The professional life of a twentysomething today is often expected to follow a series of steps: Get a degree or two, find a job in your field, work in that job and expand upon the skills developed in college. But for military spouses, that professional life is thrown into a tailspin with each set of orders, and they often feel alone as they watch their civilian counterparts grow in careers and climb the ladder of success.
Taylor Miller, a Navy spouse, graduated from college with her degree in Occupational Safety Management and moved to Philadelphia to take an internship in her field.
“It was everything I hoped a job after college would be,” she said. “After my internship ended, they offered me full-time employment. The catch was that I would have to live somewhere different from where my husband was stationed.”
Taylor describes that moment as a gut check. She was forced to decide between starting her marriage as a long distance relationship or give up the job of a lifetime. Ultimately, her gut told her to keep her family together, so she packed her bags and moved to the United Kingdom to be with her new husband.
Employment Is Not Always Easy to Find
Taylor’s time in Europe was an incredible experience full of new cultures and beautiful travel, but in the back of her mind, she couldn’t shake the disappointment she felt being unemployed. Together with her husband, she decided their next duty station would be different. She would focus on developing her career. With that in mind, they requested and received orders to Norfolk, VA, knowing there was a possibility they could be stationed there for multiple tours. More time at a duty station, Taylor hoped, would mean more opportunities for fulfilling employment.
She began the job hunt in Norfolk and her husband advised to be picky with the search. However, feeling pressure to find something quickly, Taylor took a position that was not the right fit for her, a story often heard from military spouses. Each duty station’s job market is unique, but spouses don’t think they have the time to find the right job. Eventually, Taylor left her position and came to terms with a hard truth: she was now part of those military spouse unemployment statistics.
Looking to refocus, Taylor began volunteering at the local food bank. She quickly became passionate about the organization’s mission and picked up contracting work.
“I was finally doing some things related to my degree,” she said. “And I began to see that this was something I hadn’t thought about before, going into the nonprofit world.”
Around the same time, Taylor started utilizing resources available for unemployed military spouses and that led her to work with the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN).
One evening, she was driving home from an event put on by that nonprofit, and Taylor had a light bulb moment.
“I realized that it’s ok to reinvent yourself,” she reflected. “I had to stop comparing myself to who I was before I married into the military.”
She realized that it’s ok to take a job that’s different from your degree. She realized the spouses she looked up to were the ones who constantly adapted with each curve ball thrown by military life. Instead of obsessing over the gaps in her resume, she realized she could find a way to make it cohesive and better market herself in the future.
Not Choosing the Virtual Job
After working for both the food bank and MSCCN, Taylor was faced with another decision. The food bank approached her about working on the development side of the office, a position she never considered to be in her wheelhouse. Meanwhile, she was working as an independent contractor for the military spouse organization, which offered her flexible hours and the security of working from home. Doing another gut check, Taylor decided to take the position at the food bank, knowing she would eventually have to give it up with the next move.
Taylor feels fulfilled in her current role working at the food bank, and is obtaining skills she had never had before, making her well rounded for future job hunts.
Although the idea of moving eventually is scary for her professional life, Taylor says she is most proud of her ability to reinvent herself.
“I bloom where I’m planted,” she said, smiling. “I know I am not stuck, and I focus on the skills I have and how they can be applied.”
Supporting One Another
Changing the conversation for military spouse employment cannot happen without spouses feeling supported by their peers and their service members. While it makes home life more difficult at times, Taylor’s husband prioritizes her career as much as he is able to, making Taylor’s aspirations more attainable.
With her peer group, Taylor’s experience as a military spouse taught her that everyone has value. Everyone has a skill set and can impact each other in new ways. Bringing that attitude to spouse groups can encourage professional goals and create an atmosphere of support.
Today, Taylor references the employment cycle of military spouses. She was at the bottom of the cycle when she returned to the states, climbed it when she invested herself in the food bank and MSCCN, and now feels like she is at the peak with her full-time position.
But while she feels successful now, she remembers her struggles and knows she could go through the entire process again at a new duty station. Instead of getting frustrated by employers who don’t understand military life or by the military commands who aren’t as respectful to professional spouses, Taylor stays focused on her fellow spouses. Together, spouses can support each other through the employment cycle, listen to the hardships, and encourage each other to keep climbing.