Leaving the military felt like walking to the edge of a cliff and jumping off. I didn’t feel prepared, I wasn’t ready, and I didn’t know what would happen when I jumped. But deep down I knew it was the right thing to do for my family. I had just become a mom and finished a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, and I knew there was a good possibility that six months after my son was born, I could deploy again. It was time to hang up my uniform and dive headfirst into my new role as a stay-at-home mom and military spouse.
What I didn’t know then was that the transition out of the Air Force wasn’t the end. What felt so final, so resolute, so conclusive, really wasn’t. It was actually the beginning of the next phase of my life. My life wasn’t over. The pinnacle of success had only just begun.
I didn’t have to stop growing. I didn’t have to stop serving.
SAYING GOODBYE WAS JUST THE BEGINNING
Saying goodbye to my military career wasn’t the end. Instead, it was the beginning of a life that couldn’t happen if I didn’t let go to take the next step in my journey. I could and would continue to grow and change. Life would keep moving, and saying goodbye to the military was an important first step in my journey. A step I needed. A step that felt risky because it felt like it could be the biggest mistake of my life.
But instead of being a mistake, I found it was the right decision for more reasons than I could have ever expected. I thought I was giving up all that I had worked for as I took my life in a new direction. And for a long time, I was lost. Even though I was moving in the right direction, I couldn’t see where I was going. I felt like I was freefalling off the cliff I had jumped off of. And not in a graceful swan dive, roll with the punches sort of way. Instead, I was kicking and screaming while trying to climb back up to the cliff I had been standing on. I was dreaming of what would have happened next while not seeing the reality of why I left. It was like my body was convulsing and fighting the change that was not only inevitable but needed.
But somewhere in my fall, I decided to take action. It was something small—simply writing for five minutes a week. This was the first step in changing my life and bringing me to where I am today. But for a while, even though it was the right first step, I didn’t recognize or know it was the right one.
For a long time, it felt like I was lost trying to discover what I should be doing next. And even though I made a lot of mistakes in my journey, and almost quit a few times, I did find myself and my new purpose. When I look back, I realize falling, failing, and growing were part of the process of self-discovery. A road without twists, turns, and detours may be straight, but that is hardly how life really is.
THE FIRST STEP MAY BE SMALL
The first step in your new adventure may be something small. It might be so small you don’t even recognize it is the first step. The second step might push you backward. There will be twists and turns, missteps, and closed doors. But there will also be open doors, golden opportunities, and risks that make you feel alive. That is what makes up the journey of your next adventure. And the only way to discover the next thing is to keep moving, to build a new path, a new adventure.
Transition isn’t easy, but it is the open door to a new adventure. An adventure we may not want to take, or instead, one we are excited about taking. Either way, the transition is not the end, it is the beginning. And when you take that first step your new journey begins.
Amanda Huffman is a military spouse and veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer, including a deployment to Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career. She published her first book Women of the Military in 2019, sharing the stories of twenty-eight military women. The same year she launched her podcast Women of the Military. The podcast has represented all five military branches and featured stories from the twenty-third Secretary of the Air Force and women Air Force Service Pilots. You can learn more about Amanda at her blog Airman to Mom.