NextGen MilSpouse is going beyond traditional career tips and tricks for military spouses! We are sharing the real stories of working military spouses (just like you!) and their professional success stories on Wednesdays.
Name: Carmen Westbrook
Years as a military spouse:
Tell us your job title/profession:
CEO of Aina Giving, a small startup that helps people actually DO something to take action to help the world.
We specialize in organizing parties and events where people take practical action – not just donate money – to help people in need all over the world. Our action mostly takes the form of hand-crafted projects that can be done at home to create items that are needed worldwide. We focus on projects for kids and adults, international and local.
Is this full-time, part-time, hourly, contract or freelance work?
How long have you been working in this career field?
2.5 years (well, I’ve been working with volunteering, nonprofits and event planning for 15 years, but I started my company 2.5 years ago)
Do you work in an office, telecommute from home (or Starbucks), or a little bit of both?
Telecommute from home
Tell us one thing you love about your job.
Hearing the stories and getting to know all of the amazing people that I get to work with every day – both the heads of the NGOs that we partner with and the regular, everyday people that take part in crafting a better tomorrow. I’m constantly blown away at the phenomenal lives and experiences of those “regular” people.
Are you looking to connect with career-minded military spouses? Join one of In Gear Career’s 20+ local chapters around the world. In Gear Career is a part of Hiring Our Heroes and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
How did you get this position? Was it a resume, referral, job fair? Spill your magic.
I created my own job because I felt SO FRUSTRATED with the lack of options for women. After working in the business world (mostly NGOs) for years, I quit (my job) to stay at home with my children, but continued to work as much as I could on the side to help out.
For women that are stay-at-home parents, for women that are trailing spouses, for women that are just underemployed or unfulfilled in their jobs, there is no good in-between – that space where you can do meaningful work but not give up your family and friends and LIFE. That space, that opportunity, is what we endeavor to create.
What is your No. 1 tip for a military spouse on the hunt for a job?
Don’t get stuck with tunnel vision.
Listen, being a trailing spouse is HARD. It’s really, really HARD. There is no getting around that. But it’s also wonderful, and you get so many opportunities, and you live a really different, amazing life – and often you grow amazingly through that hardship and difference and new experiences.
So don’t tell yourself “if I do this, it’s going to be forever” or “I am NEVER going to be able to live the career I dreamed.”
Never and Forever are big fat lies – nothing is forever.
So if you are looking for a job and find one that doesn’t seem to fit, allow yourself to zig in that direction and remember that it’s not forever – and often those zigs are the things that take us down the path we should be on.
So don’t deny that it’s HARD because it is and we should all be for reals on that one. But try to lean into the good that comes from it, and remind yourself constantly that it’s not forever.
How do you feel about failure?
I am a total perfectionist, so I suck at failure.
However, when I saw my oldest kiddo start beating himself up for failing, I realized that I needed to change my own dialogue before he got too old to turn back from that road. So I told him something that I try to tell myself a LOT (although again – kind of stink at failure) is that God didn’t make us to be perfect. If he’d wanted us to be perfect, believe me he could have made that happen. But he didn’t.
So why is that?
I think it’s because our imperfections, our mistakes and our terrible decisions are what make us grow closer to God and grow closer to ourselves.
We can’t hate failure and mistakes, because it makes us who we are and it makes us KNOW who we are.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while trying to maintain a career while living the military lifestyle?
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received? Tell us the worst too, while you’re at it.
Best: Take care of yourself first. There will always be more work to do, but you have to take that time every day to care for yourself. Yoga, running, meditation, cooking, taking that 20 minutes to read every evening — make that priority number one.
Worst: You need to focus on running a business that produces a specific product, because that’s how it’s always been done. So go get your MBA, learn how it’s always been done, and then follow that same path.
Who is in your support squad (i.e. spouse, neighbor, bff) and what role do they play in supporting your career?
My hubs is the best. He’s a very comforting type of husband, so he’s constantly cheering me on.
But my biggest squadette is Kristin, my co-founder. Not only because she was a pro basketball player and so TOTALLY gets how to have an awesome team (something that I stink at), but because she balances me out. She calls me on it when I have a dumb idea. She won’t let me bowl her over with the strength of my personality (both Leo’s, I don’t know how that works but it does). She’s the best.
I also have a complete pantheon of AMAZING girlfriends that give me pieces of their souls, experience and life every day. I have a few that are the most amazing rocks – Holly, Belen, Sheena come to mind (although honestly, there are more), and they just give me hope. Hope in everything, which is frankly all I think people need to make it through.
Do you and your spouse or partner split household tasks?
Since I’ve started my business, my hubs has SLOWLY found his way around to doing more. He’s very supportive, but when it comes to taking time away from HIS career…
He cooks dinner most weekends, so I get a break. He does all of the trash, and is now being amazing at teaching our kiddos to clean and do most of the tasks around the house. He’s the night owl, so he’ll tidy up at the end of the day and bring me the vitamins as I crash into bed.
I’m the morning person so I’ll make him coffee and start on breakfast for the kids.
Share your best life-hack for saving time or sanity during the work week:
I don’t look at the phone first thing in the morning.
I wake up at 5 a.m. (reference morning person above), and I do NOT allow myself to look at the phone. I have coffee, read for about 30 min or go for a run and THEN I look at the phone.
I heard somewhere that psychologically it makes you less frantic to not start the day being reminded of all the things you need to do, all of the people you need to reply to, and I’ve found that it gives me a lot of peace.
Tell us one piece of tech you couldn’t live without that isn’t your phone:
There’s tech other than phones???!!! No, seriously….um…probably my headphones. I listen to Italian podcasts to learn the language, business podcasts while I run, and I walk mostly everywhere here in Rome so I try to talk while I walk, and I try to do that on a headset so I don’t walk into traffic.
What’s your favorite app for making the most of your day?
WhatsApp. It’s the BEST.
Must-have song on your productivity playlist?
“Do Something” by Matthew West
If you had an extra hour in your day, what would you do with it?
Go lie down in the park and stare at the clouds.
If you were a superhero, what would be your super power?
Hmmmm…I don’t think I’d ever want to be a superhero – good grief, can you imagine that responsibility???!! Plus they all seem to mess up their personal lives. Nope, I’m happy to be just regular old me – although Black Widow is pretty badass.
If I HAD to choose, though, it would be the power to see the beautiful souls in every person. Because, honestly, people are amazing.
Are you a working military spouse? Do you want to share your career tips and tricks? Fill out the MilSpouses Who Work It Q&A today. Click here to complete our form.