The Naked Truth: Joanna’s Story

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

Joanna has been a military spouse twice, and describes her journey from an abusive first marriage to a successful career in nursing, while finding the “perfect” man the second time around. She is fortunate to enjoy a good fit between her career and military life, now that she is working in the DoD system. Her story begins in the days of her first marriage when she worked part-time as a seamstress to help make ends meet. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Joanna’s real name.

I had my own business as a seamstress. I did uniforms and I had a lot of people that I’ve met and I had contact with. It was really nice because I got to do it out of my house and always had money, which was always nice. Especially when you’re eking between paychecks, it was really nice.

I saw myself number one as the mom and spouse, and number two as the worker. And it was kind of nice being able to contribute to the family income, as well as making sure that my house was nice and my kids were taken care of, and I was not missing anything there.

(But), I was in a very abusive relationship… I picked a day, and I sat him down and I said, “I’m going to leave you and this is the reason why. I can’t deal with this anymore.” My kids saw him hit me. My kids definitely saw him treating me terribly and that’s not who I am. And I let myself get that way. That’s not right. And it’s a shame that more people don’t stand up for themselves. At that point, I’m like, “You know what? Screw you. I’m standing up for myself. I’m done with you.” I put the money away, set up a place to stay, set up a job, and got the hell out of dodge.

I was poor. I tell you, I was dirt poor going through nursing school with three children under the age of five. And my mom even said “Why am I going to help you? You’re going to fail anyway.” But I think she did that to piss me off to the point where I would say, “I’m going to prove you wrong lady!” I proved everybody wrong. I got out of a nursing school with a B average. I aced not just my exit exam, but my boards.

I felt a strong sense of accomplishment and I felt very proud of myself, because that’s a hard thing. If you ever went through nursing school, that’s a bear…And I was able to prove to my kids. I know that they’re young, but I was able to show my kids, “You know what? I don’t have to sit back and collect welfare and collect food stamps, and just be.”

I did something with myself. I got up and I fought.

(Then) I was in the nursing part of the rehab (center) where you’re really doing intense nursing. It was fabulous. I really loved it. It was awesome…I mean it was fabulous because you had that sense of worth. You were worth something. You did something. You accomplished something.

You know, coming from a place where I was told for seven years that I wasn’t worth spit, it’s kind of nice. To actually have that worth and know in my heart that I was worth something. I mean I accomplished three children. I accomplished raising those children. I accomplished a house. I accomplished all the things that go along with being a military spouse, and helping others, and making friends, and making money and being the best spouse I was able to for that person. But it’s quite an accomplishment when you see it literally on paper. You have a license in your hands. You get to have letters after your name. Nobody can take that from you.

(And then) I met the best guy in the world, to me anyway. He’s awesome… But the decision to marry him was very easy to be honest with you. It was probably one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had in my life, because he was perfect. And he accepted me. And he accepted the package that came along, which were my kids…The decision (to move to Ohio with him) was very easy. I’m not opposed to moving. I feel it’s an adventure.

It was very important for me to work and to bring in money so I can be a contributor to the household.

My husband did make enough, but I felt like a leach if I wasn’t working. I know it sounds really bad, but there’s no reason at all that I would be staying home. What would be the logic behind that when I’m an able-bodied person that is able to go out and do my craft?

And I have this fear of being poor because I was so poor for so long. And looking back, seeing that person that had to sell her jewelry, I never want to get in that position again. So if I’m able-bodied I’m going to go out and work. I like to work. It’s fun. I really enjoy it. So that’s my reasoning.

I took a pay cut. I took a huge pay cut, but I felt it was worth it because I got to be with just an amazing person who’s not just a great husband, but a great father.

I maneuvered enough that I worked two 16-hours and an 8-hour shift in three days. So I was able to do all of that and then be home the whole week with my kids and my family, and take care of what needed to be done, which was nice. So unfortunately, we didn’t do much on the weekends, but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were the days that I worked, which was nice because it kept the other days free.

What happened with your next move to South Dakota?

Looking for a job actually was very easy. I fell into the job that I had wanted. I started working (at the base hospital) very soon after I got to South Dakota, which was nice.
It’s amazing when you’re that close (to work) how much time you have. I’d be to work at 7:15. I’d leave work at 4:30. I’d be home by 4:33. My kids were home. It was great. I was able to have my little flow and everything worked well. And so I worked there until my husband deployed for a year and change, which was hard, very hard. But we got through it. And I was just exhausted. I was just tired because I didn’t just work. I did Officer’s Spouse Club. I was on the board for that. I ran a support group. I went to school. I volunteered at the thrift store. What else did I do? I took care of the kids. I took care of dogs. We had two dogs at that time. And I was still volunteering as like a quasi-key spouse.

