Finding Peace in Your PCS

Finding Peace in Your PCS | Career | Military Spouse | Whole Spouse

It’s that time of year when masses of military families are on the move.  Are you one of them?  Even the best moves can be stressful, and are especially disruptive to military spouse careers.

If you’re in that boat, take some time to think about your goals for the next PCS before the moving trucks arrive.  How do you feel about the next assignment?  What do you hope to accomplish there?  Is this a good time to reach for a career milestone or focus on another priority?  Here are 3 things I recommend you do to help find peace in your PCS:

1.    Set personal goals for your next assignment.

Before you get caught up in the fast-paced blur of the moving process, take some time to reflect on what you want to get out of the next assignment.  I recommend keeping a journal and writing about your goals for the next duty station.  Visualize your best possible life and what it would look like.  Will this be a good time to seek employment, make a career change, go back to school, or take a break and focus on family?  What would give you the most happiness and satisfaction personally and professionally?  Then challenge yourself to set 2-3 personal goals for the next assignment that can guide you through the next chapter of your military life.  When I found out we were coming to Hawaii two years ago, I set 3 goals for myself:

  1. Maintain my coaching business.
  2. Write my book.
  3. Take up golf again (a much-loved hobby I had given up when I became a working mom).

I knew this assignment would be a good chance for me to slow down after having two kids, earning a PhD, and starting a business.  For me, this assignment wasn’t about hitting my next career milestone, but about enjoying one or our last duty stations before military retirement.  Having these goals clear in my mind has helped focus my energy and prioritize my time during this assignment.

2.    Make sure your goals fit with your 3M’s.

If you are going to succeed in meeting your personal goals, make sure they realistically fit those 3M roles in your life (marriage, motherhood/fatherhood, military life).  Will your spouse be supportive of your priorities?  If you have children, will you be able to accomplish your goals while still being the parent you need to be?  And are your goals realistic given the demands of your military life (e.g. expected deployments, length of time at this duty station, your service member’s work demands)?  I encourage you to dream big for yourself and craft the life you want to live.  But also do the work to make sure those dreams are achievable in the context of your real-world life.

3.    Expect to feel loss and look for unexpected gains.

Sometimes we underestimate the emotional toll of moving, especially when we think we’ve become experts at the process.  But the reality is that each move is a like a small death.  We experience some loss each time, no matter how small it may seem on the surface.  (Sue Jervis, a British military spouse and psychologist wrote a fascinating book about this if you want to learn more.  She says these losses accumulate over a life of repeated moves, and are often internalized in ways we don’t really acknowledge or learn to repair before the next move comes along.)

I’ve discovered for myself that 4 months is about how long I typically feel out of sorts.  I may be sad one minute and excited the next, or hopeful about one thing but really down about another.  So I’ve made a promise to myself not judge anything about a new assignment for the first 4 months.  I cut myself some slack about any ups and downs and try to withhold judgment if I find myself worrying too much.  I expect to feel some loss during those first few months and I try not to over-react when it comes.  At the same time, don’t wait to embrace new opportunities and look for gains that you might not have expected.  In other words, give yourself permission to accept the loss, sadness, frustration during the transition AND be open to the good stuff that will come your way if you let it.

If this is a summer on the move for you, I wish you peace in your PCS.



The Naked Truth: Maria’s Story

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

Maria was an ambitious and successful attorney determined to keep her career going through every PCS.  Currently a stay-at-home mom, she shares the sense of failure she felt when she was unable to sit for her third bar exam.  Ultimately, she says she had to forgive herself and move on, but is critical of the roadblocks military life imposes on professional military spouses.

I was a domestic violence prosecutor in Puerto Rico, and I had a lot of prestige because I was prosecutor.  But because I was in love, and my husband was an American military guy, I had to leave everything behind, my family, my friends, my career and move to Biloxi, Mississippi.  It was a sweet and sour experience because I was a newlywed.  I was so much in love.  But it was tough leaving everything behind.  And I had to focus on perfecting my English, so I started taking English classes on base. It was stressful.

It was a tough decision.  All my family were like, “Are you sure about this?  You’re going to get married and leave everything behind?”  But I was in love.  And I said, “You know what, I’ll find another job.  I’ll pass the bar in the United States.  I’ll do whatever it takes.  This doesn’t mean the end of my career.” Or so I thought.

I didn’t understand what it means to be a military wife at all.  I didn’t understand that I had to move all the time.

The first couple of months, because I was a newlywed, everything was like an adventure.  But it was very difficult for me to accept the fact that I depend on my husband.  Like I was making my own money and I was buying fancy clothing or nice stuff because I could afford it.  And now I felt so guilty that I had to use my husband’s money.

My mom worked all her life so my example was a working mother.

My mom has her own business, a very powerful lady.  So I felt like, “What’s wrong with me?  I live off of my husband.”  So I was focusing on perfecting my English and being (fully) bilingual because I wanted to go back to work as soon as possible. I was afraid I was going to be discriminated against with a Puerto Rican diploma.  So I went back to school for my LLM in health law.

So then we moved to Florida.  And it was a lot of sacrifice once again, but I passed my bar (exam) the first time.  I was very proud of myself.  A lot of people didn’t pass the bar and English is their first language, and I was able to pass the bar and I did very good.  My dad was so proud of me.

I tried to find a job in my line of work, in health law.  And I kept applying, applying and I couldn’t find a job.  And after months and months I found a job in a field that I never even considered, in insurance defense.  But I didn’t like it because insurance defense has nothing to do with family or people.

I wasn’t enjoying my job.  I was miserable.

And my husband said, “Maria, this is not worth it.” I was working seven days a week.  So I quit.  My husband supported me a hundred percent.  But it’s tough because I was making my own money again.

(I decided) I’m going to go back to my roots.  I’m going to go back to family law and domestic violence because I think that’s my calling.  So I started working as a volunteer (for a legal services agency).  And very quickly they were very happy with me.  So the first time they had open a paying job, it was a temporary attorney job, substituting for this lady that needed breast cancer surgery.  So she trained me and I did her job.  It was helping people represent themselves in court.  And it was with the public coming, walk-ins and I loved it.  I loved it.  It was a very good job.  And they were very pleased with me.

Right after that, they had an opening for a family law attorney…yes!  And they wanted a bilingual person.  The problem was my husband had to PCS.  We were hoping to stay in Florida.  But unfortunately it didn’t work out, so we had to go to San Antonio.  So that was bad news.  I cried so much.

