What’s Your ‘Why’ for Life After Uniformed Service?

What’s Your ‘Why’ for Life After Uniformed Service?
gustavofrazao/iStock/Getty Images Plus

We’ve covered the importance of having a vision for your life after service*. If you’ve identified your vision, let’s move from the “what” to the “why.”


The next step in setting yourself up for success in life after uniform is identifying your why, or your core purpose. You likely had your reasons for serving: Sometimes they were clearer than others and perhaps they changed over time. Regardless, those days are behind you.


Research indicates the most successful individuals, teams, and businesses have a crystal-clear understanding of their purpose, or “why.” So, what does that really mean, and why is it the key to a successful transition?


Let’s start with what your “why” is. Simply stated, it is the compelling reason you choose to pursue something. In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek reveals why some people and organizations are more innovative, influential, and profitable than others. He discusses the “golden circle” framework and concludes success (or failure) comes down to having clarity and conviction around one’s “why” and leading with it. Learn more from Sinek by watching his 2009 TED Talk.   


So why is knowing your “why” critical to success? In short, it will keep you focused when you don’t feel like getting out of bed, an obstacle is thrown your way, you face rejection in a job search, you get fired, and so on. Knowing and believing in your purpose will help you persevere during difficult times – regardless of their nature.


[RELATED: More Transition and Career Advice From MOAA]


Ask the Question(s)

To gain a firm understanding of your “why,” try the following exercise from Millionaire Success Habits: The Gateway to Wealth & Prosperity by Dean Graziosi. Known as “7 Levels Deep,” it aims to help people get to the core of their purpose. It looks like this:

  1. Identify your goal (for example: write a book, launch a business, buy a franchise, find a fulfilling role) and write it down on a piece of paper.
  2. Ask yourself “Why is [stated goal] important to me?” or, “Why do I want to be successful at [stated goal]?”
  3. Ask yourself “Why?” six more times.


Be  100% honest with yourself, be nonjudgmental, and approach this with curiosity. We are so quick to beat ourselves up – stop that! Just be curious!


By the sixth “why,” you will have gained clarity around what really drives you. Is it obligation, fear, or scarcity? If so, you may reconsider your goal or vision. In essence, this exercise helps ensure you are in alignment with your values.


Bonus exercise: Identify your core values and be able to articulate them clearly to someone. Check out TapRoot® Root Cause Analysis to identify your five core values.   


[RELATED: Transition and Career Events and Webinars from MOAA]


Why Does ‘Why’ Matter’?

Knowing your “why” is critically important throughout transition for a number of reasons. Here are just a few to consider:

  1. It can help inform your decision-making. If a particular task or action does not support your goal, choose not to pursue it. This will save time, money, and heartache in the long run – you’ll get from Point A to Point B faster and spend fewer resources along the way.

  2. It can reduce second-guessing. Nobody wants to live in the “shoulda-coulda-woulda” world of chaos and confusion. There is plenty of uncertainty involved in a military-to-civilian transition, and it can be easy to fall into this cycle when you feel scared or unsure of what’s next. While this thought process is natural, recognize when you’ve diverted down this path and quickly catch yourself. Be kind and remind yourself of your “why” so you make informed decisions.

  3. It can get you moving. Sometimes “motivation” just doesn’t cut it. In The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, author Jeff Haden explains, “’Motivation’ as we know it is a myth. Motivation isn't the special sauce that we require at the beginning of any major change. In fact, motivation is a result of process, not a cause.” In other words, don’t fall into the trap of waiting to feel motivated before taking action or you may wait your life away. Call upon your “why” and you’ll likely find the spark you need.


So go ahead, schedule time on your calendar to get curious about your “why.” You might be surprised what you (re)discover about yourself!


* A confession: I did not finish my 2022 vision board by March 1. I finished it a week later. How about you?


Download Marketing Yourself for a Second Career


Newly updated! Learn what you can do to prepare yourself for a successful transition from military career to civilian career. This handbook shows you how to create an attention-getting resume, cover letter, and more. Get tips on self-marketing, job search, interviews, and interviewing. (Available to Premium and Life members)

Get Your Copy Upgrade for Access

About the Author

Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC
Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC

Cardinal is MOAA's Program Director, Transition Services & Family Programs. She is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and has extensive experience in coaching servicemembers through their transition from active duty to the civilian sector.