I admit it. For many years early in my military married life, I was a charter member of the Ain’t It Awful Club. Heck, I founded chapters with each new move even if I was the only member at times.
I complained constantly about the things I couldn’t do because of military life.
“I can’t take that promotion offer because we are moving. I can’t follow that career path; it would be impossible in remote military locations. I can’t have a garden; what’s the use of planting when we’ll move before the plants mature. I can’t, I can’t I can’t.” Or “I wish, I wish, I wish.” Or “If only, if only, if only.”
And who did I complain to? You might think it was my husband, but really I complained to anyone who would listen to me. I was that spouse you avoided in the commissary, knowing I’d pull you into my spiral of negativity.
And yes, my husband got the brunt. I used to think he asked for TDY to get away from me. “The grass is always greener on the other side for you, isn’t it Kathie?” he’d say.
I used the military and those constant deployments and moves as the excuse for not pursuing what I really wanted in life. Other people, especially civilian friends and family, accepted that excuse. So did I. But then one day I woke up.
I gain a lot of life’s lessons from fiction. A line in a very funny novel by Shannon Olson, titled Children of God Go Bowling, really hit home to me.
“I had not been going out to figure out what I wanted, I had only been complaining about what showed up.”
I realized that is what I’d been doing: complaining about the military and my current circumstances, rather than really figuring out what I wanted and taking action to move toward it. Once I made that shift, my life changed.
I quit the Ain’t it Awful Club! It wasn’t so easy – and still isn’t, especially since I come from a family of pessimists and catastrophizers.
I did all kinds of things to counteract that natural tendency, from listening to tapes (self-hypnosis tapes that really work), to hanging positive signs all over the house (sounds hokey, but it works), to most importantly finding positive people to hang out with.
What I learned got me moving forward, doing the work (yes, it’s work!) to really figure out what I wanted, setting goals, taking action. I started taking responsibility.
My battle buddy, Holly Scherer, suggested we do some research on what really works for helping military spouses rise out of their struggles. Out of that we built workshops, essays and books.
But one big key finding you should know is this:
The happiest people know what they want their lives to be like, they have a vision for their lives overall, and they work to achieve that vision in some manner.
What’s really interesting about this aspect of happiness is that it’s not achieving your big dream that brings the happiness.
What brings you joy is that you identify what you want in line with your values, and you take action to get it. You take control of and responsibility for your own destiny, instead of simply letting things happen to you.
Rather than staying stuck, waiting for some future event or timing, waiting for “someday,” waiting for deployment to be over, waiting for your spouse’s retirement, or waiting for someone else to do something, you enjoy a real sense of your authentic unique self actively engaged in life.
That’s what brings the joy. It’s the process itself, embracing the journey, engaging in life.
And staying out of the Ain’t It Awful Club!
Kathie Hightower is a longtime military spouse. With her cohort Holly Scherer she’s presented Follow Your Dreams While You Follow the Military™ workshops for military spouses worldwide. Coauthor of Military Spouse Journey: Discover the Possibilities and Live Your Dreams, and 1001 Things to Love About Military Life, along with many columns and articles. Find more about Military Spouse Journey on Facebook here.