I was devastated because I was so happy with my job.

They said, “It’s too bad you have to leave, but we don’t care.  You give us whatever time you can give us and we’ll have you.  And then when you’re leaving then we’ll put out an advertisement to look for somebody else.”  So I loved it.  I was so happy.  I would be singing in the morning going to work.  It’s so hard for a person to find a job that you look forward to go to every morning.

When it was time to say goodbye I cried a lot.  When I arrived in San Antonio I was so depressed.  I stayed a whole week in bed.  I didn’t want to get out.  I said, “No, I don’t want to go anywhere.  I don’t want to see San Antonio.  I don’t want to be here.”  I felt bad for my husband, but it really hurt me so much leaving my job.  And I had to say goodbye and start all over again.

You know the thing is, every time you PCS your life is in pieces and you have to start all over again.

It is very hard to be a military wife.  People don’t understand that but it’s a lot of sacrifice.  That’s why when you see people criticizing benefits to military people I say, “They don’t understand.  This is a lot of sacrifice.  It’s not only the soldiers but also the families.”  Oh, my God.  I’m sorry… (Maria is crying)

I felt so miserable.  I wanted to be an attorney.  But I didn’t have the bar (in Texas) so I couldn’t work as an attorney.  So I decided to take the bar for the third time.  Then I found out I was pregnant.  It was a very tough pregnancy.  Two weeks before the bar I started getting very, very, very sick.  I started having contractions.  And I feared that I was going to lose my baby.  So something told me inside, “Maria, if you keep pushing yourself, and if you keep doing this you’re going to lose your baby.  You’re harming your baby with all this stress.”  So I told my husband, “I’m not going to do this.”  So I postponed it.  I said, “I’m not going to take the bar.  I’m dedicating myself to my baby.”

But it was hard.  I got depressed.  I felt like I failed.

I felt like I couldn’t do it.  It was important for me to have another bar like ooh, I will feel prestigious.  I got really depressed, to the point that I was in bed crying.  And my mom said, “Maria, you have to forgive yourself for not doing this or you’re going to harm your baby, you’re crying so much.”  But I felt defeated.  It took me a while to accept that I didn’t do it.  I couldn’t do it.  But it’s okay. I’m a human.

I felt like I was like a school drop-out.  I was ashamed of myself.  And you always have the fear that if you take a pause in your career then nobody will want to hire you.  I set myself a goal and I didn’t do it.  I had never dealt with failure before in my life, never.  I’ve always been so successful.  I was also worried about other people’s opinion.  I know it’s silly but they’re going to think less of me because I didn’t do the bar.

It took me a while to accept, because I never thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom.

I always looked at myself in the view as a professional.  Every time I saw a lady with children, staying at home, “No.  That’s not going to be me.  I’m going to be the professional.”  So it was hard to accept my fate that I’m going to be a stay at home mom.  It was hard.  It took almost two months to forgive myself and not feel guilty anymore.

All my memories are of my mom working and being dressed up to go to work, with her makeup and her high heels. I always looked at her and admired her so much.  That was the kind of example that I had.  So that’s my role model, my mother.  And that’s what I wanted to be.

Maybe it’s silly of me for thinking like this, but sometimes I’m afraid.

My husband has such a very nice prestigious job.  He does something really, extremely important, saving people’s lives every day.  And he can come home and talk about work and he feels so good about himself.  I can see it in his eyes.  That passion, he loves his job.  He loves it and I cannot share.  I don’t have any input.  And sometimes I’m afraid my husband is not going to find me interesting anymore.  What do I have?  What can I talk about, what I saw on TV or what I talk about with the girls out in coffee?

I never thought it was going to be this hard to the point that I tell girls, “Oh, are you dating a military guy?  End it now before you fall in love.”  I’m sorry, but as I said it’s hard.  If you really love your job and your career you have to think twice.  You have to sacrifice a lot for love, for the love of your husband.  You have to sacrifice practically who you are.

The Naked Truth: Vanessa’s Story

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

Vanessa has her own photography business and two small children. She met her husband in high school, and describes how they made the decision together for him to join the Air Force. Although it has been a roller coaster in many ways, she is proud to be a part of the military and wouldn’t trade it for the world. The following excerpt is from my interview with Vanessa in Germany.

I had never had any sort of military experience at all. So it took a lot of prayer and thought to decide if this was the best decision for our future family. Once we looked at all the benefits and also looked at whether or not he was just going to enlist or be a commissioned officer, it was a no-brainer for us. When he joined ROTC that was great because we got benefits right away. They started paying for his school right away. They started paying for our housing, which was a big deal.

He was trying to lean towards a career where it would be a normal schedule. And they told him he’d probably deploy, but at the time it was four month deployments. Maybe every couple years kind of thing and we were like, “Okay, that’s doable.” All the benefits, the healthcare benefits, steady employment, and the thought of traveling for us was actually really exciting.

Coming from a really small town myself, I was ready to get out. I wanted to see the world. So we made a decision and he signed on.

I was probably more in love with the idea of just being with someone and getting ready to start a family and moving somewhere than I was about trying to pursue my own career at that point. I just kind of felt like everything would fall into place. Either I would get a job and I would do it, or I wouldn’t and I would have a family. So I wasn’t, “Well I need to do this. I need to have my career so how’s this going to work.”

I wasn’t career-oriented at that point.

I started off working in a preschool classroom, and that was useful. I’ve always liked working with kids. And then once I graduated, I was able to move into the Kindergarten. (At the next assignment), I still wanted to work with kids, but I wanted to focus more on children that had disorders, some sort of early intervention, something like that. And I thought that it was going to be easy for me, I guess in my immature mindset, thinking that getting out of college I’m not going to have a hard time finding a job. But it took me almost five months to find employment, and for me that was very frustrating.

(The job I got) was dealing with children with special needs and also children in a low income setting and how that affects their development. (It was a) really phenomenal organization. I was able to do all kinds of things with my career.

I really felt a sense of accomplishment because I found something that I had actually gone to school for and was utilizing my education.

I was pursuing what I thought was my dream of working in child intervention. It was a really rewarding job. I really liked it. (Then) we found out shortly after my son was born that my husband was going to be deploying. That was really devastating. It was hard to tell our families too, because they didn’t want to see him leaving plus leaving me and a new baby. So that was really hard. But I had made the decision to quit working before we’d found out that he was going to deploy.

