Joining the military is a huge commitment; it’s not one to be taken lightly. Even if it’s merely a first-term enlistment requiring four years of active and two years of inactive duty instead of a 20-year career, just by signing the enlistment contract, brave men and women are putting their lives on the line. Surely, some young recruits are full of moxy, and couldn’t wait to graduate high school and sign on the dotted line. Meanwhile, others are scared to death they’ll be deployed and either get captured by the enemy, or come home in a wheelchair or worse… in a body bag.
Regardless of how someone feels at the time of enlistment, the Armed Forces has a way of turning a young man or woman’s fear into courage, habitual tardiness into punctuality, indecision into decision, disrespect into respect, laziness into strength, subordination into leadership, and guts into glory – all the makings of a fine entrepreneur.
As a writer who collaborates with business owners and entrepreneurs and an independent journalist who covers entrepreneurship, I couldn’t but help notice a common thread: A lot of service members (active, inactive and retired) are researching entrepreneurship and starting businesses upon leaving and retiring from the military. Some of them are even having their non-military spouses start businesses while they’re still on active duty. This way, when the service member exits the military, they don’t have to trade in their uniforms for a suit and tie.
Anxiety of Transitioning Out of the Military
Understandably, there can be a lot of anxiety linked to transitioning out of the military, especially when there are still children at home. Given the choice between a corporate job and running their own businesses, many service members are opting for the latter. While the personal reasons for taking the plunge into entrepreneurship vary from person-to-person, some things are clear: Service members develop an incredible resilience and mental toughness in the military. They learn how to work under stress, and they learn excellent organizational and leadership skills. If we’ve learned anything from veteran entrepreneurs, the military is the perfect training ground for America’s greatest business owners, period.
Veterans with PTSD and Disabilities
It’s no secret that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) afflicts thousands of veterans. The symptoms of PTSD can make it difficult for some veterans to be in social situations and hold certain kinds of jobs; however, when they are their own boss, they can better control their environments, and no one can fire them because they’re too worried, negative, depressed, or appear to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Common symptoms associated with PTSD include insomnia, trouble concentrating, irritability, avoidance, and panic attacks – all of which can make it difficult to hold down a job and support one’s family. When a veteran carries the emotional scars of a war zone, the psychological burden can be minimized by running their own businesses where they don’t have to conform to society’s standards of being a model employee.
In addition to PTSD sufferers, entrepreneurship is ideal for many disabled veterans. For example, if a veteran has to be in a wheelchair, it can be a lot more difficult to get ready in the morning, commute to work, and punch a clock by 8 a.m. every day. When a disabled veteran is running his or her own business, they make their own schedule because they’re their own boss. They can tailor a business around their current lifestyle, disabilities, goals and aspirations, instead of having to find light or modified duties in the corporate world.
What the Statistics Say
In a Small Business Administration study entitled, “Factors Affecting Entrepreneurship among Veterans,” it found that veterans are “at least 45 percent more likely than those with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed.” The study also found that these two groups of veterans were the most likely to be self-employed after military service: 1) veterans with four or fewer years of service, and 2) career military retirees with 20 or more years of service. The self-employed military retirees were generally older, male, married, and had decent income from their pensions.
Golden Age of the Vetrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint at heart; it requires discipline, persistence, tenacity, planning, leadership skills, and the ability to move from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm. When someone has a successful military career, they learn loyalty to their country, their superiors, and their men and women; they learn physical and mental toughness; how to be decisive, and how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. In war zones, they go in with a plan but if they fall, they find another way.
The military gives people the tools to become a disciplined problem solver; it gives them the confidence to take risks. Whether it’s on the battlefield or in the boardroom, service members learn how to put one foot in front of the next and push through. The military cultivates and finely polishes great leaders who know the importance of their team, and who value their team's opinions, feelings, and suggestions.
Today’s generation of vets are living in the golden age of what has been coined the “vetrepreneur.” Even though statistically, entrepreneurship is nothing new to veterans, today there are more resources available than ever before to help veterans go into business for themselves.
Service men and women are returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Germany, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and other countries to a startup-friendly culture. The startup world has truly collided with veterans, and since 9/11, we have seen an explosion in vet-friendly programs that are focused on easing the path to entrepreneurship. If you’re a veteran, here is a list of some valuable resources that can help you realize your dreams of business ownership:
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)
Elainna Ciaramella is an independent journalist, business blogger, and ghostwriter for entrepreneurs and business professionals nationwide. She has written extensively on the topics of business, entrepreneurship, law, and medicine. She is well-versed in search engine optimization, content marketing, and social media. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and Instagram.
Originally published on LinkedIn.