When I first got back from the Marines, I may as well have moved into a different country. The culture was so different than that which I had become accustomed to. It was not easy and I had a lot to learn about living on my own. I had to learn not only how to live as an independent man, but also as the head of a family since I had recently married and acquired a daughter.
Everything about transitioning to the civilian world has been rough and one of the aspects I still don’t understand is why people refuse to look out for one another. It seemed to me, everyone was just looking out for themselves and looked at each other from a seriously biased and negative position. It seemed to me everyone was playing a zero-sum game. That is, a game in which every player can only win if the other players lose, there’s no in between, and being ruthless and cut throat is the key to success.
In the Marines, we were ruthless and cut-throat with the enemy, not with each other. We were taught, one team, one fight. But in the civilian world, it seemed to me most people were playing “fight everyone, no one is on your team.” Of course, civilians don’t think they are like this, they don’t know anything different. I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Twins, when he first landed on the main land after being raised in a lab.
If you haven’t already, check out my article A Minute in the Life of an Unemployed Veteran, about just what the title says.
In order to stay productive, I enrolled in classes for a bachelors in digital photography at the Art Institute nearby. I got the idea after my old Marine buddy, Alfred (Q) had already been doing the same, but studying graphic design. Not only did diversifying my skills seem like a right move, the Department of Veterans Affairs believe in it so much they pay veterans the G.I. Bill, which is enough to cover not just tuition, but pays you a little extra for cost of living.
Nevertheless I didn’t want to throw away money to rent, so in the spirit of “one team, one fight,” I offered to pay my dad rent. He has an ample sized house with two extra bedrooms, and I didn’t even ask for my old giant room back, I asked for the smaller guest bedroom. He rejected my idea and my step mother informed me of some nice homes that were for rent in the area.
My aunt decided to let me stay at her place as long as it was temporary, this allowed me time to plan what I would do next. I got an apartment with easy access to public transportation for my wife. She would be moving from Russia and would need a way to get around before we got situated.
Eventually, Q moved in with me and we split the rent. Q was on the same mindset I was. Little did I know at the time just how much we would end up depending on each other.
I had planned to be unemployed for a year, then a year passed, and I was still unemployed. My father told me he also didn’t think LAPD would hire me. Because I was a student, I couldn’t get any other real jobs. I had pigeon holed myself into getting hired by LAPD.
The way I saw it, I had to succeed, I had to achieve my childhood dream, regardless of what my dad or anyone else thought.
I really didn’t have any problems, if I had been single. But I wasn’t single, I had a family that depended on me, and they were trying to transition into a new culture as well.
I contacted my old commander from when I was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka several years back. We were friends on Facebook and I showed him the letters of rejection from LAPD. He sent them a letter of recommendation. I don’t know what that letter said, he sent it directly to the psychologist and then I got called back in to be re-interviewed. A few months later I got hired.
My troubles were not over when I got hired, I had been unemployed for so long, a year past my own worst-case scenario projection, that I was strapped for cash. Not only did I have to pay for my wife’s visa expenses, I had to also show proof I was able to care for her. All of these carried a timeline. Once again, my old Marine friendships came to the rescue.
My good friend and fellow Sergeant Lewis, who had gotten out of the military and was much more stable financially wired me the thousands of dollars I needed. Eventually I paid him back plus a plane ticket to visit sunny L.A.
The point is, I am where I am today thanks to my fellow Marines. Everyone has a different experience, but what I learned was there were many negative people in my life that had only been bringing me down. Unfortunately for me, that was my family. My dad had never been a source of inspiration for anything I ever did, rather he had always criticized everything I did without providing anything constructive. At the time, I was upset he didn’t take me up on my offer to pay him rent. Now I realize that idea was just plain silly. Being Mexican, there are perks to coming from a big family, but that was not the case for me. Now I know, my family is actually a source of negativity for me, and if I am to succeed at anything, they are best kept at a distance.
If I could go back in time I would give myself the following advice:
1) Realize the civilian world is a completely different culture. Just because we all speak English, doesn’t mean we speak the same language. No civilian understands you and no civilian ever will. But you can’t dwell on this. You have to figure out how to communicate with them, because guess what, now YOU are a civilian too.
2) The relationships you make in the Marine Corps are priceless. Stick with your Marine buddies. They will have the same problems you do with their career development as well as with everyday coping. They will need you and you will need them. Together, you will find success.
3) Get rid of negative people in your life. In your case, it was my own family. It seems obvious now, but at the time I thought I had to be a good son and go back to my family to help them out financially as well as with manpower. This leads the next piece of advice:
4) Help yourself first. Coming from the high standards and camaraderie of the Marines, you will see a lot of things in your family that are both wrong and can be fixed with some elbow grease, but they aren’t ready for this. For example, don’t go trying to help your drug addict cousins living out of state. You have enough troubles of your own. Get yourself situated first. Not only is your kindness taken as weakness, it will just be taken for granted and cause you to lose time and money. Most importantly, it will cause you to lose time.
5) Stay positive, believe in yourself and know you will be successful. When you are an unemployed veteran, not only will you trigger the biases people hold against veterans (especially in Commiefornia), you will also trigger the biases people hold against the unemployed. There will be times when the only people around you who respect you will be you, so never lose respect for yourself. You are not lazy, you are not dumb, and most of the time you are of higher caliber than those around you (similar to the time you almost failed the English entrance exam in elementary because your vocabulary was more advanced than the person administering the test).
In doing so, I am just reiterating the same advice that I need to be successful now. Nothing has really changed, I am no longer transitioning from the military. I have given up on that. I think the values that forged me into a Marine are the same ones that will help me succeed in building a better home than the one I was raised in, and keep me from suffering the pain of being unemployed ever again, by becoming financially independent.
The key thing I’ve learned after leaving the military, the most important lesson of all, the last piece of advice is something I’ve known all along, but needs to be clearly articulated:
6)You have to be valuable. You have to provide value to somebody and you have to able to communicate your value. If you don’t do this, no one will care to hire you for any job, including government jobs. If you don’t think in terms of providing value to others around you, your relationships will suffer too. Ignoring the idea of being valuable only works under communism, where your ideas and successes are irrelevant as long as you show up to work on time at the factory.
But in America, you must stay savvy, you must be relentlessly self-educated, and you must be responsible, because if you aren’t, someone else will take responsibility for you, but on their terms.
So don’t waste time worrying about whether or not you are good enough. Don’t waste time worrying about what others are doing. Don’t waste time worrying about the past and all the things you could have done better. Don’t waste time thinking about how to… don’t waste time thinking too much. Learn what you have to learn, and get moving. The Marines have taught you how to roll with the punches.
So don’t think so damn much and EXECUTE.