I just knew that I wanted to be home and raise our children. It wasn’t even an option to put them in childcare.

I saw that from my experience working with the 0 to 3 year olds. I saw how devastating it was to some of these children to have their parents gone the entire week. When we had early care and late care, some of them would come in as early as they possibly could and leave as late as they possibly could. And I didn’t want that for my kids. I just didn’t want that, and we were financially able to make that decision and stay home. I was just fortunate to do that. But yeah, that was solidifying for me to see these little babies being left, and I just couldn’t do it.

It was good (staying home), but I started to realize that I needed to be doing something.

But I didn’t want to be doing something that would pull me away from my kids all of the time. And actually, that’s when my love of photography really started to take off. I had these cute precious little babies, and I’m trying to capture everything I possibly can. In my ever-failing mommy brain I’m trying to picture them in a newborn phase and I can’t do it. All I can think about is the spit-up on my shirt or whatever. So I started taking snapshots, and then it developed into more stuff. I got a nicer camera and took some shots of the boys and printed them in a decent size and hung them on the wall. I got a lot of encouragement from friends and family to pursue this. And never in my mind did I think that I would go to school in developmental psychology and end up being a photographer. But it just sort of fell into place. I didn’t think I’d be going back to work, but I thought I could do this.

I could start a business and I could travel with that business, because I could take it wherever we go.

I could do it out of my home. And with the military, it wouldn’t really be an issue because it was there with me. It was just a part of me. So it seemed really reasonable, something where I had a creative outlet. I could be contributing to society or be a part of something bigger than myself, still creating my own schedule. I was still able to be there for the boys when they needed me.
I thought that being the caregiver for my children would be enough for me. And it was enough, but it still felt like I needed to be doing something outside of them. I realized I still needed a piece of me that was separate from my children. Because I didn’t want to continually see myself as a mom. I mean you never break free from that role, but I didn’t want that to be my only label. I wanted something for myself and I needed something where I was pursuing something individually that wouldn’t necessarily affect my children, but still I could go off on this career path and still feel like I was accomplishing my own goals.

The business idea started to really grow when my husband came back from his second deployment.

And then he found out a few months later that he was going to be gone for a year. And I thought, “This is awful. You’ve already gone on two deployments, and you’ve only been in for a few years. This is not what we signed up for.” So we had made the decision that he was going to get out because it was just too much on our family. He actually submitted his paperwork and everything. Sorry, I’m going to cry….

But after searching and searching and trying to find something that was comparable to what he was doing, it was nearly impossible. We decided together that it wasn’t going to work. We were just going to have to push through whatever deployment we were going to have to go through and he was going to stay in the military.

It was really hard seeing him as the caretaker for our family struggle so much. I didn’t want that for him.

I didn’t want that for us. And I knew he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. As hard as that is for our family, I knew that’s what he was supposed to be doing. So he pulled his paperwork, and they were like, “All right, but that means you’re going to leave. You don’t have a choice. You have to do this 365.”

We made the decision that I would go back and be with family. I registered with the state of Wyoming and that was a really proud moment. But I think my children probably suffered a little bit in that time because, not only was their dad gone, I was sort of not there emotionally. It was hard with your husband being gone and he was doing convoy missions in Afghanistan. So that part was hard, but I think I turned that emotional part of it around and used that for fuel for my own personal thing that I was trying to do. I needed that distraction. I needed something for myself while he was gone.

What were your hopes for the business when you thought about coming here to Germany?

I thought it was a great opportunity.

I’m going to be surrounded by military community where word of mouth within spouses is the most powerful form of advertising. I started just doing some friends and that kind of thing. But right away, it was just like wildfire. Just exactly like I thought it would be. There would be a huge need and I would have a huge target market here and it would just take off. And that’s exactly what happened. So at some point, especially around the holidays, I had to tell some people I couldn’t take anymore clients. And that was a first for me to have to tell people “no” because I was so busy. But it was really good.

I’m really, really proud of my work. I stand behind it 100%. I really love being able to give people something that they love and are going to cherish forever. I think it’s a priceless gift that you give to somebody. Yeah, it’s fantastic. I feel like I have a purpose.

(Vanessa explained before the interview that the Air Force has told her to close her photography business because her home-based business does not meet the requirements of the local Status of Forces Agreement. Although this was later rectified, during our interview Vanessa’s business is currently on hold.)

I feel like this has been taken away from me, like I’ve been cheated. There could be some kind of exception to the law. There’s this stereotype that military spouses don’t do anything. They kind of sit on their butts, or do whatever. They’re just there as caretakers. But I feel like they almost push us to be that way instead of allowing us to do these things and be a part of these things. It’s as simple as selling Pampered Chef or the other little franchise companies that military spouses are a part of. It creates camaraderie between us, and as silly as it is, you create friendships from a Pampered Chef party. That one important person could change your life later on down the road in your military career. So, by making it so difficult they’re taking stuff away from us.

I like being a part of something bigger than myself. I like seeing my husband in this role and him being a part of something bigger than us. I think it’s great and I stand by him 100%. I’m really proud of him. We went through that transition of him getting out, and I can’t see him not being in the military. And I’ve been able to have such great friendships and meet some of the most amazing people, and become part of such an amazing family. There’s a whole difference between being in a group of people that are in the military and those that are not. It’s like night and day. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I like being a part of that, just the sense of family that I have being a part of this. I really love it.

I’m proud to be a military spouse.

For myself personally, I think the hardest part is just dealing with the rules, with the military way. This is what it is. This is what you have to do. But I wouldn’t change it. I don’t want to not be a part of this, as crazy as that is, because as sad and emotional as it has made me, a part of us will always be military. Once you get in it, you can’t separate yourself from it.

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: Isabelle’s Story

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

Isabelle has an established contracting career in the GS system, and is a newly married military spouse. Saying the “grass in not always greener,” she talks about her decision to keep working even though she used to long for the opportunity to stay home when she was a single parent. Although she used the military spouse hiring preference to obtain her current position, she dislikes being seen as a “stopper” and thinks she will get a job “on her own” next time. The following excerpt is from my interview with Isabelle in Germany.

