity not to spend the rest of your life stuck in a field or job that doesn’t bless the world with your unique gifts and insight.

You’re Desperate for Work, It’s All You Can Think Of

What the economic crisis of the last few years has done for many Americans is redefined how we think about money. It’s opened many people’s eyes to the energy of money and how it can empower or disempower your life. At the same time, veterans have gained powerful insight into the preciousness of life and the unparalleled personal freedom that our country offers. Veterans have the unique insight and experience to know that while money is a necessary energy of life, it is not the be-all and end-all of what life is about. You can’t stare death in the face and not know that, compared to death, very little else is actually a “problem.”

If you’re feeling desperate financially, I encourage you to pause and take a deep breath and know that deep within yourself is an incredible power to create not only the life you want, but the necessary money-energy you need to live that life. When you shift from thinking that others hold the power of money over you to realizing that you have the power to create money in your life, everything changes. I know that these words mean little if you don’t have the money to pay your bills or for food or your kid’s toys or for a date. But money isn’t something we should allow to scare us that much.

When we stop being scared of “what ifs” and we start to reconnect to our sense of inner power to create – we calm down enough to see opportunities around us for where money may enter our lives. You may have to think outside the box of traditional employment and start thinking of being your own employer. You may need to take some calculated risks and take some ideas seriously – but don’t give your power away when it comes to money.

The reason money causes so much worry is because we fear ‘the worst’ happening financially. What is the worst that can happen to you financially? You lose a home? Move back in with your parents? Live in low-income housing? Go on public assistance? Work a minimum wage job?

Let me tell you this: as long as you have your health and people who love you, you have everything. The worst can happen to you financially and you know what? You will recover. So don’t allow fear over money to control you or make decisions for you. You’re going to be all right.

Let Work Bless Your Life

The path to finding a job and a job itself can be a wonderful blessing if you let it. Use this time to really ponder what you want out of life. Use this time to give yourself some breathing space. Use this time to change what you believe about money. An know, that no matter what, you have the power within you to move toward healing, wholeness, purpose.




  1. Max Arnold says:

    “What you aren’t telling anyone is that getting a job is the last thing you really feel like doing. Nothing excites you. You miss your war-zone friends, you miss the consistent routine of military life, you miss having a goal with clear objectives. The war feels close to you, closer maybe than anything else, but you’re not going to tell anyone that.

    Why aren’t you motivated? Civilian work is supposed to be the answer, right? Your gut tells you it isn’t, but what else are you going to do?

    It can be very hard to feel motivated or excited about civilian work when you come home from war. It may seem pointless, dull, boring – and ultimately, purposeless.”

    You hit the nail on the head here. I feel purposeless most days. I found this post on google after adding the word veteran to “hard work doesn’t pay off.” I got home in 2009 and have hit bottom allot.. thrn when i think it cant get worse that next day week.. year proves me wrong. The American dream truly doesn’t exist anymore. And my quality of life lowrrs and lowers every year. If it wrre for my parents I’d be homeless. You mention health and friends and loved ones… I have no friends and loved ones bailed on me after witnessing me being financially unstable. With Mysearch today i was try to find direction… “get a job ypu love to do” i dont think im capable of love and i cant find anytjing i enjoy doing. When people ask me what do i enjpy doing… o cant think of anything. Just trying to find direction.

    • I think it’s hard to figure out what you love to do when so much is weighing on your soul. It really is more about coming back to life, inside, than it is about finding a job that interests you. And coming back to life is a process of inner growth and change. It takes looking at your beliefs about life, your self, your place in the world now, and finding NEW perspectives that open your mind to new ways of being/feeling/thinking.

      If reading is comfortable for you (not sure if you have a TBI, but many do and for some reading is really tough) – I highly recommend Mark Nepo’s The Exquisite Risk and Mike Dooley’s Infinite Possibilities. Both books will comfort, guide, and give you new ways to ponder.

      It takes time. It takes a determination to find your way. It takes gentleness with yourself when you feel depleted.

      It’s not something anyone else can do for you though. People like me can be there to offer support and guidance and a listening soul — but ultimately, there comes a point where you have to decide “not this” anymore and look for new ways to make sense of this post-combat life.

      You are welcome to email me privately, if you wish. I’m happy to continue a conversation.

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