Show Me the Ugly
What image does that word call to mind?
While your answers may vary depending upon your own life experiences, there’s certainly one image it doesn’t conjure up: the icon representing your social media vice – network, that is – of choice.
Social media has the very real potential to be the bane of humanity’s existence. So many people wield it incorrectly, using it to show only the “pretty” side of life, not realizing that by filtering out the “ugly” moments they’re missing the opportunity to touch others through their testimony.
It’s so easy to do. We post the very best moments of our lives – the artfully crafted gatherings, the prime “candid” shots, and Selfie No. 25 of 47 successive picture (because the lighting in that particular photo was perfect). We put filters on our food, our faces, our physical bodies and even in the body of our Instagram captions.
I’m guilty of it myself. What’s the saying from today’s most popular viral meme? ‘We” is me, I am “we”.’
I was having a conversation with someone recently about her job search and, in the midst of our discussion, she asked about my first week of work. Many of you know that I left yet another a stateside position in May when my husband received orders to PCS overseas. You’re also aware, thanks to glowing Instagram and Facebook posts I published, that I recently started a new position for a company in England – a mere three months after leaving my last role.
In the face of this “success”, I initially considered writing a “how-to” for U.S. military spouses seeking work while stationed in England. But then, the following exchange happened on the More Than a Mrs. page, and it reminded me of the value that lies in truth and transparency.
As you can see, there was reference to my “inspirational story”. But truly – where is the inspiration in making things sound so easy and glossing over the experience?
So, here, my friends, is the whole TRUTH.
The truth is that I started my job search three months before the moving process began. That I applied to more than 50 positions. That I received numerous automated messages thanking me for my application, or stating that I’d been referred to the hiring manager, followed by months of radio silence.
That USA Jobs repeatedly sent me “You do not meet the qualifications for this position” emails for positions I was overqualified for. That I was specifically asked to apply for one particular position based upon my credentials, and still never heard back.
The truth is that there were weeks where I gave up. That there were days where I was the very embodiment of negativity and my husband had to pull double duty – first as chaplain on base and then as consummate consoler at home.
The truth is that, out of all those applications I put in, the job I ultimately scored is the only one that called me for an interview, and that I had to lightly “sell myself” post-offer as a good investment once they realized I was a military spouse. That I’m still not practicing “law”. That I took another pay cut. That I have no clue how I’ll obtain the in-person continuing education credits I need to maintain my second law license in Nebraska – the license I just shelled out hundreds of dollars for before we found out we’d be moving.
The truth is that…I’ll likely have to do this all over again in (prayerfully, at least no more than) three years time. And there are thousands of spouses out there who have had (or will have) similar experiences. No one is untouchable.
These hardships are the truth. But there’s also the other side of the coin – the lessons learned about myself, my strength and my resiliency (there’s that pesky word again) – from this experience.
And I bet, that if you were to poll other milspouses about lessons learned during their own job searches, you might detect a decided pattern regarding the need to embrace change and flexibility – as well as the fact that “your turn” may just not be right now or it may not look quite like you imagined. Sometimes, to get ahead, you have to be willing to take that forced break, to take that pay cut or, even better, to morph your skills and experience into a new opportunity.
With that said, in preparation for this article, I did just that. Below are the stories and bare bones truths I received in response to my queries. And if you’re in search of commiseration and encouragement as you continue on your own job-search journey, you should file away some of the following gems.
“Job searching as a military spouse has taught me that I need to remain open-minded to many different possibilities and embrace the fact that my career may have to take a different direction during this season of life.”
Wendi, Strength 4 Spouses
“Being a milspouse has taught me just how flexible I can be as it pertains to employment. Being able to assess my skills, not devalue them, but also be willing to utilize them in ways I never expected has benefited me as I look at the long-term, post-military lifestyle. It has afforded me creativity as I look at life after this stage.”
And how about this spot of truth?
“As someone who ties my self-worth to my job, the transition to being a military spouse was rocky for me. I learned above all that a career is vital to how I identify myself. Not motherhood or being “so-and-so’s wife.” I love my family, but it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.
I’ve pieced together jobs, but I still haven’t been able to approach the level of professional achievement I am comfortable with (or what I had before becoming a mil-spouse). I vastly underestimated how great my sacrifices would be. I’ve had to change everything about who I am for this life.
Honestly, it has been a huge blow to my self-esteem. When I was a little girl in the 80s, we were told we could be anything we wanted in life, as long as we worked for it. Now, as a military spouse I am surrounded by a culture that tells me I can be anything I want as long as I put wife and mother first…And make meals for the squadron, volunteer for the bake sale, and be home when the furniture is delivered, of course. For a woman of my generation and upbringing, it was a culture shock!