I married my husband right before we moved here. So this is our first duty station together. I met my husband about two weeks after I finished my masters’ degree, and prior to that had no time to date or do anything because I was working on my degree. I was a single parent. I was also doing what I do now. I’m a contract specialist for the government. At that time I was working for a DOD agency. And we met, got engaged very quickly and then he got orders to come here. I was looking for opportunities outside of the organization I was working at because I had finished my masters’ degree and was looking for something else.

So it was very quick. He got his orders in December. I decided in January to go with him. And then we were gone in February. So I didn’t have time to look for a job. And as a matter of fact, I was kind of looking forward to not having a job for a while, because I had not done that. I had my daughter when I was 20 and worked every day since then. And I was thinking, “Oh this is going to be nice to have a break!” So we got here and we went to the newcomers briefing, and Civilian Personnel had a table set up. My husband went over and he was talking to them about what I do. And they said, “Oh we have so many vacancies for that. Are you interested in starting to work?” And I thought, “I know how it is with the government employment process.” I thought, “Yeah okay,” knowing that it would take a while. But I got an offer two days later.

Well, I may have to start a little further back than that. Before I had my daughter, I was going to school to be a psychologist. That’s what I wanted to do and then got pregnant. So I got the first job that I could get that was going to make me any kind of money. And that was in contracting with the government. It was an internship. So time just went by. I got more experience in it, was being looked at as knowing what I was doing, and got promotions and it kept going and going. And I still hadn’t finished my degree. So when I had the time to go back to school, I really had to think did I want to start over entry level in what I wanted to do or keep going with what I was doing. And that was kind of an easy choice because as a single parent you don’t really get to make those decisions based on what you want to do.

So now that I have my masters’ degree, I thought maybe I can move into a different career, something similar, still something with business, not psychology, but maybe something a little bit more me. So I was putting in for jobs across the country, even across the world still thinking it’s just me and my daughter. But then we got married and came over here. I guess I could have not worked or waited to find the perfect job but I don’t think there’s a lot of perfect jobs at my level in the GS system. So I got into contracting again.

If I didn’t accept that job I could not use my military spousal preference again all year, so I took it. It wasn’t necessarily what I would have chosen on my own if I was the one picking where I want to work or what I want to do.

What was it like in those first few weeks before you started working again?

I had the idea of not working because since my daughter was born, I’ve worked full time.

And I thought, “Oh, this is going to be great. I’ll take her to school in the morning and then I’ll come home. I’ll make her snacks and I’ll pick her up from the bus stop.” I was very excited about that stay-at-home mom aspect that I’ve never gotten to do. And then when I started doing that I thought, “This really isn’t for me.” She’d come home and I’d have her cute little snack that I worked all day on and she’d say, “Can I go play over at my friend’s house?” And I’d be like, “Okay, bye.” So it wasn’t what I envisioned it was going to be.

(I thought) that we would spend time together and go for walks and we would bake. Just those things that you want to do with your children when you’re stuck at work and you think, “Oh, if I was at home this is what I’d be doing.” But the reality of it was she was at school all day. My husband was working very long hours and when we first moved here we only had the one car. So he would take the car and I’d be stuck unpacking boxes all day long, no TV, nothing to do, no friends. She’d come home, “Mom, I want to go play with my friends down the street.” And I could have been at work interacting with people. I guess that’s what I thought I was going to be doing at home. Instead of interacting with customers and people, I’d have my family to interact with. But I didn’t even have that.

I think I really realized who I am and who I’m not.

I had eight years wishing that my life was different, that I could stay home. And I think that really helped me realize that the grass isn’t always greener. That’s not who I am. It’s not like you see on TV where you’re in the kitchen with your daughter and you guys are baking and having fun. It’s not that way. So it really helped me to go back to work and not be wishing that I was at home. But that didn’t last long, because when I have bad days at work I think, “Gosh, if I was at home right now…”

Later on, I took an entire summer off because my son was born in the beginning of the summer. And for the first month I was like, “Oh, I want to do this. I don’t want to go back to work.” And then it got to that third month and I was deciding every day whether I should bathe. And my daughter is still wanting to go hang out with her friends. And I love my son, but all day long it’s just me and him, and I thought, “Yeah, this isn’t it. I need more interaction.”

It’s not like I need to be around people all the time, but I need to be around people sometimes. I need to have some adult interaction. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if my husband was not working such late hours or TDY all the time. But I would go three or four days and realize I haven’t spoken to an adult. And I need that on a daily basis. I need to have motivation to get up in the morning and bathe and brush my teeth and have a plan. And I think left to my own devices I would not do those things. If I didn’t have a reason, I would probably sit in my living room and play with my baby all day long, and slowly get fat and not bathe. I need motivation to do something.

I feel for the most part I’m accomplishing things (at work), and I think everyone needs to feel like at the end of the day.

I need to look back and say, “This is what I did today. This is who I helped today.” If I have a day where I think I didn’t do anything or accomplish anything, it’s kind of sad for me. So when I’m working, I feel like at the end of the day I have a story to tell my daughter at the dining room table, something funny to tell my husband. Otherwise you spend the day at home and it’s like, what do you have to talk about? Nothing, I did laundry today. So it’s a sense of accomplishment I guess.

It’s just that long term, if that were my life plan to stay home, I just don’t think I would feel like I accomplished much. Of course I would be raising my children and spending all day with them. And I hate to make it sound like I don’t want to do that. I absolutely enjoy the time that I spend with them. But I think going to work and spending the day not with them, means the time that I do have with them is quality time. Because when I would spend all day with them, it’s kind of like, “Well, we have all day to fit in all the fun stuff we could do.” And now we have three hours. So I make it a point to do what I can do with my daughter in that time or on the weekends. We make sure that we pack it full of fun things so that it’s quality time since we don’t have the quantity of time.

How do you think being a military spouse is going to affect your career in the future?

Well it definitely it changes how I take ownership of my own future and even my current situation.

When you know that you’re short term, that I have three years here, for me it really changes what my goals are while I’m here. When I was on my own, getting a promotion was solely based on me and moving to another place was my decision. And now I kind of feel like those decisions are just kind of out of my control. So of course I strive to do the best that I can do on my job, but I don’t have that extra drive that this matters so much because this will change my career. On my own, I had done very well and people looked to me as being an expert. And then I come here and got hired as a spouse. They don’t even look at your resume. They make sure you’re qualified, and then you hit the list, meaning you’re qualified, and then they have to pick you.

