The Naked Truth: Charlotte’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Charlotte shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

Charlotte has been a military spouse for 3 years, and recently moved to Germany for her first overseas PCS. She is now an unemployed engineer wondering how she is going to fit career into military life. The following excerpt is taken from my interview with Charlotte. In order to protect her identity, I am not using her real name. Here is Charlotte’s story in her own words…

I never ever thought I would do anything but get a job. In my family, my mom works and my dad’s a farmer, so growing up I always worked. I have always had jobs ever since high school, through college and everything. Now I kind of feel like I’m a bump on a log because I don’t have any children yet either. I should be making money and saving up for the future. I don’t want to be vain or anything, but I made good grades in school, and I felt like I was a smart enough person that I should be working. I should be using my brain rather than feeling like it’s atrophying, like I kind of feel like it’s doing here. Yeah, I just wanted to work.

(Working gives me that) satisfaction that you have something to do with your day. The (engineering) projects that we did were good. My boss was involved in financial aid type stuff and rehabilitation projects. So I feel like we actually did good for the community because we would help them get government grants and loans for low to moderate income areas. And there was some satisfaction in seeing a neighborhood that was kind of lower end, flooded all the time, and that you could smell their sewer. A project might take a while but eventually they had this nicer area and then their property value probably went up. So, yeah, there was that feeling of satisfaction. It was just a feeling that you had something that you’re doing with your life. I mean I want to work. I want to have that feeling I accomplished something at the end of the day.

But we said we wanted to go to Europe. We’re young, we don’t have children. We love traveling. And my husband said, “Charlotte, it’ll be hard to get a job.” I said, “Okay, whatever.” I’ve never, ever not gotten a job that I applied for, until here. So it was kind of like, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, whatever. We’re going to live in Europe. I don’t care.” So we put Germany as our number one. And then by this time my bosses knew that I was going to be moving. I was with my co-worker guy on the road doing a project thing when my husband called. And I was just kind of like, “Ahhh! I’m moving to Germany.” I was thrilled, thrilled to be here. I love being here… and now I can’t find a job.

It’s not working out like I thought it would.

I’ve been applying, applying, and in the meantime I got the substitute teaching job because it would give me a little bit of money and just to keep me doing something during the day. And then we found out my husband was going to deploy so I was like, “Oh my God! What am I going to do on a deployment?”

I got a call the other day about an energy engineer (position). And I was like, “Oh, this will be cool. I could do that.” And so I had gotten the email that said, “We’re referring you to the hiring official.” That happens all the time and then they send me another email that says, “We didn’t pick you.” (But) I got a call. And I was all excited. But then he called to ask what my DEROS date was. Everyone says they’re not supposed to ask you that. And I’m like, well what am I going to do, tell them they’re not supposed to ask me that? I kind of have to answer the question. So I told him and we’ve been here a year and a couple months now. So are they going to be like, “Well, we’re not even going to look at her because she’s out of time?” So now I’m wondering should I even try anymore because I’m only going to have another year and a half here?

Do I give up? I don’t know.

I’ll just apply for anything to stay busy, secretary, whatever. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like you know what, forget those things. We’ve only got a year and half left (in Germany), and if it’s not going to be professional, or in my degree program, or what I studied, or put me towards getting that PE, I’m not going to try anymore. So I’m kind of just focusing on that. And I’m at a place right now where it may not happen. I might just have to accept it and quit complaining that I get to travel and have fun all day.

I still kind of cry to my husband every once in a while, “I’m stupid. Nobody thinks I’m smart. I can’t get a job.” And he’s like, “It’s not that, it’s Europe.” I’ll talk to someone and they’re like, “I can’t get a job either.” And I’m like, “Well you’re really smart. I don’t see why you couldn’t get one.” And then I feel better. So it’s kind of like a roller coaster ride. I’m just really worried that I’ll go back to the U.S. and…are they going to think that I wasn’t smart enough to get a job or qualified enough? Or are they going to think I was lazy by taking a three-year break? Are they going to think you’re behind other people your age who have their PE by now?

And then we’ve talked about when we get back to the U.S., probably starting a family. And I know they can’t not hire you, but in my last job we did some outdoor stuff. You know I had to go climb down manholes and stuff like that. So I’m afraid that I’ll get a job, then I’ll get pregnant, and they’ll be like, “Thanks a lot!” So I’m wondering if this is it. Was my three years in Georgia going to be my whole career? Am I never going to find a job again? Was I on a roll and then did it end? Am I just going to be a mom now? Which is not bad, but in my mind I always thought I’d be a working mom, because my mom was.

