Military Spouse, You Don’t Have to Give Up Your Career


The first thing I worried about when John popped the question was… my career. How was I going to maintain my sense of self and my career during John’s military career? I didn’t want to look back five, 10, or 20 years later wistfully sighing, “If only…” I wanted to care for my career path. Immediately.

It’s especially hard since the military community seems to continually harp on the “place” of military spouses. Reading comments online on the subject can make your hair gray and make you righteously indignant. Let me break it down for you. There’s the camp that seems to think that military spouses should stay at home, shine their spouse’s boots, and keep the homefires burning. I mean, how could we possibly be supportive in any other way? There’s the contingent that thinks military spouses should be happy– not only happy, but quietly grateful–with volunteer duties at the elementary school or part-time or entry-level, minimum wage jobs. I’ve even heard people argue that military spouses shouldn’t complain about their career trajectory and the (lack of) opportunities available– after all, they can be baggers at the Commissary!

We need to have honest, supportive conversations about a very real part of life that is so very difficult for so many spouses because taking care of your career is tough in the military lifestyle.

Sure, if any of those things are your ball of wax, go do it. And do it like a boss. If you don’t want a career, that’s (obviously) okay too. It’s okay, though, to be a military spouse and worry about your career. It’s okay to want to kick just as much ass in your career as your spouse is in theirs. It doesn’t make you less supportive of your spouse. It doesn’t make you a worse parent. And it certainly doesn’t make you selfish, “bitchy,” or less patriotic. (Give me a break.)

Then there’s the other discussion– the one spouses quietly have (usually offline) with other military spouses. It’s the conversation that goes something like this: “I want to have a career, but I just don’t know how I can do it. I feel like I’m trapped. I feel like I’m not successful. I feel like that part of me is dying.”

We need to have honest, supportive conversations about a very real part of life that is so very difficult for so many spouses because taking care of your career is tough in the military lifestyle. PCSes. TAD/TDYs. Deployments. Other separations. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say, “I just give up!” (Which I’ve been known to do once or twice… okay, more than twice. Or three times.) I can’t promise that your career will take off at this particular base, but I can offer you exactly what I’ve done to make sure that I have a career trajectory– even when it  didn’t feel like I did at the beginning of our marriage.

Stay Relevant

What can you do in your career path that will keep you up-to-date with the latest trends in your field? It can be tough if you’re unable to find that dream job. For me, it meant seeking out opportunities in education that I could participate in. I work as a part-time consultant for an educational program company and I’m also an adjunct faculty member for a teacher preparation program. While these are both jobs, it’s not necessary to have a job in your field to stay relevant. Subscribe to topical blogs. Volunteer for programs in your line of work. Find an internship or continuing education classes. If you’re feeling ambitious and have the time, consider a master’s degree or a certification in a specific area that can make you more competitive. If your field has major publications, submit articles and try to write for them.

Update Your Resume

You never know when opportunity will come knocking. Too often, I’ve found myself with a possible job prospect only to realize that I hadn’t updated my resume in more than 6 months. Make sure your LinkedIn reflects your most recent accomplishments, too.

Find a Professional Organization

There are tons of professional organizations that military spouses can belong to. Find one that works for your industry and participate. If opportunities present themselves to be on a board, run an event, or be a speaker for something, jump in and sign up.

We need to have honest, supportive conversations about a very real part of life that is so very difficult for so many spouses because taking care of your career is tough in the military lifestyle.

Network

…and not just in the military community. Many areas have networking opportunities available, if you just happen to look for them. Connecting in person is fantastic and can be more fruitful (and faster) than networking online. Make sure to have generic business cards with you if you don’t have a particular position right now.

Freelance

If you can’t find an organization or business to hire you, don’t stress. Depending on your skills and ambitions, freelancing might be the perfect interim career (or actual) career for you. Freelancing is great for military spouses as you can pick it up and take it with you– it doesn’t matter where you go.

Don’t Give Up

Easier said than done, I know. But truly, if you want to make your career, you can’t give up. Surround yourself with people who understand and can support you in your vision and trajectory. Keep yourself motivated and remind yourself of all of your successes along the way– especially when it feels like you don’t have many. That will keep you fueled on the really hard days.

How do you keep yourself pursuing a career even when you’re not employed?

We need to have honest, supportive conversations about a very real part of life that is so very difficult for so many spouses because taking care of your career is tough in the military lifestyle.


8 Responses

  1. I am one of those who believe all those things! I do stay home, I do volunteer AND I have a full time career that I love – and no it’s not Tupperware or Mary Kay (although those are great if that’s your talent). Many companies are choosing to hire remote employees who telework. I’ve been doing it for over 12 years and I love it. I travel some, but mostly I work from home. We have video teleconference meetings, work together on projects using Google Hangouts and share documents and presentations just like we are in the same office. We have several military spouses who work for us and I keep my job whenever and wherever we move. Another option to think about is the MSEP partnerships. They are great sources of job opportunities for military spouses. My husband has been in for over 30 years now and I’ve seen major changes take place. As someone who has been there, my advice would be – remember that the military isn’t a job, it’s a way of life and a CHOICE. It doesn’t mean you should ever give up being who you are or going for your dreams, but it is a choice to live this life. Make the most of it!

  2. I would add: don’t be afraid to change careers. My undergrad field is really restrictive in terms of employment opportunities around the country. I decided to go back and get a Master’s degree in another field that should make me more employable wherever we move.

  3. Thank you for this article . We just PCS to a new base and I’m using this “transition time” to take online courses and shift to a speciality in my career. It’s interesting to read all the options against during this time to enhance my career.

  4. Love your post!! I had the same exact feeling when my husband proposed.
    Luckily until now I managed to keep my job (working from home). But it is hard to stay current in your field with some many changes going on in your life.

  5. Oh my gosh! I needed this. I’m marrying my sailor next October and I’ll be finished with school just a few months before. I love my man and am willing to take on this new lifestyle but I’ve been terrified about working and “wasting my degree”. I always hear “no one will hire you as a military spouse because you’ll just leave”. So thank gou for this lost and to the ladies leaving comments.

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