Maybe it’s not this way everywhere, but I’ve heard from other spouses that are in the GS system that it’s typical. You come into work and you’re given the lowest duties no matter what your capabilities are because the expectation is

“She’s just a spouse. She’s a stopper. She stopped me from getting the person I really wanted.”

I’m not knocking the effort, because it is great that they make an effort to put a program in place to hire spouses. But knowing my experience here where I came in and had this experience, had this level of appreciation, and was really looked at as an expert in my last place, and then coming here and people don’t ask you a single question about your expertise. They just give you the smallest duty that they could possibly give you so that you won’t mess it up. It didn’t take very long for them to realize I know what I’m doing. But I feel like now every time I move, this is something that I have to prove.

Every time I’ll just have to prove myself and that is really going to impact my ability to promote.

When I came here, I had been a GS-11 for quite awhile in my old agency, and was being looked at for promotions. But I came here as a military spouse preference, GS-11. If I leave here as a GS-11 I’ll get stuck as a GS-11 somewhere else and have to prove myself. By the time I do, it’ll be time to move again, stuck as a GS-11 again. My mom was a spouse and my dad was in the military. She retired as a GS-7 because they moved sometimes every year during his career. And I never understood why it was so hard for her. A lot of times she just didn’t even want to work because she had to start fresh every time. And I get it now. I get it. But now I realize I have to take more ownership of my career. And that’s why I started looking external to my squadron. And hopefully when we move this time we’ll have more notice and I can start putting in for jobs that won’t even know that I’m a spouse. I’ll just have to try to get a job on my own. Honestly, I probably won’t use the spousal preference program again.

I think I’m at a level where I could get a job on my own. It wouldn’t be as easy. It certainly wouldn’t take two days to get an offer. It would take longer. But I would prefer for somebody to hire me looking at my resume and knowing what I’m capable of than to get hired faster just because of the spousal program. I do think that it’s great for entry level spouses because that’s how you’re treated anyway, as an entry level person that doesn’t know anything.

I guess I have a little bit of bitterness because I feel like I’ve already proven myself. I can stand on my own. And now it’s not me. It’s Sergeant X’s wife. That’s who I am now, even in my own career. And that’s so weird to me.

Yes, it’s just weird to me. It’s not a bad thing. I’m very involved in all the spouses’ groups. The second day we were here, I went to a spouse’s meeting and it was the same thing. “What does your husband do?” was the first question. “Who’s your husband?” Not, “What do you do?”

I’m not knocking it, you know. I’m very proud of my husband but it seems like military spouses, at least the one’s I’ve encountered, tie their identity very close to what their husband does, and who he is. But that’s not me. And it certainly doesn’t reflect where I’m at in my career.

(Being a spouse has) really made me question things that I thought I knew about myself, just what my values were.

I always just did put my interests first, my career first. And I’m very surprised at how easy it is not to do those things. People say all the time it’s weird that I’m following him around rather than him following my career, because I’m further into my career. My career is still important, just not as important as I always thought it was. And I know that one of the reasons my career was important was because I needed to keep making money to support my daughter. And it’s not so necessary now that I’m not living on one income.

I think I’ve realized that I’m more flexible than I thought I was. I have always been very much a planner. And now since so much is out of my control, I think a lot of that has been forced upon me, and you just can’t plan. How do you plan when you don’t know? Based on my personality, I thought that I would have had a harder time letting go of that control of my career, my life, my plans. And it’s just been really easy to just give that up.

It feels like a burden has been lifted off of me that I don’t have to make all the decisions. Now I can trust that some things are just going to happen whether you plan for them or not.

The Naked Truth: Grace’s Story

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

Grace is a stay at home mom who says being overseas with the military gave her the freedom not to work without having to justify her decision to her family or anyone else. At the same time, with an MBA and successful corporate career in her past, she still believes it’s important for her to be a professional role model for her daughters. The following are excerpts from my interview with Grace, which is not her real name.

When we got married, my husband had just been accepted to medical school. So he did medical school through the military. So really there was a great benefit because we had an income during medical school. But I wasn’t a real military spouse until after his medical school. And after medical school our first assignment was at Beale Air Force Base.

My first impression of the military was, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

We arrived at Beale Air Force Base, and it’s brown and empty. And I’m like, “What have we done? Oh my God. I can’t believe we’re doing this.” There’s nothing here, and I’m a city girl. I’m going to shoot myself here. But, quickly I met some wonderful Air Force wives. One in particular shaped my experience as an Air Force spouse. She had met my husband the first day there, and she called me on the phone and said, “You have never met me. You don’t know who I am. But I met your husband during startup. Do you guys want to go to dinner?” And I was amazed. I was flabbergasted. I was like, “I can’t believe this. Who is this nut who is inviting me out to dinner? I mean how cool, but this is insane.” And it turns out that we’ve been friends ever since.

So we got friends right away, which was really nice. And then the rest of the time I worked like crazy. (Working for Hewlett Packard) was my first job after my MBA. I was earning more money. And I said, “Well, I can do this.” I proved to myself that I can be successful. And I had a cubicle mate who worked close to me. He was retired military. And he came over to me and said, “I can’t believe you’re in the military.” I said, “Why?” He says, “I have never met a military spouse like you.” And I said, “Really?” “Yes, I’ve never met an officer’s wife like you.””Well, what do you mean?” “Well, officer’s wives don’t work. They don’t have careers. They don’t do what you’re doing.”  I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m different.”

I felt mixed (about that), because at that time I’d never really been a military spouse. I mean I never really lived on base. I never shopped on base. I never went to military functions. I didn’t have military friends except for that lady who called me up and other physicians’ spouses, who were working, too. So, sometimes I kind of felt proud because I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not what outsiders think of as a military spouse, some lady who stays at home and is fat and wears an ‘I love the Navy’ t-shirt.” So I felt good at that time of not being the typical military spouse. But I kind of felt that (what my co-worker said) was kind of an unfair shot, you know, stereotyping officer’s wives. Because I knew plenty of officer’s wives that weren’t snobby or stuck up.

I was but I wasn’t a military spouse because I didn’t do anything with the military.

