Like many of my fellow military spouses, I’m getting ready for PCS season. I’ve got my checklists ready, farewells planned, kids signed up for new schools, and plans for moving my business to the new duty station. After 8 moves in 15 years of marriage, I have the process down (well sort of). As much experience as I have with managing the logistics of each move, the emotional upheaval that comes with each transition never goes away. Each move is like a small death, a letting go of the past assignment and preparing for the unknowns of the next one. We say goodbye to friends, schools, neighbors, and often secure jobs or thriving businesses with the knowledge that we have to put those puzzle pieces back together again on the other side. How many times can I take my life apart and put it back together and still be whole?
British psychologist and military spouse, Sue Jervis, writes about how military moves fragment our psyches and that the challenge for our own mental health is to repair that damage before we are hit with the next move. That requires looking at the losses, mourning them, talking about them, seeking support, and holding onto the best part of our past to teach us who we want to become during the next round.
Nobody has to tell us that moving around every 2-3 years is hard. That’s the average for military families and we know that the emotional, psychological, and financial impacts to spouses are real. But we don’t always talk about the silver lining that comes from experiencing this level of disruption in your life. Many of us literally give up our identities because of a PCS or because of the lifestyle of frequent relocation. Our original career plans don’t fit the demands of military life, or the toll of persevering on that path becomes too great.
Early in my marriage I found myself in just that boat. I was working for a large consulting firm, doing well and up for Partner soon. The only hitch was that I worked very long hours, and lived on airplanes and in hotels most of the time. I was always exhausted and found myself having heart problems in my early 30s. I was proud of my accomplishments, but couldn’t say I enjoyed my job. I was climbing a ladder that I thought was real success without really questioning what I was doing with my life.
Luckily for me, the Air Force literally saved my life. When my husband got orders to Turkey, I quit my consulting job, relieved that I was off the treadmill I had been on, but terrified that my career was over. Although it took a few years for me to sort out what I was really called to do, I’ve never regretted the changes I’ve made. As an independent consultant and coach I do work that is meaningful to me, and provides the flexibility for me to have a real life and a family I spend time with. If not for the forced move overseas, I’m not sure I would have found the courage to leave my corporate life and the façade of success I had been holding so tightly.
I was reflecting on all of this today as I read Sheryl Sandberg’s heartbreaking post about the loss of her husband and her experience with grief. In that post, she shares a simple prayer that says:
“Let me not die while I am still alive.”
That prayer struck a chord in me because it evokes the same kind of feeling I get during each PCS. All your belongings, your relationships, your very sense of identity can be yanked out from under you, yet the essence of YOU are still there. It is almost like a brush with death, where you are called to be reborn each time. For anyone who has experienced tragedy, you know with clarity in those moments what matters. You hold your loved ones tighter, make pledges to spend more time with people, and commit to letting go of the trivial things in life.
I am grateful for each and every one of those moves we’ve made and for the incredible journey that forces me to strip everything away and look at my life with new eyes each time. So the next time you are hijacked by your latest PCS, I challenge you to look for the silver lining and see it is a call to wholeness, to remember exactly who you are and to be that well.
When not PCSing, Michelle offers individual and group coaching for career-oriented military spouses. Contact her for your complimentary coaching session.