The Naked Truth: Katie’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Katie's Story

Katie is a pilot’s wife and former athletic trainer, who now calls herself a “married single mom.” Although she believes her role as a mom is important, she acknowledges that losing the professional part of herself has been a painful sacrifice. The following excerpt is from my interview with Katie in Germany.

I lived, breathed, and ate athletic training. My goal was to try to get the athletes as healthy as possible and keep them healthy. It was a high school setting, yet they were my kids. I took them underneath my wing and just made sure that they were okay. So it was neat. If my kids got hurt, I was hurt. It was rewarding to know the athletes could step on the field and know that they are sound.

I knew I was marrying into the Air Force. So I knew what I was kind of getting into. And he knew my job schedule. Because if it was cross country season I’d get up at 5:00 in the morning, be at school at 5:30 and I’d come home at 7:30 or 8:00pm depending on if basketball or football was going on. So I had long days as well. We kind of knew he had long days and I had long days. So it kind of meshed, it worked.

And that’s when September 11th happened and I was like, “Okay, my job is not as important as my husband.”

For three days I couldn’t get in touch with him. Finally he got a hold of me and told me to meet him at the house that weekend and we would pack. And then he would be gone.

At that time, while I was working at (the high school), the principal’s husband was prior military. So she sat down and talked to me a little bit about what it meant to be a military spouse. She said it’s a hard life and there are lots of sacrifices on the spouse. I kind of knew that, but I thought it wouldn’t be that hard because I had my own life. I still have my job, all the teams I take care of. I was like, “Okay I can do this.

I thought it would be pretty easy, which it kind of was, until you have a child. When we got to Charleston, I thought, “As soon as she is born I’ll get her into a school, a preschool, or some kind of daycare, and then I’ll go back to work.” But because of what happened September 11th, he was gone 2 weeks and then home for maybe 1 or 2 days crew rest, and then he’d turn around and go again for 2 weeks. So there was never an opportunity for me to put my feet back into that world. But you know I maintained my credentials. I maintained the CEU’s and I still have a passion for it.

My career got put on the backside.

I went up to the athletic training room there at Centenary College. And I would help out. I would volunteer but I didn’t get paid for it. It was so weird because I’ve never just sat. I’m always constantly going and then all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, it’s too quiet. I need to go do something.” So that’s when I would just go up and volunteer at the school. I did that for a couple of months, and then my husband was picked up for pilot training.

He said, “I’m going to become a pilot and I’m going to be gone. But you know you can still work.” I thought I would always get back in it because it’s a passion. I know there’s a few women who do it. My sister works and her husband works, but he comes home at night. He’s there on the weekends. We don’t always have that luxury.  With his unpredictable schedule it’s hard for me to work. It’s a challenge, and I haven’t gotten back into it.

My mom stayed home with us. And it was like, “What do you do mom? You stay home and take care of us. That’s not a big job.” But now that I’m a mom I look back and go, “Wow that was a huge job she did for us and a sacrifice as well.” Now I’m looking at my daughter and I’m like, “Oh, you think your mom is a slacker because she doesn’t work as well.” She doesn’t quite get it but she does get to some extent that moms do work.

It’s like I’m a married, single mom.

That’s the term I always use. I’m married, but I’m a single mom because he’s always gone. So I have to raise the two kids by myself. At first it was shock, total shock. And then I didn’t want to leave my children. The gears started switching. I didn’t want to go back to work because I didn’t want to leave this baby for somebody else to raise. So that’s when I told my husband I’ll stay home a year and then I’ll get back to work. And then the pace did not stop. It got to be where he was also deploying, so it went from 45 days to 90 days, and then 3 week TDYs. And then he’d come home for 2 or 3 days and then he’d go again. So my priorities are slipping, yet the desire was still there. I was like, “Okay, one day I can still do this.” That’s what I kept telling myself, “One day…” But when is this one day coming? (It feels like) it was a sacrifice, one worth making, but it was a sacrifice.

