Making ‘it’ Work: Military Spouses
By Bri Kriley
Military spouses are flexible, selfless, dedicated, organized, humble, and tenacious. Military spouses get ‘it’ done, whatever ‘it” is for their unique situation. For me, and many others in the helping profession, part of ‘it’ is how to be a professional in a field that requires, years of education, post-graduation hours, and licensure requirements that vary state-to-state.
When my significant other, now husband, first confirmed he’d be pursuing a career in the military, I refused to be flexible with my brick and mortar dreams. I wanted to be surrounded by fellow learners, have in-person discussions, expert mentors within close proximity, and structured class time. I chose to live apart from my spouse. I expedited my undergraduate, brick and mortar experience to minimize our time apart, to make it work.
After three years of long distance and a degree in psychology and art, I began following my spouse and his military career. I decided to take a break from school until our future geographical location became “clear and stable”- oh, my youthful, inexperienced military spouse expectations. This led to missed career opportunities, delayed schooling, occasional resentment of the military lifestyle, which also quickly led to depression and a loss of personal and professional identity. I fought the military spouse label, refusing to refer to myself as such. I was stubborn and inflexible. I thought I was making it work.
I realized my attitude was limiting me. I reevaluated my priorities and focused on how I could achieve my educational and professional ambitions without surrendering time away from the person I love most. The answer was difficult for me to accept because it required me to be flexible with how I received my education; I began exploring online learning, to make it work.
Making the switch to online learning involved overcoming negative societal bias and grieving (not to sound dramatic) the brick and mortar experience. Online learning was, however, how I could best make “it” work. We have moved 7 times, across 5 states, since 2014. I left 5 jobs and delayed my studies 3 times. I commuted 2.5-plus hours, one-way, with a ferry boat and draw-bridge for practicum, just to make “it” work. I attended class and submitted assignments in sixteen different states during my graduate program. I forfeited normalcy for this incredibly flexible, accommodating, albeit complicated and challenging online educational journey.
Yet, I persisted. I made it work. I graduated. ‘It” wasn’t over, though.
I have less than two years to get licensed in a state I may never live in again. I live on an island. I don’t have a clue what state I will be moving to. The list goes on.
Here is some of what I did and what I’d suggest to others.
Evaluate, reevaluate, and rearrange your priorities
Through the death of my grandfather and best friend, life reminded me that love and relationships are my first priority. When I began my journey as a military spouse I said things like, “I will not allow a PCS to dictate changes in my educational or career pursuits.” When in reality, if my spouse is my number one priority, then the military life is going to dictate a lot of big moves (literally and figuratively) in our lives. Professionally, I eliminated the sequential list of goals and just kept my end goals in focus. As long as I was working toward the end goal, I was keeping my dreams a top priority.
Have a clear understanding of what you are not willing to compromise on
I will not compromise on family time. Without sacrificing my professional dreams, I will compromise on how, where, and when I obtain my educational and career-oriented goals. To make it work I have to find unique ways to be flexible with my academic and professional pursuit while maintaining the uncompromisable. Let the priorities you are not willing to compromise on guide your decisions.
Replace the word sacrifice with flexible
Never sacrifice your goals, persist, and be flexible. Sacrificing my plans began to make me resent my spouse’s career. I was constantly talking about the things I ‘gave up’ to be with him. This having less attitude was an additional, unnecessary obstacle to overcome.
I have not sacrificed my professional goals. I have worked incredibly hard to make it work. I have to do what most of my classmates do not have to (e.g. know the licensure standards for 5+ states or move across the country during finals). Why would I minimize the immeasurable dedication and persistence to suggest I sacrificed my goals, or gave up on my plans? I should highlight my strongest military spouse attribute- flexibility. I changed my word choice and it changed my mindset.
I used to say, “I have sacrificed my career.” I now say, “I have been flexible with my career.”
Bri Kriley is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate in Washington, and a Doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision at Capella University.
Her husband is active duty Navy, currently deployed.