Things I Don’t Say: The “C” Word

When I give a workshop for military spouses, I try never to say the C word:  Career.  It doesn’t matter whether you are speaking to the fully employed or the active jobseeker or the stay-home parent with three kids under four years old.  The minute a military spouse hears the C word, they become functionally deaf to anything else.  The voices inside their own heads are practically transmitted over a loudspeaker.

I never should have taken this stupid job.  It is way outside my field but what else is there in Alamagardo??

I am nevergonnagetajobnevergonnagettajobnevergonnagettajob and my husband is gonna think I’m a slacker and my parents want to know why they scrimped and saved so I could go to college!

Oh, geez, CAREER.  Like I will have two uninterrupted minutes to think about why the bottom of the refrigerator is always wet much less think about what I want to be when I grow up.


Been there. Still have my days visiting there. Which why I never say the "C" word in public.

Yet spouses are interested in their own careers.  The DoD reports that 77% of military spouses say that they want or need to work.

The things is, we spouses are always going to have to overcome the "C" word.  For a lot of people, career means something that happens in a linear fashion. You get an entry-level job and follow that to a job with more responsibility and then leap to a management position. “Career” means a logical progression into more responsibility, more rewards, more visibility.

That’s hard to do when you move every 2.5 years — which is maybe why the "C" word can trigger guilt and fear and exasperation and self-loathing in military spouses. And total confusion in outside forces that try to help us.

Instead, I’ve been thinking that we spouses might think of the work elements of our life not in terms of the "C" word, but in terms of "E" and "A":  engagement and accomplishment. For the sake of our own happiness, we each need work of some kind in which we are fully engaged — the kind of work in which you lose yourself and look up only to find that hours have passed.  We also need accomplishments of our own — whether that is getting a blog published or earning a degree or re-tiling a bathroom or potty-training a boy child. We have to have something finished.

For military spouses, sometimes "E" and "A" come from "C."  And sometimes "E" and "A" come from sources unimaginable to the outside world.

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