I lost a part of myself as a person.

Because that’s how I identified myself, that part of me I thought I was supposed to be, and that’s what I worked hard to do. And I do mean blood, sweat and tears. I worked so hard for that. So it is a very painful sacrifice. But then look what I gained. I lost that part of me but I gained two children. Two beautiful healthy children, and I have a wonderful husband. So I’m like, “Okay God, this is good. If this is where you want me, okay. But still can I have a little bit of that?”

My job, my career does not exist. My career is being an Air Force wife.

My career is being that spouse that is behind my husband taking care of the kids on the sideline, and making sure that when he comes home everything is taken care of, and there’s really nothing for him to do, except balance the checkbook. I cannot balance a checkbook to save my life. But I can do everything else. So that’s what my role is now. And it’s one I do not mind. I’m proud of my husband, and I’m proud of the military and what they’re doing. So it’s a small sacrifice that I can do for them.

I thought I was a strong individual, but it has made me stronger. Knowing that I can take care of a house, and all the things that break on it with my husband being gone. I can take care of issues that I never thought I would have to take care of by myself. There’s independence there, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.

The Naked Truth: Heather’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Heather's Story

Heather recently achieved her life-long dream of finishing nursing school and becoming a nurse, but can’t find paid work in Germany. She is proud of overcoming the hardship of starting out as a teen mom, but is now frustrated that she isn’t able to work. She wonders if going back to school was a waste of time. The following are excerpts from my interview with Heather, which is not her real name.

I was in the Air Force. I was actually a single mom. I got pregnant at 16, had a baby at 17. And in order for me to join the Air Force I had to give temporary custody to my mom, because you cannot join the Air Force and be a single parent. So I gave temporary custody to my mom with the hopes him coming back with me once I finished tech school. I felt that the Air Force was going to better myself career-wise. I had gotten my certified nursing assistant license and I was a general receptionist for a couple years. I just kind felt like I was going nowhere with my career, so I decided the Air Force was probably the best for me. Plus I needed some discipline, so I joined the Air Force. Then I met my husband, and we knew the chances of us probably getting assigned (together weren’t good). And then it was just too crazy switching the custody back over with my first-born. At that point, I knew (my husband) and I were going to get married, and I just felt that the best interest was for me to get out and not let any of the whole custodial stuff take control. So that’s what I did.

(Being in the Air Force) was definitely a self-esteem booster at the time. But at the same time, I was separated from my son. It was always “service before self,” and I was like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not putting service before my kid.” That is what it kind of came down to. So I was using the Air Force as a stepping stone to further my career. I always knew I wanted to go into the nursing field, but being a single mom and trying to do it was just difficult. I felt like it definitely gave me the self-confidence that I needed though.

I don’t know if it was the discipline. I mean, my dad was retired military with 24 years in the Air Force, and so I was already used to the ways of the military. It just made me feel a little more at home. When I was in high school,that was the longest I had ever lived anywhere because all my life we moved every four or five years. So maybe it just made me feel a little more comfortable and relaxed because it was more structured.

Tell me what happened after you got out of the Air Force and got married.

Actually, I was pregnant and I still knew I wanted to be in the medical field. I always had that desire. So I started looking for work and I found a job at a radiology department in Washington, D.C. I did medical assisting there all the way through my pregnancy. And then, our oldest was five at the time. My husband was only a senior airman, and we lived in D.C. It wasn’t a good area of town, so we were paying for one to go to private school so he wouldn’t go to the horrible schools in D.C. So I was kind of iffy if I wanted to go back to work at that point, but I decided money-wise it wasn’t going be worth it for daycare and private school. I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom anyway so it was like, “You know what? I can put my career on hold and do what I gotta do.” So I never went back to work then at the radiology department after I had my baby.

It was hard at first because I had always been independent.

