Reader Advice: Update on Ben’s bridge career

[This post is from Ben, a military retiree who achieved financial independence before he left active duty. When he retired he was confident in his financial planning (it’s better than mine!) and he was pretty sure he’d find plenty to do all day. However, he also wanted to see what he could do in a civilian bridge career and whether he’d overlooked any financial issues. This story stands on its own, but you might want to read his earlier post on starting a bridge career.  If you’re interested in guest posting, please see our posting guidelines.]

I am now on “Chapter 2” of my bridge career.

I am not sure how long this chapter will be or if there will be any more chapters. I have made the transition from the familiarity and madness of DoD civil service. It was not until I got on the outside that I realized misery loves company– and it is alive and well in my previous organization. It turned out to be the typical high-pressure environment with long hours, urgent phone calls, crisis requests for program data, and jockeying for funding. I also did not realize just how I took for granted the caliber of my co-workers. In my opinion, the military has the most proficient workforce (both active duty and civilian) in the entire federal government. While they may not be the most efficient, collectively they understand how to get things done.

I started my bridge career with a civil-service mentor who I knew from our active-duty days. When I was about nine months into the quagmire, I told him that I was going to resign at the one-year point. I had made a lot of progress in what he had asked me to do and I felt the task would be complete in the near future. I also had laid the foundation to recruit a replacement for my position. I had decided I was done in the next 90 days as no amount of money was worth how I felt each day going home. Although I did enjoy being with my friends, this adventure was certainly not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Been there done that!

I guess at some point I had applied for the position I have now. To be honest I don’t remember applying for it or even reading the announcement– I had just been applying for everything in the salary range and geographical area that hit the USA Jobs website. I was really not job hunting other than seeing if I could make a transition. I was just going to move into early retirement and do whatever I wanted.

Two weeks after I had told my mentor I was leaving I began to get calls for job interviews with other government agencies. I went into the interviews with not a care in the world. However, I still did my research and practiced for them and put my best foot forward. The interview process was actually fun because I viewed it as no pressure. I felt that if I was going to continue working it would have to be in an organization that fitted how I wanted to spend my days. I was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing me. Some of the job offers were more of the same as what I was experiencing in DoD and the organizations were in desperate need of my skills. I don’t think my skills are any better than any military member who was my peer near the end of my military career. Believe it or not, the military really does prepare us for life after the uniform.

I transferred from DoD to another government agency just after the one-year point of my bridge career. While I am still learning the specifics of the organization’s language and structure, I can tell you that what in DoD I consider basic skills are in high demand on other areas of the government. There seems to be a lack of leadership, critical thinking skills, and the ability to identify and package the information that my superiors need to move the organization forward. My supervisor, colleagues, and subordinates are in awe at what I bring to the organization. I really just do what I did for 20+ years in the military. I have no desire to move up in the organization, as I would rather help someone else reach for that brass ring.

I am helping a couple of friends through their military retirement transition. It’s also helped me realize that I don’t miss active duty at all. It’s rewarding to apply the skills that I gained in my former life to a variety of areas, and it’s certainly filled up my bank account. But most of all I am enjoying being a subject matter expert and keeping a balance in my life. When I decide to end this chapter of my bridge career, I’ll have answered my questions about work after the military– and I’ll know what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Reminder: This is a guest post. Please be polite, or the comments moderator will kick in.

Related articles:
Ben’s first post on the subject: Bridge career: “HA!”
Will you work after military retirement?
Military experience to civilian careers
Dealing with “retiree guilt”
Starting your bridge career after the military
The transition to a bridge career
Retiring on multiple streams of income
Myths of military retirement and early retirement
Observations on a military transition
During retirement: The inevitable job offers
Guest Post Wednesday: “If You Are Starting a Small Business, Do Not Expect To Get Paid”
Making the leadership transition
“Top Ten Reasons to Never Retire”
Five reasons to NOT retire early
Suze Orman advises a dual-military couple
Retiring early– with kids?

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. “I have no desire to move up in the organization, as I would rather help someone else reach for that brass ring.”
    Being FI makes it much more comfortable to simply be a mentor. My husband worked GS for five years after he retired to put a topping on our savings. His old office still calls for ideas. He was not interested in being a manager. He was interested in the office working the best it could.
    Most Army officers feel that their platoon level command was their best command. I think being able problem solve and fix problems immediately is the base to an excellent leader. Unfortunately, in the civilian world, those opportunities are rare unless you own your own company.

    • I enjoy the mentoring part!

      I know several civil servants who are working to the five-year point, especially if they’re veterans who want to “buy” their active-duty time. It becomes another form of golden handcuffs unless they find work they enjoy as much as that first platoon.

  2. It’s amazing how not feeling like you need something (a job, sales, whatever) will help you to get it. I think people can sense desperation, even if you don’t think it’s apparent. Having the lack of concern about whether or not you got the job probably turned the tables and made you more attractive to a potential employer, strengthening your negotiating position.

    • I wish there was a way to design a study around that!

      I think the second govt agency also desperately needs people with the skills that military retirees have developed during their entire careers. I’ve seen several examples of it in veteran’s transition stories.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?