But I loved what I did. I really did. I loved helping the community. I loved the part that I got to help the military community. And not just the active duty, and the dependents, and their children. I got to help the retired people. It was kind of neat seeing the retired people coming through. I said, “Wow, what they’ve seen.” It was very gratifying.

And how were you feeling when you moved to Germany?

I learned German in high school. I took four years in it, and I always wanted to go and live overseas. I think that would be quite an adventure. So, I always think of our moves as little adventures.
Literally, we got here, and within a few days I went to (the hospital) with resume in hand and said, “I’m getting a job.” Had my paperwork and they said, “Where do you want to work?”
When I had worked originally, I had worked with someone I called Salty. That’s the only way to describe her. She was downright mean. I won’t lie to you. I cried every day when I left work. I said, “I just want to quit.” And I had gotten finally into the government system and (my husband) said, “If you quit now, that kills you for the rest of your life for a government job. Just stick it out.” I just was miserable…Eventually Salty got orders and she’s gone now. Thank God, she’s gone.

I see myself a little bit stronger obviously because I survived that really hard first year. That was the hardest. And my husband didn’t cave to me saying, “I am so done.” It’s funny because I go to work every day. I get there before 7:00 in the morning, even though my shift doesn’t start until 7:30. I don’t usually leave until about 5:00 and my shift ends at 4:30. Sometimes I don’t take lunch, because you have somebody who needs help. You’re there and it’s really nice…I’m very proud of what I do.

It’s hard when you have to start from scratch. That’s why I’m happy I’m in the military system now. I can transfer and I’m not going to be at the bottom of the totem pole anymore.

The only thing that is bad about working, I will say, is the fact that a lot of places have this misconception that officers’ spouses shouldn’t work. It’s an old way of thinking. Very depressing way of thinking because what are they going to do?

I’m getting this perception because a lot of things that I wanted to do are catered to women who don’t work. I wanted to join the Officers’ Spouse Club here, (and they said), “We have night-time meetings.” Only one. I can’t take time off to be at your meetings in the morning and I’m sorry, but people do have jobs. I do key spouse. “Well why don’t we have it at lunchtime?” Because I work and sometimes I don’t get lunches. So it’s all of that in my face saying, “Why do you work?”

It really upsets me and I have now boycotted the OSC, which I know I shouldn’t do, but I’m very annoyed with them telling me one thing and doing another. It’s very frustrating for me. There’s people who like to participate who can’t because they work and I’m one of them. I love doing that kind of thing, and I love knowing people who are outside of my work. I love the people I work with but I don’t have any real friends here. And I kind of miss that. I don’t have that anymore because by the time I get home from work, and doing everything I need to do, run around the kids. I’m tired. But the thing is if you want to have something that’s supporting the military and supporting the spouses, why don’t you make it so everybody can attend and not just a select few? That’s the thing that upsets me.

How does being a military spouse influence you?

My dad being in the military, growing up that way, having him going away. That’s all I know and I don’t know any different. It’s odd to me if you don’t put a uniform on every day. I guess I’m not normal. I like that I can support my husband and I can support the lifestyle that we do. We have this certain lifestyle and we move and we pick up and make a life in 15 different places. I’d get bored if I had to stay in one spot.

Life is an adventure and I think it’s really cool that I can be married to someone who is helping America stay free.

And growing up, my father was a huge influence on me. My dad was a Vietnam vet and retired from the Air Force reserves a few years ago. And having that patriotic way of thought for something bigger than you is kind of neat. It’s really a neat thing that my husband gets to defend my freedom as well as a lot of people’s freedoms and be part of something bigger than I am. And the funny thing is he can go and get a job wherever in the States, get paid double the amount, but he chooses to be in the military because he likes it.

The Naked Truth: Andrea’s Story

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

Andrea reflects on her transition from the workforce to being a stay-at-home mom. She says it was difficult at first, but once she started believing that she was doing something important and “not failing,” she felt good about it. The following is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Andrea, which is not her real name. She begins by talking about the job she held as an admissions counselor before becoming a mother.

(When we moved to DC), it was, “Yeah, I’m definitely gonna work.” We had a lot of bills left over from (my mother-in-law’s) funeral. So we had a lot of debt that we had to deal with from that. (I also cared about) making friends because we’re going to a new place and I don’t know anybody. So yeah, (I wanted to work) to make friends, to get out of the house. Finances was probably the number one. Otherwise I would have just gone to school.

I was an admissions counselor (for a university), so I was helping people get enrolled. And a lot of our enrollments were actually military members. So for me that was great, because I could actually talk to them and understand what their concerns were, probably the same concerns I had. And, you know, I was still doing school. So in the beginning it was awesome. Here I am doing school, and it was free. And again, it’s the social thing I was really enjoying. And I was really good at the job. I was really able to enroll people and get people going. So I thought.