I mean at the age of 16 I always paid my own car payment, paid my own insurance. I got a job right at 15-1/2, as soon as I could in Virginia. So it was kind of hard for the first time to have somebody pay my bills. You know what I mean? And my husband would be like, “Look, you’re going to have to understand we’re married now and what’s mine is yours and vice versa.” It just was the best thing financially for us. And emotionally I felt good because I’ve always been the independent one, and for once somebody was taking care of me.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but my husband had his career, and was working on getting his Bachelor’s degree. I’m like, “Gosh, if anything were to happen and we would not be together, I don’t really have any skills.” I felt like he was getting his education but I was the one staying home, just with mommy skills. So I think probably right after we were in Okinawa, I said, “Okay, I’ve got to do something with my education. I gotta go back to school.” I don’t want to say it’s a jealousy thing, but maybe I’m envious. You’re envious of their career.

So I started doing my pre-recs for nursing in Okinawa. And that felt good. That was like, “Woo hoo! I’m doing something for me finally.”

I got to do this, and then in Florida I finished the rest of my pre-recs and got accepted into a nursing program there. But the thing you’re worried about the whole time is, “Okay, I hope we don’t get orders, hope we don’t get orders.” And then, before I even finished, this assignment came open in March and my husband was like, “Should we put in for it? It’s my dream job.” We wanted to go back to Germany. He was stationed in Germany before we had met.

I was like, “Well, am I going to be able to get a job?” That was my top priority. I worked my butt off for this. I want to be able to work. And I actually called Landstuhl from the states and inquired and they were like, “Well, it might be tough. You might have to volunteer first, but try to get as much experience there.” So we put in for the assignment with the hopes that we would get it and I just kind of left it in God’s hands and figured if it was meant to be, we would get it. If it wasn’t meant to be then we would stay there until we got another assignment. And then we found out just two weeks later.

So then I graduated and it was like, “Okay, well we don’t leave till September what do I do in the meantime?” So I ended up taking a job and not telling them we were PCS’ing because number one, I needed the experience, and number two, I didn’t know if we were going to get the clearance for our son because of his past medical history. So I figured I’ll take the job because our orders could get canceled.  I had a job at a hospital in Tampa. I was very excited about it. As soon as we definitely got the orders and got the A-Okay, I just let them know and they were fine.

Having that job, that was good. That was the first time I had a paycheck in 10 years.

It had been 10 years since I had worked. I mean, I know that his money is our money but it was like my first paycheck. So it was good. It was definitely rewarding, and ever since I can remember I knew I always wanted to be a nurse. So I was like, “Okay, this is a real thing.”

Now I’m volunteering on the mother-baby unit (in Germany), and it took months to get on there. It just kind of stinks. You have this dream all your life and something you want to do, and we were finally at the location we want to be, and I can’t get a job.

You’re giving all this education and experience for free, but there’s only so long you want to do it (because) you’re not getting paid. I just remember one of the Colonels coming in and saying, “This hospital wouldn’t run without our volunteers, and they save us a hundred and something million a year.” That’s great and all, but they’re in desperate need. They need more nurses to come forward but they don’t have the positions. They don’t have the funding to do it. They would just continue to take volunteers. Somebody said to me the other day, “Well why do you even volunteer? That’s just less of a chance for you to get a job when they’re getting all this free work.” Well, I need the experience. I need the continuing education. So I guess it’s double-sided.

What is it that you want to get out of working? Why is it important to you?

I think self-gratification. It just makes you feel better as a person. You feel like you’ve done your share to help someone else out. I feel bad for my husband too because he makes those little comments like, “I wish I could stay home.” I’m like, “No you don’t! I wish I could work. I’ll trade spots with you. I’ll go in and you stay home for the day.” I want to be able to contribute even though we share everything. I want to be able to have extra money. I want to be able to have a savings account. I want to be able to not live paycheck to paycheck, which is what we’ve done for ten-plus years. And that’s a big thing. And of course, you’re in Europe. You want to be able to travel and go places and do stuff. It’s the chance of a lifetime here. Oh my gosh, I wish I had a job!
I may have to go back to just being a receptionist somewhere. You go to school for all these years to try to finally get your degree, and then it’s like, well there are jobs at the CDC. You feel like you’re almost taking a step down, but what do you do?

