In the Marine Corps, you’re not paid to have a midlife crisis, or ask people to help you through your midlife crisis. You’re there to give the enemy a midlife crisis.” — GEN James Mattis

For the purpose the military exists — waging war in the cause of defending the nation and ensuring peace — I agree. But service members spend more time outside the uniform than inside the uniform. Which means this perspective comes with a specific context.


You will face a crisis or dissension making the transition out of the uniform. And how you command that transition is different than how you commanded your career.

When you’re in the military, you have to be committed. Commitment prevents casualties. When the price is your life or those with you, commitment is victory. What you do in combat not just breaks the enemy’s line, but breaks their will. You spend years learning your trade, the savage and brutal craft. You work up and train with hundreds of your new brothers and sisters, knowing everyone may not return. Knowing you will never be the same again.

But there’s only so much of that anyone can take. Commitment has a limit. There’s only so much deployment you can do. Before you’re looking at the hollow passageway of the return. Returning back to what feels like civilization; returning back to everything you feel you left behind. And everything leaving you behind.


The end of the campaign becomes another waypoint of your life. Once your rhythm calms down and the work finished, there’s no going back. And there will be a crisis. A crisis of purpose, a crisis of cause.

“Crisis” can sound a little daunting, but it’s not. You can’t have a crisis with your heart underneath the uniform. The uniform prescribes limits and intents you’ve chosen to follow through. It’s powerful and beautiful. And choosing to serve in the military, a cascade of consequences enter into play. Much is required, because it’s been much you have given.

But as you get out, some of those old habits remain. You can’t let them go. Many of those habits you shouldn’t let go. Yet there isn’t such an easy agreement on the outside. There isn’t a convenience of selection. You don’t get clear choices having such cascading contexts and consequences. You’ll be beset by a singular question: Will what helped you survive the past help you thrive the future?

You don’t know. The stakes are high, but not exactly the same. The team is completely different, as is the terrain. What you choose, will choose you. But you don’t have the examples, contacts, or contracts binding you outside as you had inside.

And that’s the service member’s dilemma: The more committed you are inside, the more it separates you from life outside.


Today is a world where service has lost many contexts — but the context of uniform remains. The day you end service can feel like the day you’ve departed one life for another. But you’re not departing what it meant to serve. Your commitment isn’t just to the uniform, it’s to your internalized definition of service.

What you have to find to persevere is your definition of service.

Without that definition, the military’s definition will help as you put your seabag away. That’s where the crisis comes from — that’s why so many want to go back, even when they can’t.

When you no longer have an enemy outside to incite crisis for, or force them to pause, the front turns within. How do you start preparing now to be ready for that fight?