(But then) I wasn’t really making friends, so I was sort of depressed a lot. Being able to talk to a lot of military members, over the phone, from all over the states, all over the world, was kind of fun. Because I’m talking to people who are sort of in the same situation. They’re in a place where they don’t know anybody, they’re not really liking the area, so they’re just sort of doing it because they have to. Which I found to be very good for me, at least. It helps me stay out of any funks, and keep going. But I wasn’t too happy really, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like (my husband’s) job and the hours he was working. (With) his commute, by the time he got home he would eat and go to bed. It was horrible. Weekends were just spent cleaning the house, because I was working full-time, and he was working full-time. We really weren’t doing anything. We weren’t traveling. California was great for all that stuff. We weren’t doing that now in Virginia. It was just sort of a day-to-day routine, at that point. So it was just “blah.” I wasn’t depressed or anything like that, it was just “blah.”

The job was stressful. At first, I thought it was a stellar company, and then it turned out it was not as good as I thought it was. I want to say 98% of the students I dealt with were military. And, while the college was viewed by the Department of Education as a real school, it didn’t have any of the national accreditations. So, I’m starting to hear back from students, “Hey, I tried to transfer this to another school, but it’s not transferring because it doesn’t have national accreditation.” At that point now I’m feeling bad, because I had gotten military people to sign up for classes that will get them a degree if they stay with us. But if you were looking to get a real education, or transfer it to another school, nine times out of ten they’re not going to transfer. But to be true to myself and have integrity, especially when it came to other military members, I’m going to be forward and straight up. So I struggled with that for a while.

Integrity comes first.

Integrity will always come first, and I will never, ever deliberately mess over a military person. Never. And, so I didn’t. I told them, “This is what we can do. This is the place that I know it’s going to transfer over to. But if you want to go to a nationally accredited school, you need to check with them first. Because I’m telling you, they may not take them.” I would tell them everything from the beginning, and then my sales numbers started to come back down. And so work got a lot more stressful.

I stayed with them until I gave birth to my daughter. I was working for them, and then I was going to start working from home. Except my daughter initially had a lot of health problems. And I just wasn’t able to keep up my job from home. So I resigned.

(I was) kind of sad, because I really did enjoy talking to people all day long. I had some guys in Korea and Afghanistan, who would use their minutes to call me just to chit- chat, because they knew that I would be bright and sunny and made their day better. They started with a stupid question about school, and we’d just talk for 20 minutes. I felt bad leaving them because I felt almost like I was abandoning people. But that was how it was.

I wanted to see if things settled down with my daughter, maybe I would be able to pick up again with that company, or maybe find another one where I could work from home. Just while she was little.

But then we moved to Germany.

But, (my daughter) just kept having all these little (problems). For the first six months, things just weren’t quite right. So we just kept going to the doctors, back and forth. At six months she had a really bad problem that she actually was hospitalized for. Three months later, she had a really bad episode where she went catatonic. And we went back to the hospital, but this time they found out that it was an obstruction of the small intestine that had to have surgery. So she had surgery, and all of that. And by that time, I just never did make it to a point where I felt good enough to get someone to help me watch her, or put her into daycare. I just didn’t trust anybody else to raise my kid at that point.

It was frustrating. It was lonely. I missed talking. And then when you do get around to your friends, the only thing you have to talk about is wet diapers. It was very frustrating for me. I’ve never not been able to talk to people before. Because I was the middle of five kids, I don’t know how not to interact with people. I didn’t really have a whole lot outside of my house or my daughter going on. So I started doing play groups, and things like that. But it’s just not the same. You don’t get breaks from the baby, you don’t get breaks from the family. And you’ve got nothing to talk about with a real person anymore. All you know how to do is sing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song. So it was really frustrating for me. I hate to call work my time, but it is. I missed having my time.

And then of course, you go through “Am I a bad mom because I feel this way?”

The first six months I just thought I’m one of those over-paranoid moms. I need to just back off with her medical stuff. There’s nothing wrong with my kid. Stop being a hypochondriac for your daughter. But it was just sort of sad, because I’d lost all of those connections at work. I wasn’t social. I didn’t like it very much, being a stay-at-home mom.

But at six months, when I knew I was right (about my daughter), it changed everything. Now I’m like, “No, I’m a great mom. And you want to know why? Because I’ve known this for six months and you doctors didn’t.” Then I felt like a good stay-at-home mom, and this is a real job too. I just don’t get paid. So that sort of changed my attitude about it. That’s when we started doing play groups, and I was socializing more, and that made me feel better.

Tell me more about what you were thinking when you arrived in Germany.