I rarely went to base. I guess I must have gone three times a year to the base to visit my husband at the hospital. Where other military wives would take them lunch or take them dinner. But I commuted so long that I would get home at 7:00 during the week, and there’s just no way that I could go all the way to his office. A lot of the wives helped their husbands with the out-processing. And I just couldn’t…there’s just no way. And my husband at one point said, “These other wives are helping them do this and this.” And I said to him, “You know what, if HP was moving me to Europe, would you come and do my paperwork at my job?” He’s like, “No.” I said, “So why am I going to go and do your paperwork at your job?” But there is an expectation that was there.

“Tell me what happened when you moved to Italy.”

My husband and I love to travel. And that was one of the reasons that we wanted to go overseas, so we were very excited. And really, work was a secondary thought. Then my boss said, “Okay, just take the job with you.” So it wasn’t really much of a thought.

Initially it was fine. And I didn’t know I was pregnant yet, so that wasn’t really a consideration. It was just, “Oh, cool. I can work during the day, and then we can travel during the weekends and things like that.” So it was quite comforting to be able to take the work with me. You know pack up my boxes, and they paid for everything, which was really nice. HP sent everything out of my office to my new home. But that was stressful taking my job with me because in Italy, it’s like going from 100 miles an hour down to 10 miles an hour. And you’ve got an internet hook up, but no data going through. Since I work in finance you just can’t send those kind of files over the Internet. So yeah, I was kind of frustrated.

It was really difficult, you know. The electricity, for example, you couldn’t have three things going at the same time. You couldn’t have the dryer going with the computer going with the oven going. All your breakers would pop. So you can’t multi-task. And, you know, working in the States is multi-tasking, severely multi-tasking. So I just couldn’t multitask, and that was very frustrating. Getting used to that and going to Italian speed, that was hard actually.

I do have to say my boss was very disappointed (when I quit), because he bent over backwards to get me set up and help the military out and to continue my job. When I sent everything back it was an expense for the company, and it was disappointing for him because it just didn’t work out. And so I did feel guilty because you’re breaking some kind of trust, you know. But in the end you’re like, “Okay, I’m in Italy now. Have fun.” And I found out I was pregnant, so it was going to work out. And working on base never even really seriously crossed my mind because I didn’t feel at that time that there would be anything available that I would want to do on base, at a level I would want to work at.

I really don’t regret stopping working.

It was my choice. So it was actually kind of liberating, because I don’t have any pressure to keep on working and put my kids in daycare. I don’t have to justify that to anybody. And in the States, there’s a lot of working moms who look down on stay at home moms. I didn’t feel I had to justify that to anybody and that was really nice.

I know maybe this sounds strange but it’s easier to justify not working (overseas).

There’s really the mentality in the United States, or at least in San Diego, that everybody works. And there are very few stay at home moms. At least I didn’t know any really. So, I didn’t have to justify it to my mother. I didn’t have to justify it to the rest of my family and tell them why I wasn’t working, why I wasn’t sticking my kids in daycare. And would I have felt strongly enough or guilty enough to go back to work even if I didn’t want to? I don’t know. That’s not a question I ever had to face. I might have. But then I went to Japan. And then we went to Ramstein.

And it’s only until now, where my kids are bigger, that I’m thinking, “What am I going to do now?” I’ve decided I’m not going to go back to corporate America because I would minimally be gone 7am to 7pm. So I’m going to do something else. I’m going to do a third career. I haven’t decided quite yet. I’m looking into teaching. But I’m not sold on it yet, so I’m still thinking what I should do.

“What would you get out of going back to work?”

I think feeling good about myself, a little bit more, again. Also being a role model for my girls. Having a mom who works is good as a role model. But I just have to be careful. I want to balance. I don’t want to just go back to work to earn money. I want to go back to do something that I will like.

Sometimes staying at home is boring, you know? Housework is just absolutely boring. You know housework and doing the same routine things, and then driving kids around as a taxi service all the time. At the end of the day you say, “Oh my God, I have done absolutely nothing today.” Though if you’re with me I’m always in the car. I’m always doing something. I’m always doing something else, but I feel at the end of the day like I’ve done nothing.

And making your own money is always nice. When I stopped working I was very clear with my husband. I said, “I’m not going to be working, but the minute that you make me feel bad about not earning money that is the day I will go back to work and put your kids in daycare.” So since then he’s like, “No problem.” And he is 100% behind what I’m doing. So that has never been an issue. And I always say, “My money is my money and your money is my money.” That’s always been our motto in our life. And he’s been really cool and supportive about it.

I think just getting out of the house would be nice, spending time for myself with other people who are not children, and talk about different things. That would be really nice. Maybe it’s nostalgic. Perhaps, I don’t know. Maybe when I get to work I’ll be like, “I don’t want to talk to any of you guys. I want to go home with my family.”

“You mentioned wanting to be a role model for your girls…”

Well, I think it stems from the fact my mom has always worked. She has a PhD and a couple of Masters, and I think she associates a lot of value to education and that status. So if I’m not working, some of that role modeling isn’t there for the kids. If they choose not to work that’s fine. But I want them to have that role model of going to the university and not feeling bad about being a corporate person if they want to do it, or a doctor or a whatever, and have that as something normal. Not thinking like, “I should stay at home or be a mom or not go to school because I just want to stay home.” I think it’s really important to be able to choose, because I see a lot of wives that have children before they finish their education. They’re kind of stuck and they don’t have education.

So I want to make sure that (my daughters) are prepared for that. I think that seeing your mom work or study is a good thing, because it’s a good pattern. It’s good role modeling. And just seeing me cook and clean and shuttle kids back and forth at this age, it’s not something that I want them to do and not have the opportunity to do anything else.

Well, I have to say I do feel now like a real “military wife” because of not working and being in the military.

I do feel like our family right now is a military family. So, you look back at the comment that my co-worker made, and it fits me. I don’t work. Hopefully I’m not stuck up, but I don’t work.


The Naked Truth: Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges – Nicole’s Story

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

Nicole has been a federal employee for 13 years, currently on leave without pay. She has steadily climbed the ladder, to the point where she began to turn down management jobs that were too stressful for her and her family. She’s enjoying a break in Germany, but is also at loose ends wondering if she can continue to advance while being a military spouse. The following are excerpts from our interview. In order to protect her identity Nicole is not her real name

I was an investigator with the federal government. So, I’d already been a federal employee for almost five years when we met. I loved it and enjoyed it. I was really thankful to have the job and my husband was very supportive. When we got our orders to go to Alaska I was a little apprehensive because right away I knew we didn’t have a field office in Alaska. So I started thinking, “Okay, am I going to have a job?”

