Transitioning to the civilian workforce

So my first job after being unemployed for 11 months after getting out was actually a State job helping veterans find jobs.  Yes – kind of ironic because they called me the Veteran Employment “Specialist” where I considered my self the Veteran “unemployment” Specialist!  I didn’t have any Veteran co-workers at that time as I was the only one working for this particular (veteran) State agency and was co-located in an office which was the civilian equivalent to my job but they helped everyone.  Anyway, for the most part, they weren’t too inviting or friendly in welcoming me to the office.  I was a bit confused with that because in the military when you report to a new command you pretty much have a welcoming committee and at least a handful of people are readily available and willing to be your new friend!  So I figured my way around and was lucky enough to meet someone (not in this office) who kind of helped me learn the ropes of my job.  Me being me, well I wanted to learn everything I could about all the programs in this office (that weren’t under my programs) because the more I knew about theirs, the better I could serve my clients.  I’m all about sharing information.  Well I soon learned that these civilians really didn’t care much about teaching you their jobs.  I figured out pretty quick it was really about job security for them.  If they maintained the status of “subject matter expert” for whatever their job was, they had control.  They worried more about someone else coming in and taking their job because the new person could do it better.  So if they didn’t teach you – you couldn’t be better than them.  They definitely didn’t coordinate or work together between departments so that everyone was on the same page regarding a common client.  Needless to say, clients didn’t always get the best service from them.

Eventually, a couple of other veteran ladies got hired and I became their supervisor under our program.  It was great because I now had people to talk to who got my jokes and humor.  With the civilians, they would just look at me strange when I would make a joke.  So the three of us had our little corner and just did our thing.  The leadership in the office didn’t really care much for us and our ways.  Several of the office staff started being nicer to us because we treated them with more respect as humans than the management did and we also knew how to do their jobs better than them so we had no problem offering to help them understand something.  It irks me to no end when someone asks for help and the one with the knowledge doesn’t help them learn.  Anywho, this one day we were summoned to a meeting with the office manager with all the office staff.  So she gets up and proceeds to tell us that our custodian was going to be out (by the way this custodian (a female) was not always treated the best by the office management) for a period of time so we needed to figure out how to handle our trash during her absence.  WTF??  Seriously???  Ok just to put this in perspective, this is an office with cubicles.  The trash cans are the really small ones.  Oh, and did I mention – the dumpsters are outside and you literally pass right by them on the way to the parking garage!  So she is standing there and everyone is looking a bit perplexed.  Needless to say, me and my 2 ladies sort of just look at each other across the table like “is she for real?”  Here’s an idea – take out your own damn trash!!!  I didn’t have to say it out loud because I could see it in their (my 2 ladies) faces that they were thinking the same thing.  So I cleared my throat, stood up and said something along the lines of “ok, we have some actual work to be doing so trash – got it” and we went back to our desks.  I was so baffled that the office manager took all these workers from their actual work to spend over half an hour discussing how to deal with not having a custodian to take out our individual trash bags.   WOW!!  A lot of “not my job” in civilian offices.

Another funny story – we (same office) had a big job fair.  After it was all over, the tables had to be broken down and stacked and loaded with the chairs to send back to where they were rented.  So I kick off my heels and start breaking them down like super fast, as did my 2 other ladies (by the way – one of them is older and really shouldn’t be doing that kind of work, the other has really bad knees and arthritis.  But we did what we know – GET’R DONE!  Everyone was looking at us like “what are ya’ll doing”  They really thought we were nuts because all that laborious work was “for the men to do.”  To them it was like “glad we have men to get that part done” to us it was like “WORKING PARTY!”  The whole “working party” issue has happened a lot in my last 5 years as a civilian.  I do a lot of volunteer work and every time it seems all (or at least majority) of women stand around when things need to be done because the task falls under “men’s work”.  I don’t know how to just stand around.  If it needs to be done, I do it.  And so do most veteran women.  Even those with physically limiting conditions will jump in and help and usually end up overdoing it but its just party of their DNA I suppose.

Ok so  back to working in an office full of civilians – there were a few that (very few) that really didn’t fall into the regular civilian category.  They were always friendly and always eager to help.  But for the most part, I found most of them to be unpleasant.  I think in this particular office, it was a social service type of facility so everyone that came here was needing a job or help with this or that and many times weren’t always in the best of moods – well because they needed a job so they could pay their bills.  I had actually come to this office once right after I got out because I was told to go there for employment help.  My experience was horrible (as the customer).  The front desk staff all had crappy attitudes and really presented as though they could care less about YOUR problem.  I was clueless on the process of registering and how to apply for unemployment, and basically clueless on everything out here.  I just needed someone to simply smile and tell me it was going to be ok and then just give me the basic rundown of what I needed to do.  But instead I got answers like “we don’t do that here” and when asked where I go for that “we aren’t permitted to give out that information”.  REALLY?  And people wonder why veterans get so frustrated by the system.  Just do your damn jobs!!

So after I started working there and had my team of other veteran ladies with me, we managed to keep ourselves entertained and not let the tone of the office get to us as much.  We had our secret military language that no else understood so we could say things and not worry about getting into trouble.  Our favorite was we had this one guy in the office who was a thorn in everyone’s program.  He did and said some of the dumbest things.  So anytime he was around I would pop off Foxtrot Tango has arrived or something along those lines.  In the Navy (not sure if the other branches use this term), but a Foxtrot Tango (FT) – well I’m not going to give it away here because then it won’t be our secret anymore lol!    Another funny thing was to yell “cockroach”.  The reason for this is because I have serious ADHD and never stay on topic during a conversation.  I can start off with one topic, visit 6 others and end on something completely unrelated to why we started talking in the first place.  Some people relate “squirrel” to an ADHD person getting off subject but we thought it would be fun to say “cockroach” because when you say that word out loud in a crowded room it kinda freaks people out!  Yes, we did what we had to do to stay sane!

So to all of you veterans (women or men) that are struggling with those “civilians” in the office or workplace – just find your happy place.  Figure out (legal and non-violent) ways to entertain yourself.  They aren’t all bad so try to find the ones that you can relate to and just accept that you have to adjust to this new environment.  And remember – THEY  are the weird ones, not you!



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