Military spouses can do a lot of things, but putting career first is, unfortunately, not one of them — that is, if we want to keep their families under the same roof. But, we are talented and ambitious, and we have goals for days. So, really — because we are crushing the whole commander in chief of the house gig, co- and single parenting (depending on deployment and training schedules), higher education, volunteering like it’s our actual job, and perhaps an actual paying job somewhere on the freelance, seasonal, part-time, or full-time spectrum (you know, when we can find one wherever we are) — why are we so surprised when our spouses in uniform get these crazy ideas of us having a post-retirement career that’s going to make bank?
Let’s get to the core of the post-retirement career protentional (our own, not theirs for once), so we know what we’re getting ourselves into before our service members go dropping papers at 20 years and one day of service.
To succeed in any career field, you need a balance of two things: education and experience. Having one without the other would be like walking into a job interview with only one high-heeled shoe on — you’re off balance and look ridiculous.
The education we can dominate. Thanks to the GI Bill transferability (which is changing, by the way, so brush up on that before you start sending off college applications) and license reciprocity, we can earn our professional licences, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s — heck we can become a doctor of anything we damn well please inside that expansive 20-year military career. That Me Wall could be full of degrees if we ever took the time to unpack them.
But, the whole experience thing is the snag in the pantyhose. Not only is it a job in itself to apply and interview every three years for jobs that are usually just ehhh at best, but a lot of times spouses can’t even find the ehhh jobs. Have you seen where they’ve posted up military bases? They aren’t typically in booming metropolises. They’re in smaller communities with a couple of decent openings that every other military spouse in a 30-mile radius is competing for.
Break it Down
So, let’s just see where we’re at here. Spouses of military retirees have spent 20 years or more essentially working a two-person career (not exactly the dual-income many people are familiar with).
We’ve applied, interviewed, and not gotten the job on loop. We’ve applied, interviewed, gotten the job, and then given notice a year or so later more often than we would’ve preferred.
We’ve turned down jobs because the waitlist at the CDC was longer than the actual time we had left until PCS time. And, when we are able to find child care, we’ve spent way too much time doing that math — truth bomb, sometimes it actually isn’t worth it financially.
In interviews, we’ve sidestepped the fact that we’re military spouses (cough…we won’t be on staff too long…cough), even though it’s really the only positive excuse for all the resume gaps.
When OCONUS, we’ve stalked USAJobs, but lost out time again to someone stateside that earned a job, a government-funded move, and BAH when our qualifications could get the job done and we were local! They could’ve saved that BAH and used some of those funds to train us.
Now, we’re not complaining. We know military spouse employment has come a long way, baby. We can now in good conscience trade our white gloves for a paycheck if we want (although no one has really thought through who was going to pick up the volunteer slack, but that’s another article). Initiatives like military spouse preference for federal employment, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, Spouse Education and Career Opportunities, The Paradigm Switch, and license reciprocity make it possible, but not necessarily probable that we’ll have thriving careers of our own. If you have a master’s in physics, all the partnership retail jobs in the country aren’t going to fuel your career, a career that for 20 years always, always came second.
So, daydreaming service members approaching retirement thinking you’re just going to open a brewpub and kick up your heels while your spouses crush it in the working world: Recognize that the post-retirement career plan you’re envisioning needs to have two careers in there. For one, you’re going to drive us both nuts (and you know it) if you don’t have a job that challenges you and uses all those leadership skills you earned while serving. Secondly, because of everything we just covered, expecting us to bust out of military-spouse mode into a six-figure career is pure fiction.
Many of us are excited for the day when we get to put our careers first — or even be in an environment where our careers can grow, but after 20 years of job searching and hopping, we won’t easily be in the same league as six-figure earners. We want that to be true as much as you do — believe us, but that’s going to take some time. So, while you’re technically quitting your day job, we’re going to need you to go ahead and find a new career.
Let’s try our hand at a real-life, dual-income household thing for a few years — just like in the movies. O-M-G, we can work on resumes and applications together and practice our interview skills on each other. It’ll be fun! You always said you got how frustrating job searching must be for us military spouses, so — in kicking off your post-retirement career search — you’ll get firsthand experience! But, because we know it’s frustrating, we won’t make you start over every three years. That’s a pretty sweet deal, trust us.
Photo Credits: Kristi Stolzenberg | Unsplash