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Successfully Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

Show Notes from Episode 3 of the Real Deal…What Matters Live

Discussion with US Marine Corp Aviator Vishal Amin about Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

Patrick Henry: Hi, everyone. This is Patrick Henry, the CEO of QuestFusion, with The Real Deal…What Matters Live. I’m very excited to have my friend Vishal Amin today on the program. Vishal is a retired military gunner. My dad was a US Marine. He said, “There are no ex-Marines. They call it former Marines.”

Vishal Amin: If you ask my wife, she’ll definitely tell you that I was a former Marine.

Patrick: Vishal comes from a 20-year career in the United States Military with a background specializing in aviation. He was a Marine aviator. Vishal has traveled all over the world, both in the air and boots on the ground. He has been deployed six times in multiple countries within the regions of Asia, the Pacific Rim, South Pacific, Middle East, and Africa. Vishal is formerly a decorated member of the Marine fighter community. He is now an executive for one of Microsoft’s premier security partners. His experience in the Marines led him to missions which caused a direct impact on global stability and US foreign policy. He has seamlessly transitioned those experiences to a way of life outside the Department of Defense, which as we’ll talk about today, is highly unusual. Welcome, Vishal.

Vishal: Thanks for having me.

Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life: The Positives of Military Life

Patrick: The topic that we’re going to discuss today is transitioning from a military career to a civilian career. This has been a challenging thing for a lot of veterans, especially those who have experienced deployments. We haven’t directly experienced that here in San Diego because we have such a large military community, both active as well as retired. We have a decent-sized presence in the defense industry. I know that a lot of veterans end up going into defense. But luckily, I know you can find jobs and you can check out if you are interested. I want to hear from you and your experience what you’ve done. Talk about the positives of your military service as it relates to civilian life.

Vishal: Number one, when you said “transition” I started to sweat.

Patrick: How long have you been out?

Vishal: Just two years. When you say “transition” I’m sweating because it was rough. We can sugar coat it all you want. Everyone can say there’s a way to do it, but I will tell you first hand that coming out of the military was probably one of the scariest moments of my life. You asked about the positives that I got out of the military and the Marine Corp. There are so many. Even the negatives are positives. You’re building your career and your time in the military to set yourself up for success later. The big positive is perseverance. When you start, you’re thrown into a situation that you’re not familiar with. You’re learning things that you didn’t know. Being able to persevere and succeed, where you’re given the tools to succeed and make your way through that where failure isn’t an option are the largest positives that I got out of it.

Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life: Having a Plan and Adapting to Situations

Patrick: When you think about that perseverance aspect, for those not in the military, we think rigid and structured. If you’re in a deployment, you have a plan. But then chaos occurs, and you have to adapt and adjust as you go along. Do you bring a framework with you on how you deal with that or do you go off the cuff? Based on your experience with other folks, is there a common way or different ways that you do that.

Vishal: We’re talking about within the military and transitioning out. I like to think of it in two ways. Successful organizations outside of the military have a mission and a focus. The CEO has an intent. There’s no difference there between the Fortune 500 enterprise world and the military. The military is a mission-driven organization. Every mission has someone that’s in charge to deliver that mission. There’s some intent behind it. You have resources under that mission and intent. They are individuals like me and my colleagues. There’s your framework within the military. It’s very rigid. There’s no failure involved in that. The difference here is that no one expects you to execute on the framework flawlessly. Things happen, just like in the real world. The difference is when that framework disintegrates when you go into deployment, people die. People don’t make it back home. Things don’t work the way they were supposed to. Failure is inevitable, but the cost of failure is incrementally higher than in the outside world. If you were able to take the framework and move it to the outside world, you would see that it’s no different. It’s a way of thinking. I think that framework is important. It’s built into the process that we have in the military, being a mission-driven organization. Being in the military isn’t the easiest of jobs, but it can also be rewarding. That’s the side of this industry that might draw people into applying to be a part of it. From checking out sites like ASVAB Boot Camp to buy study packs/tests to help prepare for the ASVAB, passing physical examinations, to determining a career in this industry, the process of being in the military is quite lengthy. But hopefully, it will be worth it.

Failure is Not an Option

Patrick: As a CEO and someone who has run organizations, there is sometimes a more flippant way of thinking. Things aren’t life and death. You want people who are passionate and to treat failure as if it weren’t an option. The most successful championship sports teams, military generals and CEOs build a culture of finishers. Their people say, “This is not life or death, but I’m going to treat it like life or death because it’s that important to me that we’re successful. Even under dire circumstances, I’m going to continue to stay positive.” I remember watching the Final Four. Some of these teams are down by 10 points with a minute left. There were teams that would give up and there were teams that would continue to fight. Half the time, the teams that would continue to fight would win the game. That’s amazing.

Vishal: Just because the mission is life or death in the military, I still agree with what you’re saying. If you treat every decision that you are making as if the failure wasn’t an option, you’re building that framework for success. It’s that mental toughness you need for success. You talked earlier about the culture of finishers. When I hear that, I think of the word “character.” Is your organization a character-driven organization? Do you have people of integrity, courage, service, and leadership? They need to finish the race and commit to it. Commitment needs to go into it as well.

Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life: Challenges

Patrick: What were the biggest challenges of transition for you and people you are friends with? I did some research around this transition from military life to civilian life. There is a spectrum. It’s more difficult for enlisted guys than for officers. Sometimes it’s more difficult for people with families. There are more challenges for people who have been on deployments. Talk about your experience. You have a ton of experience being deployed over a 20-year career.

Vishal: The most difficult piece about transitioning, now that I look back at it two years ago, was the ego. After being in the military for so long, whether it’s three years or twenty years, you were so empowered to know everything and be so crucial and critical within a mission. When you leave the military, you have to be able to take a step back and understand that you don’t know everything. You don’t know what you’re getting into. I think the majority of the individuals who are successful outside the military know exactly what they want to do. If you look at enlisted individuals versus officers, I don’t like to use those metrics because a lot of them have different drives and motivations. They might want to go into a technical career. They might want to go into something a little different. An officer might want to go into a leadership role. That’s not to say that enlisted individuals don’t, but it has a lot to do with education. If you are crystal clear when you get out and say, “This is exactly what I want to do. This is how much I want to make. This is where I want to live,” you have a baseline to go after. I was not clear on that right away. That wasn’t built for me. I took a pay cut. There was uncertainty about how to provide for your family when you get out. That’s stress that I did not have when I was in. That was probably the hardest thing for me to overcome and work through in the first year when I transitioned. That is the reality. Forget the job. At the end of the day, how are you going to provide for your life outside? You don’t have that worry when you’re in. When you’re out, it’s scary. If you’re not scared, you probably should be if you haven’t figured it out already.

Patrick: I was talking to a buddy of mine last week. We were talking about this episode. He has a buddy who is a Marine Corp colonel. He’s ready to transition out. He’s been in for over 20 years. He’s scared out of his mind. This guy is not scared of anything. It’s like Jack Nicholson. Anytime you make a big career change, even if you’ve never been in the military when you close one door and before the other opens, you’re in that dark tunnel. You think, “Is this going to work out?” It’s like when I started QuestFusion. I thought, “Is this really going to work out?” This is new stuff for me. I’m used to running tech companies. From a military perspective, there’s so much structure. There’s discipline. There’s a chain of command. The chain of command is respected. In civilian life, sometimes that’s the case and sometimes it’s not.

Vishal: You’re thinking about people outside of the military. They are more entrepreneurial in nature. In the military, there’s no room for entrepreneurship. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I don’t think I’ll go in today. I don’t like your idea. Let me try something else.” That doesn’t work. When you get out, that type of critical thinking is really important. For a lot of individuals, the more senior you get in the military, it’s hard to be entrepreneurial outside. You don’t have the financial stability. You don’t have the industry backing and experience. It’s a very hard concept. Whether it’s free-thinking or structured thinking, it’s something to think about when you transition.

Vishal’s Philosophy on Choosing a Career and Being Successful

Patrick: I’ve had the benefit of hearing Vishal speak to large audiences. I love his message. For our audience of entrepreneurs, how do you make career choices? What’s your philosophy of work, service, career transitioning out?

Vishal: When I first transition out of the military, I was initially trying to make monetary-based decisions. That was key. I was feeding on what’s going to support my family and need our everyday needs. I really thought about it. I wanted to excel in my career and do something to make a difference. I went back to my roots. I said, “Why did I join the military in the first place?” I believe in something greater than itself, something that I was able to invest in. I wasn’t making a monetary-based decision. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. You need to have a way to make ends meet if you’re not in the military. You have to be issue-driven. You have to be focused on exactly what you want to do and tie into a cause or something that you’re passionate about. I think that passion goes a long way toward being successful. The money is going to be there as long as you invest the time, effort and energy. Many individuals don’t like work-life balance. If you love what you do, then it is not necessarily work. Being able to have a mission, be passionate about something, make decisions and commit to those decisions will make you successful regardless of what you do. You’re a testament to that.

Patrick: My wife and I went out of town this weekend. We drove. She doesn’t like to fly. About 25 years ago, I listened to a book on tape. It was Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale. One of the things that he talks about is that your level of compensation, the amount of money that you make in the world, is directly based on your service. The foundation of character is critical for that. You want to do things for the right motives and reasons. Money is a result. You can’t directly pursue it. I get a lot of questions about that, especially from younger entrepreneurs. They ask, “Should I invest in Bitcoin? Should I try this thing?” I say, “I don’t do those things.” Before Bitcoin, I wasn’t a commodities trader. I’m focused on what I can do that can contribute in a big way that I can get excited about, where there is a big market opportunity associated with it. If you focus on those things, even though you get frustrated along the way, ultimately the money comes. It works out if you’re in the right thing, doing the right stuff. I love the philosophy that you have. What are your tips for the veterans in transition out there? Do you have resources or do mentorship?