It definitely makes me feel like crap, having something and not being able to use it.

You work hard for something and then it just kind of sits there and collects dust, which is what I feel like my education is doing. It’s funny because I remember when I was at orientation, I met a couple girls that said, “If I can’t get a job here I’m just going back to the states and then I’m just going to come see my husband every couple months.” And I’m like, “I’m sorry, but that’s not happening.” Where the Air Force sends my husband is where he sends all of us. We’re going together as a family, and that’s what you have to do. You have to make do and it’s his career. I’m following him around and trying to just kind of fit in where I can.

It stinks. I told my husband joking, “Okay when you retire in the next couple years, you’re going to follow me. I’m going to take jobs all over the United States and you’re going to have to follow me and find a job wherever.” He jokes and says he’ll be a stay-at-home dad.

He’s definitely good and he’s been very supportive. But, yeah, who knows? I’m sure I will be the sole breadwinner in the beginning, once he retires, because he’s still working on his education. I have to give him the little kick in the butt to get this done. And he’s kind of undecided. He’s like, “I’m not like you. I wasn’t five years old and knew I wanted to be a nurse. I’m almost 40 and I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

How has this experience in Germany impacted you?

It definitely is a blow to your self-esteem once again because you start getting proficient in something and you have confidence, but you can’t do what you set out to do. It definitely makes you feel horrible. (Heather is crying.) You want to do something better with yourself. All my life I’ve always not wanted to be labeled as the teen mom who’s not going to amount to anything. I’ve finally gotten over this huge label and then you really can’t do anything with it. So maybe I shouldn’t even have went to school. Maybe it was just a waste.

The Naked Truth: Serena’s Story

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

Serena is a young newlywed, whose husband enlisted in the Air Force for financial stability. She is relieved that they are no longer struggling, although frustrated that she is not realizing her goal of working as an editor. At times she is uncomfortable that she is letting her husband “take care of her,” but then says she is realizing she can find other ways to contribute to their family. The following excerpts are from my interview with Serena, which is not her real name. Her story begins when she and her husband are fresh out of college, working multiple minimum wage jobs just to get by.

Union Mart is a gas station, and I worked there for eight hours on weekends. I didn’t really like that either. But I ended up (dropping) Union Mart, because I had the library job by then, and then I kept the bookstore (job). So then I was down to two jobs and that’s all I kept. And then my boyfriend (now husband) had the pizza job and a library job. So we had four jobs together just to make ends meet. We were barely making it at that point. So that’s one of the huge reasons he decided to join the Air Force because we knew it was just a lot more secure.

(I wanted) more security because part-time you don’t have any benefits, no health benefits or anything like that. So it was hard. I didn’t really go to the doctor because then you had to pay out of pocket. (I just wanted) to have a little bit more money so we could have more than $100 left over for the month, to live comfortably. I mean that’s the majority of what I was looking for.

I guess it was a little bit frustrating because I wanted one job. I wanted a 9 to 5 job, come home, relax, and not have to worry about your job. But I was also really, really too busy to do anything. So I didn’t have a lot of free time either, even on the weekends when I was working at Union Mart. It was frustrating because I couldn’t go home and spend time with my boyfriend. I had to work. And we didn’t have a car at the time. It’s 10 miles from where we were working, so you had to take the bus. But the bus system wasn’t that great. There were only specific times you could go, so he would go sleep over at his brother’s house sometimes during the week so he could work at the pizza shop. So there was a lot of time we couldn’t spend together. I didn’t like that. So it was a little bit frustrating having way too many jobs.

When I went to college, I thought, “Hey, I’ll actually find an editing job when I get out of school.” No. I was just happy not to be working at McDonald’s. I mean I wasn’t quite happy, and I definitely wasn’t content, but I was okay with working in the library at the time because I thought eventually I’ll get to where I want to go. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. And at this point I’m not even sure I want to be an editor anymore, but at least I was doing some freelance. At least I was doing something.

