Here I am again: your friendly career cheerleader.
You know, the one who is always telling you to call your challenges “realities” and encouraging you to learn to work through them. I want you to push the boundaries and figure out how to chase your dreams.
I still want those things, but I can feel some of you rolling your eyes at me. I know you are. If you’re not physically rolling your eyes you’re saying (or at least thinking),
Yeah, that’s great, but seriously, she obviously doesn’t know what I’ve been through, or where we’re stationed.
The thing is: I do get it.
I have experienced it and I have heard tons and tons of stories through my work with In Gear Career. Through that experience, I’ve noticed that there are some reoccurring themes to the reasons why military spouses don’t feel like they can chase their dreams.
Here are 5 common themes – I am sure some or all will sound familiar to you:
1. Instant Gratification Is Not an Option
I’m not an overly crafty person, but I love the occasional project with one stipulation: I have to be able to finish it in a day. If the process takes too long I lose interest. I recently bought one of those coloring books for adults because I think they’re beautiful, but I only made it through a couple pages because the intricacy of the designs takes FOREVER.
When it comes to military spouse careers, instant gratification is almost nonexistent.
Even when you find the perfect job listing, make the perfect connection or even get a great interview, the process takes time. And the thing is, you most likely will have to spend time on that same process over and over and over again…awesome.
2. The Puzzle Pieces of My Career Don’t Fit Together
This one I’ve lived: I’ve been a college recruiter, defense contractor, served on the planning team of a military exercise, research writer and now nonprofit manager.
If/when the time comes for yet another change, how in the world am I supposed to tie those things together? How is that supposed to make sense to anyone who sees it on a resume?
I know this sounds familiar to a lot of you because you’ve recreated yourself and your dream with every step along the way.
You don’t feel like you have a jigsaw puzzle with 1,000 pieces, you feel like you have one piece of 1,000 puzzles.
3. You Can Have a Career…with Limitations
It seems like everywhere we turn we’re inundated with the message that “times are changing”…except they aren’t.
If you look for military spouse career resources you’re often met with outdated methods and messaging about the same career choices we’ve always seen (teaching, nursing, etc). Those are great options if you are passionate about those careers, but they’re not universal and they’re not nearly as portable as the standard messaging suggests they are.
Resources also seem to be geared toward a limited slice of our population.
Most scholarships for military spouses are geared toward those just starting out, most jobs that are readily available are entry-level and a lot of the workshops you see are also for those at the beginning of their career journey.
To be clear: those resources are very much needed, but they only address a part of the problem.
Most of us will continue down that path long after we’ve started and where are the resources then? How do we keep going once we’ve laid the foundation?
And don’t even get me started on the inevitable questions (that I can’t believe people still ask) about what pursuing your dreams will do to the career of your service member. I believe wholeheartedly that ALL career decisions for ALL members of the family should be considered from ALL angles, but those questions don’t seem to come as often to the service member. Not their fault, just the reality we’re faced with. How are we supposed to pursue a career if we feel guilty every step of the way?
This is a big one, and to be honest, exhaustion may be some of the reason the resources are geared toward entry-level needs.
How many working military spouses decide to keep going?
After trying and trying and trying, how many just get tired and decide to volunteer away their best years?
How many stay home with kids and decide not to go back because the gap is just too hard to explain and overcome?
Again to BE CLEAR: I am not suggesting that staying at home is a bad decision whatsoever. I’m just wondering (out loud) how many choose to stay out of the career world because they want to and how many are just too exhausted to get back out there?
5. Combination of Factors
As you can see from the list above, there is never just one thing. I am sure you were nodding along to more than one, if not all of the things above. There is always a combination of things.
It’s the horrible location AND the current economy AND the number of jobs you’ve held in the last 5 years AND the number of jobs you HAVEN’T held in the last 5 years…
Just one of those things can be a big weight to carry, but start adding up the combination and it can quickly be overwhelming.
So what now? Do we give up our dreams?
Here’s where the career cheerleader comes back: I say we keep pushing.
If you’re exhausted, take a break, but not too long of a break. Get the rest you need and then get back out there.
Figure out what resources are available to you and use them.
Network like crazy and find the opportunity in your current area.
Have frank conversations with your service member and make sure that everyone’s career needs are being considered and addressed (notice I didn’t say solved) with each new chapter in your lives together.
Try to think of your career in a different light. What if you don’t have one piece from 1,000 puzzles? What if you have a kaleidoscope?
When you mix everything together and look through a different light you might see a beautiful picture you never expected.
I wish I had a magic answer to combat every single reality that we face as career-minded military spouses, but I don’t.
I don’t believe there is a magic answer, but I DO believe it can be done.
I DO believe YOU can find a way to follow your passion and I DO believe that you can chase your dreams.