Well, my daughter was getting older. She was about one and a half. (I thought I’d) put her in the CDC a few days a week, and maybe I can find a part-time job somewhere. I hadn’t necessarily thought of going back full-time, but definitely part-time. And then we got here and we found out I was pregnant. I was like, “So, that might not happen.” Because I definitely don’t want to be working the first six months of his life. Maybe I can still find something I can do from home, but those are more elusive than reality just yet, for me at least. Especially not having finished my Bachelor’s that makes it harder.

You look around, and your only options really are on base because I don’t speak German. And the options on base are very slim because of the fact that all military wives are here. So it’s a lot more competitive to get a job on base, at least one that you actually want to have, unless you want to work at the BX or the CDC. I’m not saying anything negative about those jobs, but those are different hours. You can’t really plan, you don’t know you’re working Monday through Friday. It could be any time and scheduling things is just a lot harder. Especially when you’ve got a family and you’re looking at deployments. And then I just forgot about working through the pregnancy. I’ll worry about that later when I can actually do it.

Once I realized I was a good mom, being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the worst thing in the world anymore. I can still talk to people on the phone. I can still do play groups. And to be honest, that’s pretty much it. Now I’m an at-home mom. I’d love to have a real job at some point again. Right now it’s just not an option. I don’t feel negative about it. I’m actually happy with that decision for now, because I don’t feel like I’m a failure. I don’t anymore. I did the first six months with my daughter, but at this point, I don’t feel like that anymore. I don’t like to fail. And so as long as I’m not failing, I feel good about it.

With my kids, I don’t feel like I’m failing, because they’re getting everything they need from me. I’m teaching them things, at least my daughter anyway. I’m teaching her ABC’s, colors, so it is a job in itself, because now I’m a teacher. Okay, that’s cool. I’m not failing, because I am staying social. I’ve got new friends here. We’ve got play groups on Thursdays. We get together and do lunch with our kids, so I’m still being social. So that’s the failure part. With my daughter, I thought I was failing because I’m always taking her to the doctor and not being listened to, which makes you question yourself. If I’m not questioning myself, I’m not failing, because there’s nothing to question. And so, the realization at least for now while they’re this little, I’m not going to work. It just puts the question to rest for now.

And then I can go back and do some classes here and there online, which is what I’m doing now. That will help me get a job later, especially when it’s this competitive.

I can’t wait to go back to work. I love my kids, I love being an at-home mom, but man, it’s time to myself! I know that’s sounds silly because it’s a job, but it’s time to myself that I don’t have right now. And then I’m contributing to my family too. I can’t wait until they’re old enough, or at least the baby’s old enough for the CDC, or they can go to the German kindergartens. Then I have those hours where I can go have a real job or something. That would be great.

I know a lot of companies, when they look at your resume, they look for the gaps. They look for how long you’ve been with a company. You know, making sure you aren’t going to leave after three months. And being an Air Force spouse can just throw a damper on it, because you do have gaps where you didn’t work because of a move or a deployment, or whatever. Or you’ve got these short-term jobs, because maybe when you got to an area all you could get were these short-term jobs. So it sort of throws a whole new spin on the working thing. For me, I kind of like it, because I get to try everything, because you never know what you’re going to get when you get to the next station. But it sucks because you can’t look long term with a company that’s past three years. Long term for you is getting a job immediately and working three years. So you never really do climb that ladder. You never really do get that permanence that you need when you’re trying to plan retirement and things like that. So once he retires, then maybe I look at a job where I can be more permanent and feel more meaningful for a company. But, because you know it’s three years, it’s a temporary job.

You never really try to go too high up in a company because you know you’re not going to be there.

I’ve never really had a permanent place to call my home. Having that permanence gives you roots a little bit. And then you know the same people for more than three years. You know the same people, day in and day out. You build these relationships. And, in the military, you build these relationships very quickly, but at the end of three years, you build new relationships. And sure, you still love your friends that you made at the last one, and you sort of keep in touch, but it’s not the same. Every time, you find new ones. It would be kind of nice to have just one permanent thing in my life.

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.

The Naked Truth: Brenda’s Story

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

Meet Brenda, an Air Force spouse of 14 years and mother of three. Originally an accountant, Brenda recently re-entered the workforce in the real estate field, but is finding it difficult to fit employment into her military life. The following excerpt is taken from an interview I conducted with Brenda in Germany, asking her about her career journey. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Brenda’s real name. Here is Brenda’s story in her own words…

I got married at 30. I had worked all my life. It wasn’t ever really a consideration that I not work. I had worked through school, worked hard, was a CPA. I paid a lot of money for school loans, and was still paying them off, so (work) was important to me. I didn’t know any different. It was an automatic thing to go find a job. I mean it was pretty normal as to what everyone else in the world does.