Tips for Transitioning Veterans

Vishal: I mentioned three things earlier. You need to know those three things. Know exactly where you want to be. Know what you want to do. Know how much you want to make. Having the money conversation is key. Veterans don’t know what the baseline is.

Patrick: You have your compensation, but you also have other things taken care of for you. How does that translation happen monetarily in the outside world?

Vishal: There’s the tax-free money and base lots for housing. Most veterans don’t realize that they’re making close to 40% more on their W2 rather than what they’re seeing while they’re in the military. When you say that you want a six-figure job or higher, you don’t realize what’s out there. Know those three things so that you have a baseline.
Second, network relentlessly. When I say relentlessly, I mean to brand yourself and network relentlessly. Talk to anyone and everyone who will listen. You don’t know what you don’t know. Until you learn about everything on the outside, which you’re never going to figure out, you need to learn more to make an empowered decision. Eighty percent of veterans leave their first career within the first two years after they transition. That’s because they don’t know what they don’t know. Know those three things. Be able to deviate from them. Network relentlessly.

Patrick: I have mentors. I have people that I rely on. Part of that is being coachable. If you’re networking but you can’t listen, it doesn’t help. You have to stay teachable and coachable. Humility is important. I suggest spending an hour a day on strategic activities, whether that’s networking, reaching out to a customer that you don’t do business with, going out to coffee with something or screening resumes. If you don’t do that, you’re always going to be behind the eight ball. You’re always going to be in that urgent-important quadrant. You can never get out of there. You want to do the stuff that’s not urgent but still critically important. You mentioned to network relentlessly.
Think back to the first six months when you got out. How much time did you spend on those types of activities?

Vishal: I’ll tell you something funny. When I first got out, I went to transition classes. They helped me make a resume, both by myself and by using this tool. I did everything independently. I thought, “I’ll make a resume and I’ll find a job. This will work.” Over the first six months, I realized that the onus was on me to succeed. I had to meet others and take a step back. I have a huge issue with listening. I was empowered to have an opinion in the military and guide strategies and operations. On the civilian side, I needed to listen more. That was key. Before I went to bed every night, for 20 minutes, I was on a social media networking platform, like LinkedIn. I was attempting to connect with 10 to 20 people every night. I think I got two connections in the first two weeks. People responded back to me. I started catering the message. I met those people for coffee or got on the phone with them. After six months of doing that, I realized exactly what I wanted to do. I knew the company that I wanted to work with. What did I start doing then? I connected with as many people in that company as I could. I attempted 300 connections. Within those 300 connections, I got 120 back. Out of those 120, I connected about 80 of them. Of those 80, I correspond back and forth with about 60 of them. That network alone, within the first eight months of my transition, showed me what I needed to do to get responses and educated me on the industry that I wanted to be a part of. More importantly, I am the exact opposite vertical of that industry right now. I’m a competitor. I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I realized that’s not what I wanted. I wanted something else. I was able to build that network and get myself out there. Start with 20 minutes a night. See where that gets you. You’ll realize that it’s never enough until you get overwhelmed with that process. You won’t need a transitioning course. You won’t need someone to help you. You’ll be able to network yourself into a conversation that will build an opportunity.

Patrick: You say you’re not a good listener. Every time we’ve interacted, you’re an amazing listener. I don’t know if it’s a self-perception thing or you course-corrected. Perhaps you recognized that, in order to be successful, you needed to do things differently. In either case, it’s amazing how you are in that respect.

Vishal: I appreciate that. That’s something that veterans have. It’s a character trait. It’s the ability to compartmentalize something and then move. I had a one-on-one with my COO last week. He said, “Vishal, you interrupt the conversation all the time.” I had to take a step back. If I keep interrupting conversations, I’m not going to be able to listen and really hear what someone else is saying. It’s something that I constantly have to work on. Just like in the military, we have fitness reports and evaluations. You need to be able to be critical.

Final Tips for Entrepreneurs

Patrick: Do you have any tips for the entrepreneurial audience, whether or not they are veterans?

Vishal: When you make a decision, whether it be a small or large decision, make sure you’re making it as if there’s no second opportunity. Take advantage of what you’re doing and the situation that you’re in. Really believe in the actions that you’re taking. If you think that it’s going to fail, then most likely, it is going to fail.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Take that failure as a lesson learned and move it to the side. Now you have a different path. For veterans, failure is key. Without failing when you’re transitioning, you’re not going to succeed. For the entrepreneurs who have never been veterans, being able to understand perseverance and think in a mindset that’s unforgiving is key to success. It’s not just, “This business idea isn’t working. Let’s start a new one.” Really invest and jump off the cliff if you really believe in it. That’s going to be the key to success.

Patrick: I appreciate you spending time with us today. This was fantastic. We’ll definitely have you back. I love your journey and the things you’re doing. This is Patrick Henry, the CEO of QuestFusion, with The Real Deal…What Matters Live signing off.