“So You Work ‘Outside’ the Home?” Having a Life Outside of the Military

Why This Military Spouse Works Outside the HomeI actually get this question quite a bit when other military spouses meet me. Immediately followed by, “But you don’t NEED to work.” While it is true that having a job where I can work from home, or a flexible one that allows me to take off any time I want to is a nice luxury that some can afford; I require a career to be fulfilled. It’s just how I function, and everyone functions differently.

I started my career path before I met my husband. Long before we even went on our first date, I had a life plan. A life plan that included working in marketing and doing all of the fun things that young professionals do: networking meetings, happy hours, serving on committees…you get the idea.

In fact, my drive to succeed in my professional life is one of the things that attracted my husband to me. We had a drive to pursue our own career paths and be involved in our own activities.

We fell in love. I advanced in my job. We got married. He advanced in his job. Picture perfect.

And then it happened: Our PCS assignment came through. I knew it was inevitable, but I had almost blocked it out of my mind as something I’d have to deal with “eventually.”

Eventually came, and I was faced with a choice: quit my job and have a setback in my career to follow my husband, or stay where I was and continue with the career in which I had spent so much time and effort to advance.

It was a tough decision, but in the end, I chose to move with my husband and attempt start over in the job market.

At first it was difficult. I did not play the “housewife” role very well. I was simply not good at it, especially when I was used to working 50 to 70 hours a week (and having a steady paycheck) doing something I absolutely loved. I found a few volunteer jobs that passed the time, and some freelance work to help me contribute financially to our little family, but ultimately, I longed for the office and responsibilities that I gave up at our previous location.

I eventually found a new job and it’s almost perfect. I didn’t settle for something that didn’t fit with my life plan. It took a lot of searching (repeat… A LOT of searching) but I feel that I’m back on track, professionally. While it was important to me to be a good wife and to be supportive of my husband, it was also very important that I not lose myself and give up on my goals.

By not giving up my life plan, I am a better wife and friend. I am happier.

It works for me and it works for us. In a few years, I know we’ll face the same dilemma—the PCS. I’ll end up starting over again, but I will have more knowledge and experience, an amazing portfolio, and a pretty good referral helping me along the way.

So, to answer the question: Yes. I do work outside the home, because it is important to me. I feel compelled to work, because that is part of what fulfills me. It is possible to have a career and work toward my goals and dreams while supporting my husband and moving every few years. It is difficult at times, but manageable.

I know I’m not the norm, but I’m also not alone. Many spouses juggle careers, families, and the stresses of military life. Finding what works for you is the key. Finding what makes you happy, fulfilled, and the best person you can be is key. For me, that is working “outside” the home.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I think it’s great that you are so passionate about your career that you were willing to work hard to pursue it despite the obstacles presented by the Army.

    I worked as a teacher until we PCSed. Where I’m at now, the job market is no bueno, so I’m doing the housewife thing. It has been a strange change. I never imagined that I wouldn’t work. Nor did I imagine that my main “job” would be cooking dinner. I have pretty much come to terms with it now, and it helps to know that it’s temporary. (I also don’t call myself a housewife; I’m a “home economist.” Go with what works, right?)

    I’m really, really glad that I worked while my husband was deployed, and I’d suggest that other spouses consider it. It kept me busy, I had coworkers to lean on, it gave me purpose, and it was at a time that I really needed those things.*

    • I agree with Army Amy*. It is great to have a passion other than your family. Family can be your passion along with other things as well. I was a Management Analyst with the federal government before we PCS’d too. And just like Army Amy*, the job market is horrible so I am doing the stay-at-home thing too. I am not working on my master’s while here so maybe next PCS I will be more marketable.

      Good Luck and great article!

      • Thank you so much for your comment. I agree with both you and Amy as well. We are all multidimensional individuals and we have to embrace and honor our many passions!

  2. I am in the exact same position, and it’s driving me mad. My husband was transferred to Central America, and it has been an extremely hard transition. I quit my job October 2011, while my husband deployed to Iraq, to start a business that could sustain me when we PCSed down range.

    Problem was/is, I wasn’t able to build up a very large client base. (D*mn it Jim, I’m a marketer, not a salesman!)

    While I like to pretend I have a job, it’s been a tough transition.

    I have to say, on the flip side, those of us who are career oriented sometimes forget how much of a full-time job being a stay-at-home mom can be. A few months back I turned to someone and asked, “Does she have a real job?” in front of a stay-at-home mom. I couldn’t believe that it came out of my mouth.

    • I am in a similar boat now ( I see your post is from 2013 so I’m late to the party) My job as a marketer/pr professional is fairly mobile, but my husband has now been stationed in Okinawa, and I don’t think it’s quite that mobile! I love the adventure of moving there, etc. but I am about to have to quit, yet another job and for 3 years we will be there, which feels like professionally an eternity.