But when I had my son I stopped working altogether. We were getting ready to move anyway, and you have a new baby, and you don’t know what you’re doing. So it worked out at that point. We both thought it was important and it didn’t hurt us not to work at that time because I was going to quit soon anyway because of the move. That was the first time that I quit a job to move.

Back then it felt like (I had options). I don’t think there’s very many mothers of newborn babies that want to go back to work right way. It does feel like you’re essentially being gifted something. Especially with my background, working my way through college, and then working the whole time, it did feel like kind of a gift. It was nice not to have to go back to work. Financially, yes of course, more money would have been nice. But it wasn’t the most important thing at that time. So it did kind of feel luxurious. I had options in that it wasn’t necessary for me to go right back to work after I had my son.

And I was thinking, “Well, I’ll stay home for five years. When my son goes to kindergarten then I’ll go back to work, and I’ll go back on my thing.” That’s what everyone I knew did or had to do. So I think that was my mindset. Okay, I’ll have kids. And because of that mindset I had my son. And then directly after that we had decided that we wanted to have another child. And I said, “Well, it has to be now because I have five years.” Maybe I can stretch it to six, but we got pregnant right away and then we had twins. So I had three kids in eighteen months because I was thinking the way I had always thought. When these two kids were in kindergarten I was going back to work.

When I found out we were going to Scott, I wasn’t terribly excited about it. I didn’t even try to work in Illinois because I knew it was impossible just having the kids. So I think that was the biggest assignment that kind of, not devastated me, but kind of changed me.

Not only did we move to Scott, but we ended up moving on base. I had never been around the military, so it was kind of culture shock. And I remember living on base and my girlfriend saying one time, “Oh, you’re one of those people. You know you live on base. You shop at that base store. You shop at that base grocery store. Your kids are going to go to that base school.” I mean that was kind of shocking to me because I always envisioned myself as this really open-minded free spirit. I’ll try anything. And then all of a sudden I’m in my small world. My identity changed, or what I thought my identity was.

When we left New Jersey (for Scott), that was my first thought, “Why do you even try to work, because we’re only going to be there for two and a half years?” You can’t get anywhere in two and a half years. You can’t progress. Who wants to hire me for two and a half years? I’m not going to lie and say that we’re going to be here for six years, because that’s not how you do business. So it changes your mindset, and it changes your motivation, because really can you? Can you do all these things that in your mind you built up for yourself? I mean you can if you want to hit your head against the wall. I was kind of disheartened. It’s kind of like it doesn’t matter how hard I try in this arena, I’m not going to get anywhere.

No matter how many people tell you that motherhood is noble and good and all that, you still have it in your mind like, “Yeah right. I should be doing something more.” I think we always want to see the fruits of it. When you go to work you get the paycheck. You get the accolade. When you stay home you don’t get any of that, not in the short term. You get it when you have great kids at the end. But when your kids are screaming in Wal-Mart and you’ve tried your best and you’re doing everything possible, you just don’t see. When you clean the house perfectly spic and span and in half an hour it’s just as crazy as when you started, you just don’t have those cues that you’re doing a good job, or that you’re doing anything really.

At work, people are looking at you to do your job. And when you’re at home, you’re trying to get people to look at you. People are constantly critiquing your work or looking at your work or praising your work or criticizing your work. They’re always looking. But when you’re at home, you’re trying to get someone to acknowledge that you’re doing something of worth but no one’s looking. Maybe your husband looks every once in a while. Maybe your mother-in-law looks every once in a while. But really no one’s looking.

The other thing is that our husbands have such interesting jobs. No matter what their job is they’re well-traveled. They’re doing something interesting and brave and noble. And not that you’re competing, but that’s always very interesting to people. And nobody’s really interested in how many diapers you changed. When you’re not working I think a lot of people assume that you have nothing to say or nothing to offer. I got tired of that too. It’s like, “Where did you fly today or how is it down in Abu Dhabi or Djibouti?” All these exotic interesting places that no one gets to see or know about. And then, “Brenda how was the mall today?”

(During) the first assignment I didn’t know (what this would be like). I knew that we moved, but I didn’t realize about the jobs, and I didn’t realize about my changing. That was just dumb on my part. I mean you realize that things are going to change. But, I really didn’t know. This is really hard. I always thought that I was a really strong person. I moved to Germany by myself. I’m independent. I’m fine. And yeah, I think it’s hard. It’s harder than anybody can imagine.