I never really wanted to be a military wife.

I didn’t grow up in the military or anything like that, but my mom moved a lot when we were kids, I didn’t really want that for my kids. I guess by then I was okay with moving because I’d done it so much, but I just wanted my kids to stay in one place, make lifetime friends, something stable.

I was in love with him, and I’m not going to break up with him because he joined the military. That’s just silly. So I was okay with him joining. I supported him either way that he went. And actually it was a very smart decision, and I’m completely okay with it now.

I don’t have to worry about my health now. Before he joined the military, we had no coverage. Now I don’t have to worry about not calling the doctor because I don’t have money, which is a huge relief. And he makes enough money to support both of us. We don’t have to work four or five part-time jobs together to get $100 left over a month. So I’m not worried about food. I’m not worried about anything like that, which again is a huge relief because I’m no longer stressed about it. The only thing I worried about was finding a job, which I don’t even have to now. So, I feel like I’m getting to be lazy.

(When we got to Germany) I looked for at least six months trying to find jobs. I mean, it is really important for me, because I’m used to being independent.

I’m not used to relying on anybody, and it was actually hard to sit at home as a housewife and not work.I feel like I should contribute somehow.

Because my mom, she took care of her four kids all by herself. She worked to support us, and it’s just weird to rely on him. I’m getting used to it now. I know you can do it now. But to begin with it was just like, “I need to work. I need to help contribute.”

Being independent was important (to me). My mom taught me to be independent. She also hasn’t had the greatest luck with men, so it was new to be married. I’m not used to a man taking care of me. I need to take care of myself. So I wanted to work, and then it took a while for me to be okay with him supporting me, which he is now. So at the time I was like, “I really need a job. I really want to work and have more money so that we can travel and stuff like that.”

It was nice but at the same time, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I was used to fending for myself. Like even in college I paid my way for college. I mean I’m still paying my way for college because of loans and stuff like that. I didn’t have any help. So it’s nice to be able to rely on somebody, but at the same time it was weird.

The whole (job search) is frustrating. I looked at USA jobs. There’s actually not a lot there. At this point I started even looking for a library job here. But every time I’d go, it wouldn’t be on there and they never had anything with editing or writing or communications. It was always secretary, which I guess I could be okay with, but it mostly was retail at the BX. I mean, I don’t view it below me. I don’t. I just don’t like to work in retail. I’ve had the experience. I didn’t like to work with food. And I definitely didn’t like waitressing.

Yeah, I mean, this is stuff I would definitely do it if we didn’t have the money. I would definitely work there. But I knew that he could support me and I really wanted to work in a job that I would enjoy. Because if I worked in a job I don’t enjoy I wouldn’t be so happy and it wouldn’t be good. So I kept on looking at those places thinking, oh, maybe something will pop up. Never popped up. And then I just don’t really know where to look for my career field here. So it is very frustrating. I started looking online just for more freelance (jobs) and I applied to a few. I didn’t really get them. And then after a while, I just stopped looking. It’s just frustrating. Every now and then I’ll go to the library (and ask), “Are you hiring yet?” I guess it hasn’t become as important to work now as it was, but I still would like to if I can.

Well, I’m okay now with him supporting me.

Before, I felt guilty for not working because he’s supporting me. But I’ve gone through that, and I talked to him about it. And he’s okay with me not working because we’re not struggling. Whereas before I had to work the part-time jobs, before we got in the Air Force because we were struggling. So he’s okay with me not working and I got used to being at home. And we’re planning on having kids soon and I know that I want to be at home for my kids. I don’t really want to have them in daycare while I’m at work for eight hours or whatever like that. So that’s why I was kind of looking more for freelance too so I could be at home and do it. But we’re still not having kids yet, so I could still work. But it’s not as important because I know my life’s going to be changing towards children and stuff like that.

If he wasn’t okay with me not working, I probably would still be very adamant about looking for a job.

