As I walked (paced really) along the patio of my condo, I relayed my decision to a friend and colleague. I wasn’t going to apply for the job. The words took my breath away. It was the job I was already doing, a job I knew I was qualified for, a job that would boost my resume and set the course for my professional path. Saying no felt heavy; it felt crazy; it felt like a risk. Even now, as I write those words I get a lump in my throat, 13 years later, remembering the emotions of that decision.
I’d matured into my 20’s in a liberal arts college culture that centered their message on the notion that “Women Who Are Going Places” began their journey in their classrooms. So, where was I going?
Now in my late 20’s, my alumnae magazine was dotted with classmates doing amazing things. Balancing careers, families, friendships, and marriages – or at least appearing to. The benefit of a small, then college, is the family culture. We were a family, and we all had a box seat to the success of our former housemates and classmates. So, where was I going? I was going to follow a boy.
A boy! I graduated Magna Cum Laude (with Departmental Honors) from a Women’s College for goodness sakes. I’d used my time there to find a voice and a strength I never knew I had. I’d used my time to envision a future for myself that included financial freedom, something that my childhood single-parent household had struggled to achieve. I’d pulled all-nighters, worked two jobs and invested in my coursework carefully because I was indeed going places!
By age 26, I was confident and accomplished. I was an unmarried female homeowner (as all mortgage documents ridiculously point out). I was an investor and a saver. I was a world traveler. And professionally, I was living my alma mater’s motto, I was indeed going places.
And so, it felt like an incredible risk – to look at what I’d achieved and say “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m going to follow a boy instead.”
In military life, everyone sacrifices. Everyone. Walking along the patio – a patio I had designed and paid for – I chose to invest in something for which I had only moderate clarity. I could have chosen to apply for the job and commute if I had been hired. I could have chosen to remain in my cozy condo and commit partially to something I was beginning to hope would last a lifetime. I could take a stand and decide that “going places” didn’t include moving from a town with ‘everything’ to a town with so little.
As military spouses, or rather as military girlfriends, these are some of the hardest decisions we’ll make. Do you choose the relationship or your dreams? Sometimes you can have both, but more often than not the dreams get shelved or reinvented, at least in part, for varying lengths of time. How can anyone view that as a good thing?
We all choose slightly different paths in our military spouse journeys. What I’ve learned over the years is that, in nearly all things, if you only dip a toe in the water, truly, only your toe will get wet. This life requires more. This life requires us to jump, often leap with two feet, into the deep end and trust that we’ll be able to swim once we hit the water.
We might have succeeded at the long distance thing. We might not have. What I do know is that having two feet in our relationship mattered. It altered my commitment. It altered my perspective. It challenged me to accept responsibility for my decisions. It challenged everything I’d ever believed about the military community. It changed how I showed up, as a girlfriend and as a future spouse. It showed me that many of my goals were achievable in ways I couldn’t see at the time. It showed me that while I was giving up the path I was on, my new path would indeed open doors I never knew existed.
So often we envision our lives as a straight line, whether or not we want to admit that. The truth is, the trajectory of a weapon is about the only thing in military life that follows a set path.
So, why am I tell you this? Because I’ve been you! I’ve been on the outside looking in, wondering how it all ends. I’ve wondered if I was strong enough, creative enough with my career, willing enough to sacrifice alongside a boy.
Here I talk about the process of making that decision. Here I talk about the deals we made and the vision we set for our future and how it evolved. There are people every day that move across the globe for their love, for the possibility of more. We, the military spouse community, do that too. But we keep doing it, year after year, which is why it’s so important to ask the hard questions early, of yourself and your partner.
So, no, don’t follow the person that isn’t your equal or your partner. Don’t follow the person that provides ultimatums and lacks an understanding for the gravity of your decision. Don’t follow the person that cannot see or understand your need to grieve a path you’d planned. But in all things, don’t fall victim to the notion that something unexpected and uncertain, can’t lead to something wonderful. Saying “no” to that job taught me more about myself than saying “yes” ever could. And being part of this unique community has given me a purpose I could never have dreamed.
In a wonderful turn of events, a colleague I treasured applied for the job and got it. She went on to have an impressive career, growing and expanding professionally, making sacrifices but reaping the professional reward. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that knowledge of her many achievements stung a little.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore her. I was beyond thrilled for her. She deserved this. She’d earned this, and I was happy for her. But in my happiness was room to admit that I had a few maybe-that-could-have-been-me moments. I’d gone on to build a successful independent consulting business with freedom and flexibility that shaped my path, and led me to Pride & Grit. So, we’d charted very different courses for our lives, all because I’d chosen the boy over the job. There is no right or wrong path, there is only the path you choose to walk.
Tell us! What are some of your challenges and blessings in choosing a life as a military spouse?
Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, story-worthy socks, cream cheese icing, warm bath towels, and morning snuggles with her kiddos.