Then of course when we got to Alaska, I thought, “Oh wow, just our luck, right?” But that turned out to be a really great career experience and professional growth for me, which is what facilitated my promotion down to Monterey. I went to our agency and said “Hey, look. We’re moving up there. I know you guys send TDY support.” I did a “points paper” explaining and justifying why we needed a field office up there. And with management support they allowed that. We moved up there and I opened up the field office.

I felt like okay great, I’m making a difference. I was really contributing to the overall mission DOD-wide because of the nature of what we do. And so, yes, it was great. I loved it. And sad to go, but then I got a promotion (with the move to Monterey).

I will say though that being a spouse, you make a lot of sacrifices.

I feel that you make a lot of sacrifices because my husband didn’t have a lot of flexibility with his job (in Alaska). Both our sons were born up there, and he was definitely able to help with dropping off and picking up at daycare. But I realized how much his career came first because he didn’t have the flexibility being active duty to say, “Here are my work hours.” The Air Force bottom line is you work when they need you to work, based on mission requirements. And I totally understand that. But thank goodness that I had the flexibility I did. So the thought went through my mind, “What if we were someplace else and I wasn’t able to take off?” That would be another challenge that we would have to address just because he didn’t have the flexibility. And he wasn’t in a position to say, “Well I’m just not going to go to work.” I mean as a squadron commander you just can’t do that.

For me, it’s a tough reality to swallow. It really is. Because that means his job is more important than mine.

And I know that he doesn’t feel that way, but the reality is he’s the one that’s in the Air Force. He’s the one that’s making a career out of it. And we even talked about did I want him to get out and then I would be the breadwinner and he would find a job elsewhere. But I said, “No.” No, I’m comfortable with the way things are. I don’t want to be the sole breadwinner. I’m independent, driven and ambitious, but at the same time I wasn’t ready to say, “Okay, yes. Let’s focus on my career first and then you can get a job that’s based around my career.” I’m also very old fashioned and like to let the man make the money.

(When my kids were born), I did not take a break with the exception of my three months’ maternity leave. And I’ll have to tell you, it was very, very emotional.

With my oldest, I probably cried the first month. I had twelve weeks with him and I thought, “I don’t know if I want to go back to work.” I really surprised myself, because I thought for sure I’d want to go back to work. But I cried that first month dropping him off and picking him up thinking, “Man, I don’t know that this is the right decision.”

But then I realized that I wasn’t really ready to give up my job. And seeing him thrive in that daycare setting, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any parts of his life. I didn’t work really long hours and I was nursing him, so every day for lunch I went and nursed him. Also, my job was really great with me because I told them I don’t want to travel this first year. They were very accommodating. So that made it hard too, that professional commitment and pride. And I thought, “Okay, they’re willing to work with me so I don’t want to just quit.” And that’s what I felt like I’d be doing is just quitting on my job and my career. And I felt like I had worked hard to get to where I was. I was really enjoying it. So weighing all of that I felt okay. I’m going to move forward and this is going to be fine and, and I did. And it was. But it was tough. I tried to go part-time actually but they said, “No.”

I felt almost guilty putting my work first. And then some of the spouses in the spouses’ group were openly against women working outside of the home. So there was, “Well I wouldn’t leave my son or daughter in daycare.” And that’s what I had to hear. I thought, “God, am I a bad mother for choosing work over my son or for putting him in a daycare?” But no, I wasn’t. It was the right decision. It was a good decision. And I’m happy about that. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it any differently at all. And I don’t feel any less close to him because of that time.

I feel like I’m a better mother because I have a professional outlet. I have something that’s mine.

Emotionally, professionally, I feel very fulfilled. And I think having that outlet helps me to be a better mother.  Now I went from being career professional to being career professional and a wife, then being career professional, wife and mom. And really it’s, mom, wife career professional, in that order. So I’d like to say I put my husband first but I think he and I both put our children first. And emotionally it was at times very challenging to fill all of those roles. Because sometimes I was just drained from work or travel or the boys maybe had a tough day. And then my husband came home and wanted attention as well, and I’m thinking, “I’m just so tired. I really just have no energy left to talk. I just want to go to bed.”

I think the biggest thing is either way my husband supported me.

He’s like, “If you don’t want to go to work anymore and you want to be a stay-at-home mom, you go ahead.” But then at the same time he said “You really want to think about that because knowing the way I know you, you may regret not working.” So knowing I had the option to stay at home or not was wonderful. At the same time he made an effort to get away from work when he could to make dinner or help with the housework. He’s always been very good at that. So that’s been great. And then the times when I went TDY, he was there taking care of the kids and trying to arrange his schedule so that he could do the drop-off and the pick-up, and just doing everything for the couple of days that I was gone. I don’t take that for granted. So that was another example of how he was just supportive.

So then my agency asked, “Would you mind stepping up and being the Acting Field Office Chief just for a temporary period?” Not that I was afraid of the challenge, but there was an hour and a half drive (to the field office).  So I thought, “Okay, I’ll bite the bullet and do this, because who knows where we’re going to move to next.”  I thought this would be another great opportunity.

I felt very confident I could do the job. But logistically it didn’t work.

I didn’t want to have to do that commute every single day. I just didn’t want to do it. I was worn out. I was pretty exhausted physically and emotionally and not feeling good about myself. I had gained weight, sitting in the car, eating whatever. I wasn’t eating healthy. And then I had a lot of time away from my kids. Sometimes I didn’t get home until 7:30 at night. My kids were already going to bed if not already in bed. And I hadn’t seen them in the morning because I was leaving the house at 5:00 to miss traffic. So I said, “No, I can’t do it anymore.”

I knew it was the right decision, but I was very disappointed because I essentially missed out on a really good opportunity to be a Field Office Chief, to be a manager. And during that time, my husband did everything. I would not have been able to do the job for even the four months I did had it not been for his love and support. He was the one that picked up and dropped off the kids, cooked dinner, cleaned house. He did all of that. And that was because at the time, he really had an eight to five job. So, I would not have been able to do that without his support.

(Then we found out we were going to Germany), and I wanted to go overseas. I really did. And quite truthfully I was so burned out from my job it was an easy out for me. I don’t have to make the choice, because there’s no overseas’ office. I want a break. I need a break. Yay! Let’s go.