I still want to be independent but marriage isn’t really about the separate people.

It’s like you working together, so it’s not like I’m not contributing in my own way. I mean I still contribute at the house and in our relationship so I don’t have to work to make it a contribution. So I’m just growing up.

I think part of the problem is I don’t really know what I want to do anymore. I was looking so long for an editing job. I actually want to edit fiction (for a) publishing company. I edited manuscripts and it was okay, but it’s not what I really liked, and I wanted to get into fiction. But right now I don’t really know what I want to do. I had a goal, but I don’t know anymore. Do I still want to be an editor? Do I want to go back to school? I enjoyed accounting, but I don’t want to spend another $30,000 to change my career field. And at the same time I’m getting back into writing, and I’m enjoying that.

I think the problem here is I don’t know where to go to find my specific career field. I don’t know what website to look at or where to go to find these type of jobs. And that’s the biggest problem. If I was in the States, there are so many different websites you can go to find stateside jobs. But here I only knew of two websites, and neither one of them had my career. So I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know where to look, so I don’t look anymore.

I think it’s probably a little bit more difficult to be in the Air Force looking for my job. I mean, for writing, if I can get the freelance (work), it wouldn’t make a difference if I was in the United States, Germany, wherever they take us. If you can get freelance jobs it doesn’t matter where you are. But if you’re trying to find an actual location, work in an actual company, it’s more difficult because you’re constantly moving. I mean we haven’t moved yet, but I know it’s coming.

Well, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Because originally I didn’t really want to be a military wife, but there are some perks and there are some downsides. And I think the perks probably outweigh it, you know? It’s not a bad way to live. It’s not like I thought it would be originally.

I feel like I’m getting to be lazy. Because I’m not working anymore, and he was deployed for six months and I don’t drive. It mostly comes down to not being able to drive. It’s not as easy to go out. So I’m just staying at home and playing on the computer. And I read a lot. I have been getting into writing lately, which is good, so it’s getting a little bit better. But I’m just not doing as much, so I feel lazy.

(I feel) stir crazy, stuck in the house, and I just want to go out and do something, even volunteer work. Some of the volunteer work here seems like it should actually be a job. The post office and the commissary, the baggers, I mean I am very grateful for them volunteering but at the same time…I guess if I could find some more volunteer work I’d probably do that too, even if I can’t work.

The Downside of Over-Volunteering

The Downside of Over-Volunteering | Whole Spouse

Volunteers are the heart and soul of our communities, and we all know that military spouses are often the first to step up and serve.  Volunteering gives us a unique opportunity to share our gifts with those in need, and reminds us how blessed we are to have these talents to offer.  It can also give us valuable work experience.

At the same time, I worry when I see military spouses using volunteering as a crutch, especially when it comes to re-entering the workforce.  I’m not worried about the professional volunteer who loves playing that role.  If that’s your calling, fantastic!  I am worried about the spouses who say they want a career and want to be paid for what they do, but can’t seem to get off the chronic volunteer track.  They are giving away too much.

Sometimes volunteering can become the path of least resistance that is safe and comfortable, without risking failure that seeking a job might entail.  To borrow the words of Sheryl Sandberg, I think volunteering is sometimes an excuse that keeps us from “leaning in” to our careers.

If you find yourself feeling this way, ask yourself these few questions before you take on a new volunteer commitment:

  1. If you knew you could be paid a market rate for this work rather than volunteering, would you prefer to be employed?
  2. Are you qualified to work in this field and be compensated for the work you do?
  3. Are there paid opportunities in your career field? (And don’t limit yourself to your current location, especially if you are in Podunk, USA!  Think creatively about opportunities for virtual work.)

If the answer to these questions is yes, then ask yourself if you have thoroughly put yourself out into the job market.  What is holding you back, or rather what is keeping you from leaning in?  If having a career is important to you, then don’t sell yourself short.  Knowing that you have value and declaring your worthiness to be paid for your work is the first step.

 

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