I have a little bit of resentment. I mean, there’s just no question. It always falls to me. There’s no question of who’s going to take care of everything, who’s going to get the dishwasher fixed, who’s going to all those things. I don’t even ask my husband anymore. If something’s broke in the house I figure it out. If I need something moved, some furniture, I figure out how to move it. I don’t wait, because I get frustrated waiting. I’m sure it hurts my husband’s feelings, but I always tell him, “I can’t depend on you. Not that I can’t depend on you, but I can’t wait for you, because then I’m just too frustrated. I get upset because you’ve been gone. For example, I’ve been wanting to move this piece of furniture that’s too heavy for me, so I’ve waited for four months. And now you’re home and you’re still too tired or jet lagged for two more weeks to move it. And every day that you’re home I’m looking at this piece of furniture thinking how I’ve been waiting for four months to move it.” It’s just easier for me to get a hernia and move it, and that’s what it is. Instead of looking at it I’ll call four girls whose husbands are also gone, and we’ll move the furniture. So there’s just not a question of who it’s going to fall to. It’s always going to fall to me, because you have this job that I don’t want to say is your excuse job, but it is. It kind of gets you off of any responsibility at home until you want to jump back in. I don’t have a choice to jump out and in. I always have to be the leveling figure, the one that makes everything happen and everything smooth at home. And not that that’s bad, but there’s no chance of me getting a real job or a career.

So the Andrews (assignment) is when my twins, my youngest kids, went to kindergarten. In my mind, they’re in kindergarten, so I was going to try to do a little something. The Williams Sonoma job was the hardest job I’ve ever had. And it was not because of the work. It was because I was trying to figure out how to squeeze it all in. I was trying to figure out how to still do all of my stuff that I needed to do because it’s established that I do all these things now, that I cook, clean, garden, take care of the kids, do the homework, and all these things. That’s my established role at this point. And now I’m adding 15 whole hours a week, but it was very hard. It was very hard to put those little hours in. Even though the kids are in school, that 15 hours a week takes away from all those responsibilities that I’m in charge of because he is working. So those fifteen hours a week took away from picking up the stuff.

It was devastating to think that I can’t (do this). I mean, in my mind I’m thinking I used to work 60 hours a week. Are you kidding? It’s devastating to think that I don’t even have 15 hours a week that I could pursue something, that all of my efforts go to the care and the support of other people. That’s okay, but at some point you wish that you had some support. Everyone talks about, “Oh you guys make great money in the military.” But it’s not great money if it doesn’t allow me to have a job. So you’re paying for two people really, which he works enough for two people.

It still changes my whole attitude and my whole belief in what’s possible. It’s very sad for me that you can’t do anything really. It’s tough as I’m quitting another job because of this.

Brenda begins to cry…

It’s frustrating. Like, the Hallmark job, all I had to do was place cards in the slots in the grocery store and order more cards. I think those jobs were something to do, to talk to people and get out and see what was going on after being with babies for five years. And the frustrating thing is that doing even these little jobs wasn’t possible. That was the devastating part.

I was angry that my husband and his pursuing everything for our country didn’t leave me 10 hours a week to place cards in slots. I think that’s what it comes down to. It’s always feeling like that you have to be the one in charge, or the one that does everything for your family to the point that you can’t have a little 10 hour a week job. That’s the issue that I have with my husband, not that he can do anything about it.

When you got to Germany, what were your hopes and expectations about working?

So I started working in January, and it’s a busy job. I mean it’s a very busy job. My kids are now in fourth and fifth grade. So I was thinking they should be a little bit more independent. It’s okay. I have a telephone from nine to six that I answer, and I work from nine to three. And so pretty much I don’t do anything outside of that. But the problem here is that we have so many people visiting, in-laws and that kind of thing. And when (my husband) has time we’d like to travel, which is kind of the point of coming here and giving our kids that experience. But it’s a great job. I really like it. It’s one of those things where it’s fulfilling. I talk to all different people. I get to do some marketing. It’s really a great job, but my husband still sees my role as that support role. So when his parents come and he’s on a trip for work I’m still the one responsible for taking care of everyone when they come. So when you have people coming every two weeks, and he’s getting deployed for six months, there’s just no way for me to do a job.

How did you come to the point of deciding you couldn’t do this job?

No, it wasn’t my decision. I think my husband is so used to me being around and not working that he really doesn’t want me to. I mean he really doesn’t like it.

Even though this job was his idea in the first place?

It’s the reality of me working every day, having a phone, and not everything in our house being perfect, because it’s not anymore. The floor’s not always mopped because I’m working. Then I pick up the kids and we do homework and we go to baseball. Then we come home and I throw something together for dinner. So we’ve had a lot of problems because he doesn’t like it. It’s not running the way he thinks it should run. And he’s a good guy. He’s totally not like one of those ‘60’s guys, but I think it’s been established through our marriage. And it’s different now because he’s never had to do anything. He’s never, not once, cooked a meal. He does other things, but he’s never been in our kitchen.

