Finding Your Strength: Military Spouse Career Struggles & Knowing Your Value

God knew it would take something BIG to get me to walk away from my career. While I don’t believe that he is the reason tragedy strikes good people, I do believe that he will redirect your path as necessary. I remember telling my husband, “I’ll do everything to build my life with you. I’ll sell my home and relocate with you, but I’m not leaving my career.” All of that changed after a year of driving an hour commute one way, having a miscarriage, and losing our 13 year old Beagle companion. I was drowning in grief and I needed to slow down and give myself room to cry, to be angry, and to feel every emotion that was attacking my soul. That wasn’t possible being in a classroom in front of students every day. When I became a teacher, I promised myself that if ever there was a time when I could not give 200% in that classroom, I would step away. My students always got the best of me and they deserved that. So, I made the heartbreaking decision, six months after our painful losses, to walk away from my dream that I had worked so hard for, not really knowing what was next or having anything lined up for myself.

I desired to work from home, so I could just hide away in my depression and misery. Then, a few months later, a remote job that “seemed like” the perfect fit came through. Although it was a huge leap backwards in pay and probably a ten year jump backwards in my career, it was the only offer on the table-so I took it. I needed something new and a change for this new season. It allowed me the space I needed to heal and it was part-time, which also gave me more time to devote to my final semester of graduate school and to figure out my next move. It was what I needed at the time, because no one could see my red face and know that I was fighting a deep dark depression behind the scenes and sometimes ugly crying only a few minutes before my shift began.

I never quit applying to other positions that were more in line with my career and progression forward. I worked diligently on healing myself from the inside out so I could rise above the unfortunate hand we were dealt and get back to the ambitious career-driven lady I was before tragedy struck.

Six months later, I graduated with my MA in Educational Media, earning a 4.0 throughout that program. I was filled with enthusiasm for my growing field and the ample job possibilities that existed-just not in the area where I was located. I re-crafted my LinkedIn profile, reached out to mentors, updated my resume, and I began to have some job interviews, but nothing panned out. Most of the jobs were located back an hour away from where we were stationed. I began to feel hopeless and just felt stuck, not just because a door wasn’t opening but sometimes the companies interviewing me just left me hanging. I consistently had to follow up for weeks and weeks, just to finally get another rejection. What did I not have that others did?  I speak 2 languages, have nine years of higher education experience, a special education background, I’m a skilled trainer, tech savvy, and have an innovative spirit. I also had my Master of Arts degree and several recent certifications in adult and online learning. This is a common theme in the military spouse world. Too often, we are passed up for opportunities without an explanation that makes sense. Then, we begin to doubt ourselves and our own amazing qualities and abilities.

While I continue to figure out ways to grow and reinvent myself and my career, I also realized that a very important lesson in all of this is knowing what my worth and value is. The unemployment and underemployment issues in the military spouse world can truly take a toll on your value and self-worth. We typically are forced to take positions that aren’t the best fit, because it’s the only open door we have been given. We’re miserable and working for purely a paycheck, and not for the reasons why we invested so much money and time in a college education to find joy in the work we do.

When I look back at the nine years I spent at a top notch institution in higher education, I can remember clearly what it was that kept me there for so long;

  • Respect: I was treated like a professional-even when I was a rookie and fresh out of college with only a Bachelor’s degree.
  • Innovation: My ideas were always heard with an open mind and innovation was appreciated.
  • Personal Fulfillment: Every day, I knew that what I was doing made a difference. I could see it in my students at the end of every semester. That joyful feeling inside watching people succeed and being a tiny part of that is not something that money can buy.
  • Advancement: There was always a way to advance and promotion within was common.
  • Compensation: Your pay matched your experience and education level.
  • Leadership: The leaders from the top down were truly gifted in leading and empowering others.
  • Details: Things from the top down were completed with accuracy in all administrative processes.
  • Infrastructure: The technology worked 99% of the time. This is HUGE and makes doing your job much easier, without adding additional unnecessary stress.
  • Family: Feeling like I was a part of something made work seem like home. That sense of belonging and community turns a job into a workplace that resembles the comforts of home.

While it may seem that my demands are quite high of my next career home, I know what my worth is. I know what it feels like to be a valued part of a work community and I will not settle for anything less than that. I won’t chase down jobs and those who leave me hanging after interviews, because I am worth so much more than to be disrespected by others in that way. I will not allow my desperation for a job to blind me to an open door that is not the right one. Just like I knew that my husband was the one after our first date, I’ll know the same of my next career home. Similar to how my husband didn’t allow me to get away, I know that the right company for my career will feel the same way about me after reviewing my “profile,” talking with me a few times to see what I am about, and lastly by meeting me in person. What I have to remember and what I want all military spouses struggling in their careers to remember is: KNOW YOUR VALUE. You know what you bring to the table, and it is time that we stop settling for less in the workplace, when we deserve so much more.

© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2019.

headshot of the author Wendi Iacobello

Wendi Iacobello has been an Army wife for three years and part of military life for five years. She has nine years of experience as an adult educator, a Master of Arts in Educational Media, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education. Her teaching career includes; Middle and High School Special Education, Correctional Education, and Community College Instruction in Early Childhood Education, Compensatory Ed, as well as Adult Basic Education. Currently, she is a blogger, freelance writer, aqua cycling instructor, and avid volunteer. In her free time, you can usually find her volunteering at USO’s story time, outdoors in the garden, exercising, or enjoying time with her husband and their adorable Beagle, Daizi. Wendi is extremely passionate about helping others find their inner strength by sharing her experiences, insight, resources, and inspirational stories on her blog Strength4Spouses.