Part 1: Welcome and goodbye.
Unless you’ve lived it, it is really hard to explain to others the definition of what it takes to be a “career” military spouse. It’s difficult for individuals who don’t move every 2 – 3 years to understand what it’s like to love and hate your life all at the same time for a span of over 20-30 years. What it’s like to have strangers pack up your items, ship them across the globe and watch them being unpacked, wondering what survived and what didn’t. And that’s the easy part!
As spouses, we’ve hosted gatherings of staffs and crews, went to countless dinners and banquets, provided an army of food to potlucks, and ordered or ate more change of command cakes then one would want to count!
As spouses, we’ve raised our children alone while the mission took priority. We’ve sat in front of teachers and principles alone when our children were acting up or were performing poorly in school. We’ve sat in ER’s alone when our child fell off the swingset or broke an arm skateboarding. We’ve dried the tears, put on the band aids and provide the nurturing, the hugs and the reassurances while we waited for the return of our spouse from their mission. We’ve paid the bills, fixed the plumbing, got the ID cards updated, coordinated the moving, set up the households and packed them up, usually, without help because whether the spouse was home or in the field or on the ship, the mission drove the decision making.
My favorite memory is our very first deployment as a married couple. He was meeting the crew in Sigonella, Italy. I drove him to the airport, gave him a passionate kiss as he headed through security, walked, weeping back to the garage….and found a line of oil coming out from under the car. I took the risk and got to a service station, filled it with oil enough to get to the shop close to home. Dropped the car off, got a rental and drove back to our empty house. So sad, all alone, I opened up the garage door….to find the hot water heater had sprung a leak all over the garage floor! I parked the car and turned off the power to the hot water heater and then shut off the water to the tank. The words, “you’ve got to be kidding me!” were running through my head. With the complete disbelief of anyone who has dropped off their spouse for a six month deployment, found their car with a broken oil line and then arrived home to find a broken hot water tank, I walked into the house through the garage into the laundry room, slammed the door in disbelief and disgust….only to have the dome light cover up on the 10 ft ceiling came loose and crash down on my head! At that point, I fell to the ground, just in so much pain that all I can do is laugh, and laugh, and laugh. “OMG. I am officially a military spouse!,” I said to myself while I lay there and just laugh through tears in disbelief.
At what point did I sign up for this? I don’t remember the vows including, “and you will have to manage it all on your own.”
I wouldn’t change my military life, marriage for anything. It was an amazing journey and great experience and taught me how incredibly strong, inventive and capable I am at life. It was far from easy physically, mentally or emotionally at times, but I persevered and was able to do all that was required to take care of my family while my spouse took care of the mission.
And then, it was over. He retired and my role as a military spouse was done. No more moving crates arriving with broken lamps, no more anxiety over promotion lists, no more wondering where the military would be sending him and where we would be following. And for the first time in a long time I could breath. What an amazing feeling it was to know I wasn’t going to have to do it all on my own. A sense of permanence was nice.
But then I started to notice that I didn’t know what my role was in this newly defined normal. My spouse had a new job, but that new job didn’t require anything of me. There was no spouses group to support. There were no banquets, no change of commands, no promotion ceremonies, no real role for me to participate in. And, after a few months of wandering around the new house that I had created into a home, I sat on the couch wondering who I was and what was I meant to be doing with my life now that the mission of service was over.
There exists a tremendous amount of loss after a career military member retires. It’s a very natural response to such a tremendous change in the reason you get up in the morning, operated your life and kept moving forward. When you have a mission driven life, your life has a purpose. However, when that mission is gone, there are a lot of questions that really need to be answered starting with: “What is my new purpose?”
The questions that came to my mind were: “Who am I? What am I about? What do I even like to do? I’m not done and I want to do more, but what and how?!” and yes, “What is my purpose?” The problem was, I had no idea how to answer any of them, or where to even begin.
All the pre-retirement sessions offered by the military for retirees were geared towards the military member’s transition. This is how you write the resume, this is how you interview, this is what you need to do for medical and no, you don’t get dental.
As great as it is to see all of these new spousal employment initiatives put into place for the spouses of active duty members, it is still frustrating to know that there is little support for the transitioning retiree’s spouse. We too are changing roles, functions and purpose as we leave the military behind.
Not too long ago I saw a post from a military spouse on Facebook asking her group of friends, “I need your help. Could each of you let me know what you think I’m good at?” Her spouse’s career was winding down after nearly 30 years and her future decision making on how she was going to move forward was no longer going to be limited by the next duty station or rank responsibilities. She was truly going to be free to define for herself her next chapter. The only problem was, after nearly 30 years of service by default to the mission, she had no idea where to begin. She needed help to define her own purpose and passion.
“You and I need to talk,” I wrote back.
In my own wandering around trying to define my own next chapter, I discovered that I had a passion to continue having a mission. That mission would be based in helping people believe in themselves, believe in their own power and their own capabilities. I realized I liked helping people begin to see their own potential and support them in defining their true purpose in life.
I would like to say that this epiphany came to me easily but it didn’t. It took a lot of work, research and asking questions. But it did happen.
It all started when I picked up a book about how women can begin to define their third chapter in life – that time after the career, the kids. From that book I came to understand that what I really wanted to do was to help other former “career” military spouses, like myself, to redefine their purpose, their mission and find a new definition for themselves in their new “non-military mission” driven lives.
As a result of my ability to find my new purpose, I created my own business, Purpose Driven Life Coach, LLC. I LOVE what I do! Love it! I get to help former military spouses, or anyone, who is trying to find that answer: “What am I good at?” What am I good at is really code for what do I want to do with my life, what can I do to find fulfillment?
It takes work and it takes a willingness to really look internally at what touches your heart as you work towards finding your new mission, your new purpose, but it’s worth it. I have several tools and programs in my toolbox that we can use to help you achieve your goals.
Check out my website at www.purposedrivenlc.com. Contact me. Let me help you find that new mission, that new purpose as you discover your new life outside of the military mission driven life.
Kendel Paulsen, MA, BCC