It’s so stressful. Obviously it’s easier if I don’t do (the job), because I’m doing a lot. I’m working very hard at home with the kids and at work because our life has determined that my husband doesn’t have any role in our home life and the running of it. So it hasn’t changed. I’ve just added a job. So I am tired. I remember someone said when I got married, “Establish the way you want it to be before. Don’t mow the lawn if you don’t plan to mow the lawn for the next 40 years.” Now I wish I would have listened to this tidbit of advice. And it’s frustrating for me. But now I really truly feel as if my role is to be the support, to make sure that my husband gets someplace in his career, wherever he wants to go, and that my kids get wherever they want to go in their lives, which is what I would want to do for my kids anyway. But somehow with the husband thing I’m getting a little bit more and more resentful as I see that it’s so one-sided. There’s that expectation through the years that we promote his career to my non-promotion of anything I want to do. And I love him. He’s a great man. He’s a really good guy. It’s just the establishment of the life. You do what you have to do to make it work. And that’s what it’s always had to be. We’ll see.

I just don’t feel like I’ve had any control over the development of my life. It’s just like I said. You just follow and do what you have to do to make everything work. So, I feel like you don’t have any control. And you don’t have really any say or any play with where you can go or what you can do. You feel limited.

You know I don’t know if I have energy (for working). I really think I’m just exhausted. I think I’ve banged my head against the wall. And I think that at this point, 15 years later, it would take so much energy to get back into something, a profession, that I don’t know if I have the energy after promoting his career for (so long). I’m tired. I’m exhausted and I don’t have anything to show for it personally. I mean we do. We always used to laugh at those women that wore their husband’s rank or whatever. But now I’m thinking, “She worked just as hard at it as he did so why shouldn’t she?” Not that I’d ever do that because it’s kind of weird. But I can see how it happens. I can especially those commanders’ wives. My experience with not doing what I wanted to do work-wise was because of our family situation. But there are those women that don’t do what they could be doing work-wise because of their husband’s career. And I don’t know why they wouldn’t wear their husband’s rank. It’s not an easy life. I mean I’d still choose it because I love him, but hmmm… Would it have been a bad thing if he was a doctor or an electrical engineer? I don’t know.

“All Work and No Fun” – Learning to Thrive as a Career-Oriented Military Spouse

“All Work and No Fun” – Learning to Thrive as a Career-Oriented Military Spouse

You know that old proverb, “All work and no fun makes Jack a dull boy?” If you have a full-time career, and are juggling kids and military life, finding time for fun may be an elusive thing. You might think fun is in those small moments with your family or in those precious few minutes you get to yourself at night when the house is quiet. Or maybe the workout you squeeze into your busy day. But no, that’s not really what I’m talking about. Do you really give yourself the luxury to play? In her book, Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte writes about the experience of being a stressed out working professional and admits that she reached a point when she could not remember the last time she just played.

I can relate to Schulte’s story.

I pride myself on someone who was born serious, always a hard-working achiever. As a military spouse, I’ve always sought out others like me, people who cared about their careers and meaningful work. I tried to steer clear of that stereotypical military spouse who seemed to live for bunco, lunch bunch and shopping trips.

I remember coming face to face with this traditional carefree spouse stereotype when I attended a new spouse orientation at my husband’s war college. At the time, I owned my own consulting and coaching business, but I made time during my workday to attend the event and meet my peers. I was flabbergasted when the orientation speaker (who also happened to be the only man in the room) launched into a speech about how lucky we were to be there. As he described it, our husbands were being groomed to become the next generation of military world leaders, yet we were incredibly lucky to be the spouses because our only care in the world was “to have fun!” I doubt I was the only employed person in the room, yet the stereotype was made clear. If you are a military spouse, your life should be about frivolity, fun, and socializing, while your partner does the serious stuff. I quickly decided this group was not for me and went back to work.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself in Hawaii. When we arrived last summer, I was prepared to set up shop and start coaching and consulting again, which I did. But I also found that every person I met would routinely ask, “What do you do here?” And they didn’t care about what I did for a living. They wanted to know what I did for fun. Do you sail, surf, dive, paddleboard, hike? When I introduced myself at a spouse event and mentioned my business, I heard someone in the group mutter, “Work is over-rated.”

Was this that stereotypical military spouse speaking to me? Or was it my shadow self whispering in my ear? Is it possible to find time for both work and play?

Recently I read a great book by Beth Cabrera that helped me make sense of all this. In Beyond Happy, Cabrera says that the key to thriving in life is finding both happiness and meaning. Happiness comes from feeling good through play and joyful activity or relationships. And meaning comes from doing good through living your purpose, doing good work, and making a contribution to the world. Both feeling good and doing good are essential to thriving.

So now I’m experimenting.

I work a little less in Hawaii than I did in Washington DC. And I set aside every Monday morning to play golf. At first I felt guilty about golfing on a workday, but I’m getting used to the idea that fun isn’t something to apologize for or be embarrassed about. And it is pure delight to wake up on Monday morning and head to the golf course instead of my desk for a change.