  3. Thank you for this post! I’ve found it a little difficult as a working milspouse to find others who I can relate to. Also my husband and I don’t have kids yet so I often get the “Why don’t you quit your job and start a family?” Which is not only extremely uncomfortable but also infuriating! Like you I worked hard for my degree in a field I LOVE, and working is more rewarding to me than anything else. It helps me feel like I’m an equal in our relationship, helps me stay sane because I’m not cooped up at home all day waiting for my husband to get home, and is my way of meeting people who share my interests. We are waiting orders for our next PCS so I’ll soon be facing what you just went through… I am only hoping I will be able to find a job where ever we end up next!

  4. Wow I feel like I wrote this!! Your story is so similar to mine. I love it! You go girl 🙂

  5. TOTALLY my life! I applaud this woman, it’s difficult to talk/write about this because it can easily come across as being “bitter” or “resentful” of the spouse’s service. But it’s not about that – it’s recognizing that there is a tremendous challenge that many face – especially if much of someone’s identity and personal dreams/goals/fulfillment are tied to a career.

    I am a professor at a university and a pharmacist. I work in hospital administration and manage medication safety for large multicenter health systems. I get great fulfillment working on projects and implementing processes/policies that help protect patients who are at their most vulnerable point — when hospitalized. I also am touched to play a part in the education and development of our future pharmacists and physicians by being lucky enough to have the opportunity to instruct them at the level of professional school. And while there are hospitals and universities “everywhere” this career (I have found, thanks to moves…) is not quite as portable as one might think. Not when the trajectory is largely based on previous bodies of work, publications, and a portfolio documenting implementation of full scale policy/procedure roll out – each of which often take longer than any assignment to a single duty station, while service members too have to “start over” they do so in a lateral transfer. Career spouses literally start over, which takes considerable time. That being said, I made a promise to myself to not give up on my dreams. And, after observing me go through one very dark period that followed a recent career move, my wife (a Marine) now understands the importance of that promise to my happiness and consequently to our marriage! So we are both in agreement that for us, my career is just as important as any impending PCS. Even if it means the prospect of temporary separation.

    After all, as is the case with this author, my wife and I were drawn to each other (among other reasons) because of our respective drives/motivation 🙂

  6. I absolutely love this article and can 100% relate to it! My husband is also a pilot.

    How do you deal with employers who underestimate you? I was hired at very low pay despite having a master’s degree and all requirements necessary, because my company wasn’t sure I’d be worth their investment due to being a military spouse. I am an archaeologist and this is the only company within a two hour radius. My boss told me yesterday that I was overlooked for a project because the president of our company doesn’t think I’ll be around long enough to invest that much time and training in. These types of issues not only hurt, but discourage me because even in my own career and domain, I’m still seen only through the lens of being attached to a military member. I worked very hard to get to the level I am today, it is hard to not be judged on your own abilities.

    Thank you for writing this article, I believe this is a very relevant issue in military life right now.

  7. Based on the comment thread, I see the anecdotes to back up the statistics that 90% of active duty spouses are either un-employed or under-employed; I am part of this statistic. Though I roll with the punches and try to stay positive and look for the value in what I can gain from a job (even if it pays less than what I am capable of making elsewhere), it is really hard to keep from being discouraged when even PCMs tell you to change your lifestyle to prep yourself for the traditional family-bearing and PCSing (…is 25 really getting too old to still be procrastinating the pregnancy planning?!)

  8. […] orders, not only within the United States but also around the world. Many of us have also had to juggle careers with raising a family, particularly during deployments. Despite some of these challenges, I have […]

  9. I am thankful to have found this post right about now. I’m about to quit my second job within the last year due to my husband’s career in the Marines. Like the author, I started my career in the Bay Area in tech before we had even met. Shortly after we started dating he told me that he was in the process of applying as a Marine officer, but the law positions at that time were few and far between and competitive and it didn’t seem like it would pan out. Long story short, he ended up getting excepted and we ended up getting married. We chose to pursue the Marine career for him, thinking my job had the potential of being very mobile.

    I left my job to come to VA for his training and had a much harder time finding telecommute work than expected. Since our time in VA was only temporary, I knew I couldn’t get a job in the area. FINALLY, I pulled some strings with old contacts and had a small agency bend over backwards to hire me as a remote employee (for much less pay than I was getting in the Bay Area)… Just over one month later, We got our next orders and we are being stationed in Japan. I will have to quit this job too as there is no way I can do this role on an opposite time zone.

    Part of me loves the adventure of the traveling and the Marine life (we could have put Japan lower on our list of preferences, but put it as #5), but a conflicting part of me feels frustrated at sacrificing my career and earning power. I’m in my 20s and since we want a family, I have the feeling that this is my only time to go all out professionally. Would love any encouragement or to talk more about this with someone. Most of the military wives around me, while amazing women, either don’t work, or don’t have a professional career path, and so no one around me can relate.

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