I guess the attitude in my house growing up was (looking down on) the ladies who lunch. My mom would always be like, “Oh, the tennis girls…” because she’s still at work. She probably was a little jealous because she had sisters or friends whose husbands made a good enough salary where they didn’t have to work, and could be full-time moms, and they were happy. But my dad was a farmer and my parents couldn’t afford it. And my parents sent us to private school and they made a lot of sacrifices. So my mom is in her fifties, and she still works, and I don’t work. I’m her daughter. I’m a lady who lunches now. So there’s a little bit of me feeling like I need to tell my mom, “I promise I’m still looking for a job. I don’t want you to feel disappointed in me.”

It’s just how I was raised. You work.

I’m not as confident (now), because I feel like maybe they’re not picking me because I’m not smart or qualified enough. And then I’m wondering if I’m forgetting stuff. Yeah, like sometimes I’ll be in the grocery store and I’m trying to add up something. I’m like, “Oh God, I can’t do basic math in my head!” Just things like that. I feel like I’m not using that part of my brain as much. I wonder, am I getting…not dumber…but am I just kind of getting out of that mindset? And will I get back into it if I get a job again, or would I be behind other people?

I think you have to have something to show for your life. I don’t know. I just feel like God put us here to work. I feel bad. There’s people out there who don’t have what I have. I feel like I’m undeserving of everything that I have if I don’t work for it, and so I just kind of feel bad that I have all of these things, and this wonderful life, and I don’t even have to work for it now. And other people would love to have this and they work hard.

I just feel like what’s life about if it’s not working or helping others? I feel like if I had children, maybe that (is) helping someone else. You’re accomplishing something. You’re raising a new person. That would be satisfying….But what am I accomplishing by not working? I don’t feel like I should be able to just do whatever I want just because my husband makes a good enough salary that I don’t have to work.

I feel really kind of up and down lately because I’ve been thinking I don’t want children for a while. I want to put it off, but some of our friends are starting to have children. And I told my husband, “You need to just pray for me to have a change of heart about children because I don’t know how I feel about them.” So in the last couple of months he must be praying for me. (Now) I’m like, “Well okay, it’d be kind of cool to be a mom.” So now there’s this factor on the side where I’m like, “Hmm. Would I work? Would I work full-time? Could I get a part-time thing? Could I do that?” I don’t know.

I feel like my hopes and dreams are a little bit in flux now because I don’t know what I want to do anymore. It’s really fuzzy.

I just kind of think God will put his will in my life, and if he has a job for me then I guess it’ll happen. So maybe I haven’t gotten a job yet because of other reasons. Maybe I had to learn some stuff about myself and make these friends so that I might be more open to being a mom later. I don’t know how I feel. But I have to think about it so much more than I ever used to, which is kind of annoying. Because I had a job, I was good, I was be-bopping along and now it’s like, “What do I want to be? What do I want to do? What can I do? Maybe I’ll apply for this job. Maybe I’ll do this later.” So I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m really a grownup yet because I don’t know what’s going to happen.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I don’t think my husband did either…. Whenever we were in (Georgia), my husband was in the Air Force and I worked here. And that was how it was and I wasn’t involved in any of the on base stuff. It wasn’t ever a really big factor. I hadn’t shopped on base. I didn’t do my grocery shopping there. I didn’t go to the doctor on base because I had been working at this job before we were married, so that was my primary insurance. So it wasn’t really a major factor except that we lived in Georgia instead of in Louisiana, near our families. And since we’ve gotten here, it’s just so much more. I’m on the base every day. I shop there. I go to the doctor there, go to the library there, and the way I’ve made friends is through spouse clubs. So all of a sudden, I’m this Air Force wife, when before I was but it didn’t really matter. It was just my husband’s job.

I feel like I’m more defined by my husband because he’s the bread winner, and he’s the one with the job. It’s his career that we’re following, and I’m here for him, which is kind of annoying, (but) I mean it’s not a big deal.

But I’m like, “I had my own thing before.”

Sometimes I’m a little snooty,“I’m not like y’all. I’m not just a spouse. I have my own thing.” I don’t need to be defined by my husband because a lot of people are. That’s rude, but I think that you need to work. You need to have a goal. You need to be in school. You need to be doing something. And if you’re not, and you’re just what I am… I’m kind of something I didn’t want to be. I’m just a spouse now, because I don’t really have a daily purpose.

I’ve also kind of come to the conclusion that these women who are like me, are not just mooches or they’re not out getting their nails done every five minutes, like I had in my mind when I worked. (I thought,) “How are these girls getting their nails done at 10am and chilling at Target?” Some of them were probably like me. They want to work, or they work and I don’t know it. I’ve kind of learned that I’m not a nice person for thinking that way about people. So it makes me (see) everybody has their own thing, and what works for me probably doesn’t work for another person.
I hope that I will get a GS position here, and then everyone says once you’re in the system you can transfer. So I’ll just try to go back to my old-school way of living and I’ll get a job. But now I know that there are resources at the base and ways to make friends. I’ll try to be a little more involved. I think it’s probably almost a good thing that this has happened to me, because if I can learn something from it I’ll be a more rounded person rather than (feeling) like work is everything.

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