So you might be thinking about now, “Must be nice, but I can’t do that.” You may not be able to change your work schedule or move to Hawaii, but if you are a stressed out professional with plenty of meaning but not much pleasure, stop and think about what you can do. How can you embrace that inner military spouse who just wants to have fun and be a little more like her? Find one fun thing you can do for yourself each week, and do it without apology. You’ll be glad you did.

Michelle offers individual and group coaching for career-oriented military spouses. Contact her for your complimentary coaching session.

Managing the Seasons of Your Career

Career is not an all-or-nothing achievement, but a patchwork quilt that is crafted with care and creativity, one season at a time.

September means Fall is in the air. Depending on where you live, leaves are turning, the breeze is football-season crisp, and sweaters are ready to come out of the closet. Even here in tropical Hawaii, the stores are stocking up on Fall clothing, and I am beginning to see a few boots scattered among the flip-flops. Perhaps seasons are as much a state of mind as they are weather patterns and dates on a calendar.

In much the same way, I think of careers as a lifetime of seasons. Especially for military spouses who grapple with the constant change of military life, careers are often not a traditional progression of continuous work, culminating in retirement. Our careers ebb and flow with military and family life, blossoming at times, while sometimes going into long periods of hibernation. Many of the spouses I work with as a coach find comfort in this metaphor of seasons, because it offers them a different model for career success. It is not an all-or-nothing achievement, but a patchwork quilt that is crafted with care and creativity, one season at a time.

Here are 5 tips for navigating the seasons of your career:

  1. Take a look at what’s most important during this season of your life. Is this the time to focus on career, be home with kids, or try something you’ve never done before? Your priorities may change with the seasons. Recognize what season you are in now and plan accordingly.
  2. Look at your own life calendar and try to gauge how long you think this season will last. If this is the season to stay home, how long do you want to plan on that? If you want to go back to school, what is the timeline? If you are a typical military family that moves every few years, planning for this chunk of time can be an ideal season to work with.
  3. Be aware of what’s going on in the environment around you. How well do your plans fit the season you find yourself in? Are you still wearing your winter boots when everyone else has donned bikinis? For example, if you find yourself in a location with few professional jobs, you may find it’s the right time to take a hiatus or go back to school. It’s not only about your plans, but also about what fits your life right now.
  4. Include your spouse in the journey. Just like planning your summer vacation, talk with your spouse about your career plans for the season. What do you need from them to make your plans work? What support are they willing and able to give you? Make sure you are both on the same page before embarking on the next phase of your adventure.
  5. Once you’ve made your plans for the season, jump in and enjoy it. Don’t spend your precious time looking back with regrets or what-ifs. The good news is that the next season is right around the corner and anything is possible.

 

Michelle offers individual and group coaching for career-oriented military spouses.  Contact her for your complimentary session.

Changing Military Culture One Conversation at a Time

Changing Military Culture One Conversation at a Time | Whole Spouse

Did you know the majority of military spouses are active in the labor force, either currently working or seeking employment? Although it’s a fact that most of us have a career of some kind, the military culture often still clings to the stereotype of a working military member and stay-at-home spouse. Sometimes, as spouses we even perpetuate this myth by avoiding our own careers as topics of conversation. As a result, we continue to preserve a culture that doesn’t accurately reflect reality, and leads many of us to feel isolated and unsupported.

I’ll give you an example from my research with Air Force spouses. Roberta is a midwife by background, and was a newlywed to her military husband when I interviewed her. As a newcomer to the military community, she was eager to make friends and meet other spouses, so she joined the local spouses club. But she found herself bewildered by the experience. She wondered why other spouses often asked about her husband’s job, but never her own. She came away thinking that either she was the only one with a career, or that having a career was somehow unacceptable. Why else would it not be mentioned in ordinary conversation? My answer was, “It’s not part of our culture.” Although it may seem like a minor oversight, this interaction took an emotional toll on her.

She says, “I just felt sad. It just felt like I wasn’t important, like I just didn’t matter.”

Roberta’s story is a great example of the power of conversation. The words we exchange with other people shape how we see ourselves, other people, and the communities we engage in. I’m a big believer in the idea that change only happens when we begin to talk differently about something. In effect we change organizations and culture by talking a new norm into existence. The things we say or choose not to say craft our reality and send a signal to others about what we value, what is unimportant, and what is taboo.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in Roberta’s shoes?

My solution is to turn the tables and ask the other person the very questions I wish they would ask me. “What do you like to do with your time? Tell me more about yourself.” Not only is it a great gift to take interest in someone and see them for who they are, but it also creates a culture of inclusion, one conversation at a time.