Senior Spouse Advice: How to Have a Great Non-Career Career

“Senior spouse” is not just code for “older than me” – it also means “more experienced than anyone else I know.” I like to spend as much time as possible with folks who hold that title because I always leave the conversation feeling smarter, scrappier and with a better plan for dealing with ____ [insert military life problem] than I had when we met.

So this week when I headed over to chat wtih Maria McConville, wife of Maj. Gen. James McConville, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, I was ready for my military life intelligence to sky rocket. Because not only has this lady been around the military block, but she is also a prior servicemember, who … wait for it … currently holds a fulltime job.

And that blows my mind. A commanding general’s spouse with a fulltime job? And I don’t mean a fulltime “job” attending post events and volunteering. I mean an actual job – one that requires she maintain a professional license despite something like 18 moves, requires extensive and continuous schooling and, in the past, has meant that she had to figure out a way to keep a resume packed with years of experience regardless of relocation. Plus she has three (now off to college) kids. And yes, she does a lot of that volunteering stuff too.

So how the heck did she do it? I got to pick her brain -- and I came away with these three keys to having a great career as a military spouse.

It’s all about how you approach it. “I don’t like to think about it as a career,” Maria told me. “I think of it as a profession.”

In her mind, her work over 25 years as a dietician hasn’t been a “career” at all, it’s been a profession. I find that attitude fascinating – and really, really smart.

Why does something so seemingly insignificant like the terminology make a difference? What I learned from her is this: the terminology of “career” verses “profession” changes how you approach what you do, where you do it, how you do it and what (and sometimes even if!) you get paid.

We think of a "career" as being in a professional setting – it requires being hired to fulfill a specific job description for which you’ve been trained. It also denotes a paycheck. But a “profession” is something entirely different. A profession is a calling – a line of work in which you are the expert and have the flexibility to share your mastery of the subject with whoever, wherever, whenever.

Practice mind over matter. Maria told me that she was recently approached by a young dietician MilSpouse who was looking for career advice. She wanted to know how to get a job … how to have a career. She said she was having trouble finding work in the traditional sense. And she was frustrated, like so many of us are.

But when you have a profession not a career, it’s OK to fill in your fulltime employment gaps with part time work that falls into your general realm of expertise. And it’s OK to boost your resume by sharing your expertise through volunteering. As a dietician, for example, you could become your kid’s soccer team’s official diet expert, Maria said. Or give diet advice to your family readiness group (because someone should teach us that hanging our besties Ben and Jerry all through deployment is not the best idea). Or a whole hill of other diet-related things. No one needs to know that “soccer team dietician” wasn’t a paid position.

And when you do have the chance to pursue fulltime work, your experience will be a whole lot more varied than it would’ve been if you had just had a “career.”

Don’t have a victim mentality. “I also think that a lot of times people like to play victim – 'I can’t do this because the Army moves us,'” she said. “We can tend to play victim to all of that woe is me.” Instead, she said, look at each move, change and deployment as an opportunity. Maybe your spouse’s absence is the perfect excuse to take care of that continuing education you’ve been putting off? And maybe a new duty station is a great time to expand your expertise through new and different challenges and people groups.

Those three tips make perfect sense to me. But I know we like to be realists here at SpouseBuzz  -- so I don’t think any of Maria’s advice outweighs the definite challenges of attempting to find employment or maintain a profession in the military.  But I really do think the advice she gives to approaching life and work can make all the difference in the world.

Like so many other things, it's all about attitude.

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