We also deal with people making asinine remarks, like, “Well, you knew what you signed up for.” No we didn’t. Maybe we thought we did, but none of us could truly know what hand military life would deal us. Nor could we grasp how much of our own personal destiny is put in the hands of people who would rather we didn’t exist at all. The idea that we love a military member so we have to become non-complaining furniture is a joke.
I try to make the best of it by building the best career I can (and I have found consolation in this), but I would be lying if I pretended the career aspect of being a mil-spouse wasn’t the single biggest disappointment of my life.”
“Since becoming a milspouse, the job search to continue my career in insurance sales made me realize how different our life was as a military family. Landing jobs that had a traditional schedule as well as typical workplace drama got me down a number of times. I was annoyed to be at work when my husband was off, missing vacations to see family and not being able to nurture new friendships due to a packed schedule. All of these struggles reinforced my decision to open my own agency which was a dream of mine for a long time. While I am fortunate to have experience in a field that allows such flexibility, I feel for other military spouses because finding worthwhile, flexible income is extremely challenging.”
“It taught me that some jobs just don’t work with this life and I can either be mad about that or I can consider it a gift to be challenged to think about my talents in new ways. I’d have never become a writer or a speaker if I’d stayed on the linear professional path I was on when I met my Soldier.”
“Since becoming a milspouse, the job search process taught me not to take “NO” as an answer. There are opportunities out there, and I have to go for what I want. For me, that meant saying bye to corporate America and starting my own corporate me! ;)”
“Job searching as a milspouse has taught me that I can find joy in a lot of different jobs when I stay true to who I am. As a certified teacher I have taught and subbed at some duty stations, but I have also worked at coffee shops and started a blog. What I’ve found is that the better I know myself, the more I can use my gifts even if it’s in a different avenue or “career path” than the previous duty station. It’s important to be open to opportunities that are outside of the box if they are within our strengths.”
“Since becoming a milspouse, the job searching process taught me that I’m more adaptable than I think. We all are. I may have different jobs from different fields, but that only builds my skills and knowledge for my next opportunity.”
Cherron, The Veteran Spouse
“I’ve learned to fend for myself to create my own opportunities. I’ve been hired to do a ton of different things over the years, never two jobs have been the same but I’ve also never had a job longer than 2 years. Moving so much and knowing I’m going to move regardless has killed a little bit of my work attitude because I know I will move before I’m promoted or given a raise. It doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard. I end up not playing the long game as much as my peers who stay in one place and network and schmooze . I have used all the moving and job experience to my advantage and now I’m at a point where prospective employers are impressed by my skill set. But my job won’t ever come first as a military spouse.”
“I gave up my paid career as a college English educator when I got married and we PCSed. I tell my homeschooled kids that I work hard, every day, all day, all year round. Not all jobs have salaries. I do lots of work, good work, godly and holy work – raising and teaching my 4 kids, managing our household, planning our travels, investing, writing, researching, guiding. I don’t measure what I do by a mere income and I am thankful and blessed that I don’t need one.”
“Like most things, the career options for military spouses is more nuanced and varied than anyone wants to admit – because it highlights both difficult solutions are and the institutional biases that run deep in the military culture.
Employment and professional programs are extremely limited in scope. It is easy to focus on location based challenges by championing entrepreneurship, resume workshops, corporate hiring programs and remote work as the be all answers. But, as helpful as those things can be, they fail to address the full picture.
Employment is also limited by the lack and expense of child care. It is curtailed by the expectation that “your wife will take care of it” when it comes to household management tasks – which also hits dual military and single women who serve. Employment is challenged by school issues, health struggles and kids activities – all things experienced by nonmilitary families but with the added wrinkle of military bureaucracy, limited family/network support, underserved areas and that lag that happens with learning what is available in a new area. More than anything else, spouse mental health is a key component of the un/underemployment issues that is grossly neglected.
It’s not impossible. But it’s hard and requires the military family to make hard choices frequently – family size, geo-baching, slower pace to promotion for both parties, and more all are part of the conversation.”
Kristen Smith, whiteglovesoptional.com
Many thanks to each of the spouses who shared their truths with us. We’ll be satisfied if being transparent about it here helps even one struggling spouse realize he/she is not alone. Even better, though, if the conversations sparked here pave the way to future conversations with decision-makers, and increased action.
Did you hear echoes of your own story in the sentiments expressed here? When it comes to your career, how have you dealt with the many transitions required by military life? We want to hear from you!