One of the hardest things for military members in the transition to civilian life is a loss of mission. For years, they’ve had a clear purpose in life and, from day to day, were given missions to accomplish where their role was specified and valuable. They often spent days, weeks, and months training for their missions. They knew what they had to do, spent hours training themselves to do it perfectly, then went out with their teams and executed the mission. Sometimes missions changed mid-stream, some turned out to be less than they were expected to be, some were much more, some were accomplished, some were not, some involved tremendous courage and skill, some involved failure and an opportunity to learn, some were great victories, some were tragic. But through it all, the men knew their place and their role, and having a mission gave them a great sense of security and purpose. It gave meaning to their lives.
When those men come home or transition to civilian life, their next “mission” is often less than clear. This lack of mission is one factor among many that often causes veterans to struggle adjusting to civilian life. However, this predicament is not isolated to members of our military. In fact, it’s a struggle that is faced by plenty of men in their mid-lives. From the time we are kids, we have a defined mission: go to school, graduate from high school, graduate from college, get a job, get married, advance in our career, buy a house, have kids, raise the kids, etc.
Once we hit this point, we often aren’t sure what to do next, beyond raise our kids. So, our life comes to revolve around our kids. We become full-time chauffeurs, coaches, tutors, lunch-box packers, toy-picker-uppers, dish cleaners, laundry folders, and dispute mediators. And that’s great. It’s a tour-of-duty, a deployment that doesn’t last forever. To be clear, raising capable, well-adjusted, skillful, warrior kids is perhaps a father’s greatest mission.
The irony is that it can’t be accomplished by making our kids the center of our world. If we make our children the center of our world, the sole mission in our lives, we teach them that being a man consists solely of having a family and raising kids, that a man’s highest aim is to reproduce and coach youth sports. Instead, a valuable component in raising capable, content children is inspiring them to accomplish great things. How do we inspire them to do that? By pursuing and accomplishing great things.
In short, just like those military men who come home and become civilians, we have to find a new mission. It can’t just be raising our kids. We have to find a mission, a purpose, a project that will allow us to develop, acquire, and use our talents and skills to bring value to others. So that’s the challenge for today: to cast a wider vision, to lift our gaze beyond our family, beyond raising our kids, to find the next mission. It’s a challenge for us to realize that, if we want our kids to accomplish great things, we must show them the path. Not just by telling them what to do, not just by managing their lives, but by throwing ourselves into our own mission. Letting them see us strive, struggle, fail, adjust, and fight on until we accomplish it. This is the man’s life.
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