The career-less spouse

hands raised in the air holding balloons that spell out career

When I was visiting LinkedIn, a notice popped up to congratulate a high school friend for working 26 years at the same company.* Twenty-six years at one company! When you are a military spouse, and you see these notifications, it totally sucks is highly depressing.

Many of us have changed jobs every time we have moved. Personally, I have never held a job for longer than three years. I’ve wanted to. There were jobs that I was happy with, and I could have built a career around, but I chose to follow my husband.

Some civilians probably think that I should shut up be quiet because it was my choice. Civilians have said to me, “Well, I wouldn’t move away from family or give up my job.” So I ask them if that means they choose:

  • divorce
  • live without their spouse for [unknown number] of years
  • have their spouse resent you for the rest of the marriage because you forced them to give up a job that they love

The civilians then look confused because they really haven’t understood the options or the consequences. I chose to sacrifice my career (and future earning potential, company pension, professional relationships, sense of self-identity, etc. etc.) to keep my family together. If I had to choose to do it again, I would still choose my family over my career.

I have always had jobs. Most of them were short-term, part-time contracts at minimum wage. An American study indicated that up to 90% of military spouses are underemployed. I haven’t come across Canadian statistics, but in my experience, the results would be similar. For most spouses, the choices are to stay unemployed, find a job at one of the local businesses, or create a portable business of your own.

Some spouses choose multi-level marketing schemes, such as selling candles or kitchen goods. This might seem like a great idea until you get posted. Then you have to build up a new client base at your new location, competing with business owners already well-established in the community. Finally, once you become profitable, you have to move again. At least nowadays, there are more opportunities for virtual jobs and remote work. (I’m a virtual assistant.)

More companies should hire military spouses. This article in Entrepreneur magazine gives five reasons (there are many more) to hire a military spouse. These include:

Adaptability & Flexibility: We can orchestrate a household move to another country in a few weeks’ notice. Pivot is our middle name.

Sense of Duty: We understand loyalty, honour, ethics, communication, and team cohesiveness. We work together to get the job done.

Pressure & Stress: We can deal with stress. Typically, we live in a town where we don’t know a soul while our husbands are deployed in a combat zone halfway around the world. The kids have trouble with homework in a language we don’t understand. The cat puked all over the bed, but the washing machine blew up, so we can’t wash the sheets. That’s an average day.

Planning & Vision: Military spouses don’t have a plan. They have many plans. They understand strategy and tactics. They can take the bird’s eye view (strategy) and implement all the details (tactics). We can do it rapidly and seamlessly.

Soft Skills: Integrating into a new community, often many times, we have worked, volunteered, and socialized with people from many diverse backgrounds. We understand different languages, cultures, and perspectives. We don’t whine. We know circumstances change rapidly and may be beyond the control of our employers. We get that. We carry on.

Don’t write us off because we don’t have a “career.” There is a lot of talent that you can’t and won’t ever find on a résumé.

*I respect the friend who had 26 years at her company. I think she is kick-ass extraordinarily skilled at what she does. Honestly, I am happy for her and I told her so.

2 thoughts on “The career-less spouse

  1. Great article Jackie!! You have highlighted the skills that all military spouses possess just because we are married to a military member. Never mind what we are actually trained in.

  2. I’m always amazed at the sacrifices that military spouses and children make for all of us civilians. Thank you and your family, Jacki.

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