But, getting back to the emotional side, I think I miss that professional fulfillment now.

I really do. I really miss working with great people. I really miss contributing to a mission. I really miss the challenges and the rewards. And then I have nearly thirteen years vested with the government. So my professional goal at this stage would be to get twenty. I’m on leave without pay, and I do want to continue working for the federal government. Ideally I’d like to stay with my agency. But if that doesn’t come to fruition, I’d better start applying now because the process can take a little while. In July my leave without pay is up, my one year.

Overall it’s been great and it’s been a much-needed break, absolutely. I’m very thankful. I’m very thankful that I didn’t have to work, and that my agency didn’t call me and say “Can you work now?”

Now I’m missing work, now that I feel like we’ve settled into a routine, and I know the boys are going to be in school next year every day. So now I’m focusing more on my job again. And I’m starting to worry about what I am going to do. So that’s kind of where I am now. And some days I’m like, “Well, what’s meant to be will happen.” And other days I’m like, “Man, I can’t believe after all this time and I’m going to have to swallow my pride and apply for a GS 9 or a 7.”

My hope is that I can stay with the federal government and maintain my grade, even a GS 11 or 12 would be fine. My hope is that I can maintain that and work to get my twenty years in. And based on where we are at that point in our life, and how the boys are doing especially, then I’ll determine whether or not I want to keep working or not. So that’s what my hope is, to have a fulfilling job where I can maintain my pay grade, while also being a great mom and making sure that the boys are developmentally and academically where they need to be in their life and are having the opportunities I had when I was that age.

Every day is just kind of an emotional roller coaster because some days I thank God I’m not working.

I really love this break. I really love all my time. I love being able to have lunch with my girlfriends and go to the gym and just be carefree. It’s like woo-hoo! I never had this before. But then other days I’m like, “I don’t want to go to lunch. I’m tired of the gym. I can work out on the weekends. I want to work.” So it’s been emotional that way, yes. And my husband continues to be supportive. He’s like, “Well, if you want to go back to work, great. But if you don’t that’s fine, too.” At the same he’s like, “You’re not going to apply for a GS 9 are you? You’re a GS 13. You don’t need to go back.”

To have a career, not just a job is something that’s very challenging as a military spouse.

There’s what you would like and then there’s here’s what the reality is and what you can get. And a lot of times those two things don’t jive. So, I feel like I’m stuck settling. I’m stuck settling for what’s available versus what I really want.

It’s a tough reality, but it’s certainly one that I expected, because when we met and when we married, I knew that was going to happen. I really did. But knowing it and experiencing it are two different things.

Knowing what I did back then, I would still do it all over again. It’s worth the sacrifice. It really is. It sucks some days, for lack of a better term, but overall I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like my husband will finish at twenty and then at that point in time I would like to go to a place where my career can soar. And I know he would be supportive of that. So you know what? If I have to put my career on hold right now I will. Now that won’t stop me from trying to move forward. But if it doesn’t work out, then it just doesn’t work out. It’s not meant to be then that’s just the way it is.

“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.

Finding Your Whole Self: The Hidden Blessings of Military Moves

Finding Your Whole Self: The Hidden Blessings of Military Moves | Whole Spouse

Like many of my fellow military spouses, I’m getting ready for PCS season. I’ve got my checklists ready, farewells planned, kids signed up for new schools, and plans for moving my business to the new duty station. After 8 moves in 15 years of marriage, I have the process down (well sort of). As much experience as I have with managing the logistics of each move, the emotional upheaval that comes with each transition never goes away. Each move is like a small death, a letting go of the past assignment and preparing for the unknowns of the next one. We say goodbye to friends, schools, neighbors, and often secure jobs or thriving businesses with the knowledge that we have to put those puzzle pieces back together again on the other side. How many times can I take my life apart and put it back together and still be whole?

British psychologist and military spouse, Sue Jervis, writes about how military moves fragment our psyches and that the challenge for our own mental health is to repair that damage before we are hit with the next move. That requires looking at the losses, mourning them, talking about them, seeking support, and holding onto the best part of our past to teach us who we want to become during the next round.

Nobody has to tell us that moving around every 2-3 years is hard. That’s the average for military families and we know that the emotional, psychological, and financial impacts to spouses are real. But we don’t always talk about the silver lining that comes from experiencing this level of disruption in your life. Many of us literally give up our identities because of a PCS or because of the lifestyle of frequent relocation. Our original career plans don’t fit the demands of military life, or the toll of persevering on that path becomes too great.

Early in my marriage I found myself in just that boat. I was working for a large consulting firm, doing well and up for Partner soon. The only hitch was that I worked very long hours, and lived on airplanes and in hotels most of the time. I was always exhausted and found myself having heart problems in my early 30s. I was proud of my accomplishments, but couldn’t say I enjoyed my job. I was climbing a ladder that I thought was real success without really questioning what I was doing with my life.

Luckily for me, the Air Force literally saved my life. When my husband got orders to Turkey, I quit my consulting job, relieved that I was off the treadmill I had been on, but terrified that my career was over. Although it took a few years for me to sort out what I was really called to do, I’ve never regretted the changes I’ve made. As an independent consultant and coach I do work that is meaningful to me, and provides the flexibility for me to have a real life and a family I spend time with. If not for the forced move overseas, I’m not sure I would have found the courage to leave my corporate life and the façade of success I had been holding so tightly.

I was reflecting on all of this today as I read Sheryl Sandberg’s heartbreaking post about the loss of her husband and her experience with grief. In that post, she shares a simple prayer that says:

“Let me not die while I am still alive.”

That prayer struck a chord in me because it evokes the same kind of feeling I get during each PCS. All your belongings, your relationships, your very sense of identity can be yanked out from under you, yet the essence of YOU are still there. It is almost like a brush with death, where you are called to be reborn each time. For anyone who has experienced tragedy, you know with clarity in those moments what matters. You hold your loved ones tighter, make pledges to spend more time with people, and commit to letting go of the trivial things in life.

I am grateful for each and every one of those moves we’ve made and for the incredible journey that forces me to strip everything away and look at my life with new eyes each time. So the next time you are hijacked by your latest PCS, I challenge you to look for the silver lining and see it is a call to wholeness, to remember exactly who you are and to be that well.


When not PCSing, Michelle offers individual and group coaching for career-oriented military spouses. Contact her for your complimentary coaching session.