Russ Sanderlin – Part 2; Transitioning Back to Civilian Life

Developing Soft-Skills While Transitioning

The Marines were very task oriented, and had very concise communication (with little professionalism). It wasn’t bad, it was just easier to get things done. But when transitioning to a civilian job, that meant Russ wasn’t always known as the friendliest guy. He was super nice, just still had that task oriented mindset.

One of the things he actually got in trouble for at AAA was being TOO mission forward. When he’d go to help a customer at desk-side he’d get there, do what he needed to, and get out. He had to learn that there was more to his job than just fixing things. He needed to build a report, try to connect with the customer, and get to know them. The more important thing was the relationship he built than the actual fixing of the computer.

AAA was a very old, not-for-profit organization. They cared a lot more about politics and keeping relationships than making the most money. Russ was actually written up for not prioritizing those people skills enough. They put him on performance probation.

Learning to prioritize those people skills was really helpful for Russ, especially fresh out of the Marines. He’s really thankful he had that opportunity.

We then went on to discuss the value in Russ’ wide spectrum of professionalism. He went from kind of gruff Marines, to a family-focused business. Because he had to learn quickly how to communicate with different types of people, it added another layer to his communication abilities.

Resources That Helped Russ While Transitioning

It was the early 2000’s when Russ left the military. There weren’t a whole lot of resources available, and he really leaned on recruiting agencies. When you get out of the military you have tons of experience. But, when transitioning back to the civilian world, you have to enter the workforce a little bit lower. You know you have all of this technical knowledge. But, depending on how you sell yourself, the skills don’t always translate 1:1.

This is where certifications really come in handy. Russ didn’t fully appreciate the value in someone being certified until he became a hiring manager. With the help of certifications, Russ was able to see that someone had a basic understanding of the skills he was looking for. They didn’t need to be perfect, but he knew they were at least acquainted with the subject. Which puts a potential candidate a little bit higher than someone without that certification.

Russ wasn’t able to get any certifications while he served. They just didn’t have the budget for it. But, he recommends putting as much time into yourself as you can. Then, when you’re transitioning out of the military, you have skills already developed.

Russ got his college degree when he was 33, way after transitioning out of the military. He got a business degree even though he was in the tech sector, and that really helped balance his skills. College itself opened a lot of doors for him. A lot of people think you need to choose either college or the military. But no one’s stopping you from doing both.

Brotherhood in the Marines

With Russ having a background in tech, I asked why he chose to join the Marines versus one of the more technically focused branches of the military. His answer was, because the Marines are the best. He liked the respect he was able to carry around.

Russ also really appreciated the brotherhood concept the Marines share. He mentioned the scene in the movie Full Metal Jacket, where when one of the guys messes up, they all have to take responsibility for it. It’s the concept that you’re always as fast as your slowest person, and as a team it’s important to build each other up. Whereas some of the other branches of the military are a lot more corporate and self-focused.

When transitioning to civilian life Russ had a hard time without that brotherhood lifestyle. In a more corporate world, people are there to make a paycheck. Which is definitely fair. But in the military, being a Marine is a lifestyle. It’s a job, but it doesn’t really feel like a job.

Now Russ is part of a group called the Iron Council, which has a lot of veterans involved. They’re kind of like a brotherhood, and they work together to improve various parts of their lives and keep each other accountable. Kind of like a Mastermind group.

Advice from Russ

Joining the Military

When his son graduated from high school, Russ gave him some choices. He didn’t need to go to college, but he needed to do something. Could be military, some other schooling, or just hustling (working). His son chose to hustle, and Russ was okay with that. It at least gave him something to build a career with.

The military is very different than it used to be, and Russ isn’t necessarily a huge fan of how it’s being used now. For all that he enjoyed his time in the military, he wouldn’t recommend it right off the bat. However, he still fully recommends the Coast Guard to people. Russ thought the idea of being able to travel, and getting stationed all over would be really cool. And you still get that military status, which opens a lot of doors.

Russ’s advice for young people is just to do something. Find something you enjoy that works for you.

Transitioning Out of the Military

For people leaving the military, Russ really stressed the concept of having a plan for when you get out. He left the military when he was around 39. That meant he had served for 20 years, and could retire if he wanted to.

When it comes to finding what’s next for yourself, Russ said,

“Are you running to something, or running away from something? ‘Cause if you’re running to something, you’re growing. If you’re running away from something/avoiding something, that’s not the right way to solve your problem.”

– Russ Sanderlin

When you join the military you’re locked into a contract, and there’s a lot of negative that tends to go with that. People view it as being trapped, and victims, but that isn’t the whole story. If you can separate yourself from that concept and be your own person, making your own decisions about what’s important in your life, there’s a lot you can learn.

Russ really felt like if he could’ve told his younger self those things, he would’ve made some very different decisions.

Life Is What You Make Of It

When Russ was deployed to Saudi for 6 months, he was at a base that was dry and walled off, and they couldn’t leave. It was like he was in a penitentiary. He could go home, go to work, go to the chow hall, and go to the library (where he’d play computer games). That was it. And he had a fiance at the time that he missed so much. He was really negative about being separated from her. When his 6 months were over he was ready to get out.

There was another guy who was serving with Russ at the time, and he stayed for another six months. Russ realized that this other guy really made the best of the situation they were in. He used his time efficiently, did college remotely, and sharpened his technical skills. Russ saw it as a prison, but this other guy saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of.

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