Nurture Your Career
Take a moment and visualize a career path. What do you see? A ladder? Building blocks? A line clearly connecting one stepping stone to another?
Getting a job out of college and staying with that company for an entire career is no longer the norm, but the residuals of viewing a career as completely linear still remain. Young professionals are obsessed with making that next jump, climbing to that next rung. They often seek out the advice of more seasoned careerists in their field to gain knowledge on the right way to climb to the top.
But for military spouses, that advice and the overall message of linear career growth simply doesn’t fit with the realities of moves, deployments and lack of job opportunities. It’s easy, as a military spouse, to get discouraged and get off the ladder completely. What’s the point, after all, of making a huge jump at one duty station only to be knocked down two rungs at the next?
Navy spouse, Susu Kulow decided to stop that line of thinking in its tracks and instead visualized her career as a tree. No more steps that had to be met in a certain order. Instead, she labeled the base of her tree as communication and each opportunity became a branch that grew from her passion of storytelling. Those branches have taken on different colors and shapes over the years. She’s been a photographer, an advertising professional in New York, and now works as a strategic planning and communication specialist. Shifting her view to the tree metaphor helped Susu let go of any pressures to follow just one path and opened her eyes to new ways to grow as a professional and as a person.
Where is your intersection?
Susu met her now-husband while working for an advertising agency in New York City. Before meeting him, she imagined her life would follow a series of steps as she worked her way up in the industry. But with a commitment to her husband and military life came a new reality. The goals she had for herself after graduating from college would have to change.
Today, Susu looks back on that career shift and gratefully points out that it forced her to utilize all of her skills and more importantly, made her look at the intersection of what she liked to do and what she wanted to do.
“I tried to find where I had skills and passions that overlapped,” she explained. “For me, that was storytelling, writing and communications.”
Each new duty station brought Susu a new opportunity to reexamine that intersection and figure out how she would grow professionally at that particular duty station while still keeping storytelling in mind.
“It’s been translated so many times,” she reflected. The power of written and visual communication connected her to opportunities in strategic planning, management consulting, and photography. While initially on a resume, those roles may seem disjointed, they all tie back to storytelling and suddenly they all fit together.
“Storytelling was the thread between corporate and creative roles,” Susu explained. “I enjoy work that allows me to use both the right and left brains. That is fulfilling for me.”
Building a Network
Networking is vital for any professional, but is especially important in the military world. Spouses move across the globe and arrive not knowing a single person. Plugging in to the community to find out what pediatrician to use or where to begin looking for a job is often the best way to quickly feel at home at a new duty station. For military spouse professionals, building a network can also open up career opportunities and help you learn new skills.
Susu personally adds another layer of importance to her network. It fulfills her socially and challenges her to think outside the box professionally.
When building her network, she looks for people she enjoys spending time with and those who are successful or starting out in their passion or buisness that align with her interests. For some spouses, especially those new the military community, building a network can seem overwhelming. Where does one even begin?
Susu advises simply inviting people to coffee and getting to know them. Beyond that, don’t be afraid to talk about your career or schooling aspirations. Other spouses cannot help you if they do not know where you want to grow. The stigma of talking about professional goals can sometimes hang around at spouse gatherings, but Susu says to push past that awkwardness and be the one to open up the career conversation. Chances are, there are other spouses out there who will be grateful that you did.
Changing The System
Looking at the military spouse professional landscape today, Susu points out that a structured mentoring program would push spouses to connect with one another professionally.
“That has been missing from day one,” she explained. “There needs to be a formalized program that will make people feel safe and that they can go to as a central place of support and feel comfortable meeting others.”
In addition to a mentoring program, Susu believes that storytelling can help showcase the capacity and range that are among the military spouse community. There is a wide variety of skills, passions and talents, but spouses too often hide or downplays their successes.
However, there is a huge opportunity for storytelling organizations like The Other Side of Service to provide an outlet and start changing conventions.
As a storyteller and networker, Susu is optimistic for the future.
“I think our communities are starting to take notice.”
Changing the system will take time, but as more spouses stop focusing on a career path and shift their attention to building a beautiful and unique tree, it will be easier to openly discuss the challenges and triumphs that come with being a military spouse professional.
Susu encourages spouses to help each other find that intersection and nurture each other’s new branches. Exploration will lead to opportunities you never expected, but you might find them just as if not more fulfilling than the goals you had prior to military life.
“Just because you don’t’ have a path doesn’t mean you can’t build something great.”