In March of 2013, I looked into the blue, blue eyes of my Marine and said my vows. I was confident I was entirely prepared for life as an active duty spouse. Of course, I was wrong.
While my husband and I had already experienced the highs and lows of deployments, separations, and reunions, marrying him, and choosing to follow him from duty station to duty station was and is a different world entirely. To succeed together my husband and I had to buy-in, not just to the military, but to one another. That meant finding ways to work together to ensure we each had and have fulfilling personal and professional lives.
Sometimes one career is being built in a more focused way while the other takes a bit of a back seat. This was us during the early days of my husband’s career. I already had my bachelor’s degree and had been in the professional world for nearly a decade. My husband was just starting his military career and had an associate’s degree.
While I didn’t focus on paid work during that time, I did engage with my husband’s unit as a family readiness volunteer. For us, this was an example of both mutual buy-in and the value of individuating from one another. I brought my personal and professional experience to the Family Readiness Officer (at that time FROs were DoD employees) and said “how can I help the unit”? The FRO was delighted to have me and this experience led to many volunteer assignments that I was able to put on my resume. These experiences ranged from supporting the Marines in their education goals, to helping train volunteers, and more.
Even more important than the experience I brought to the table, however, was learning the value of self-advocacy in the military environment. It can be easy to assume “I can’t” when adjusting to and trying to understand a large, complex organization like a military service branch.
While not everyone is going to want to volunteer within their spouse’s unit, self-advocacy still applies. Whether you work off-base, volunteer aboard a base, with the community, or another organization, viewing yourself as an asset, and as an individual with something to contribute matters.
When I was pregnant with our son, the importance of my individual personhood became particularly clear. I remember my greatest fear during that time was losing myself in motherhood. I wanted to ensure I maintained my individuality, my personhood, separate from not just my husband, but my child as well.
After our son was born, (while my husband was deployed of course) I experienced many an emotional fluctuation in how I felt I was developing and how I felt about being seen as “more than a mom”. I remember being particularly worried that my husband sometimes lost sight of me and my experiences and saw only “mother of my child”.
My mother was the voice of reason in my ear. She encouraged me to regularly take time for myself. She reminded me that nurturing my interests and passions would allow me to be a better, happier, mother and spouse.
Embracing motherhood as a part of my whole, allowed me to integrate its realities and responsibilities as I pursued my goals. As my son grew and became more independent I did as well. I learned that being completely supportive of my husband’s career, being engaged in the military community, and STILL being fiercely individual, career-minded, and a goal-oriented person are not mutually exclusive.
By the time our son turned 3, I knew I wanted to get my graduate degree. I wanted to contribute financially to our family and develop a career that could weather the realities of deployments, PCSing, and solo parenting.
My bachelor’s degree is in social work, so I started there. I looked at my requirements for career success, the growth of social work job roles, starting salaries, and what my loans would look like. I enrolled with Hire Heroes (a fantastic organization supporting veterans and military spouses as they develop careers) to start redesigning my resume and learn the strategies for applying for jobs online. I built a LinkedIn profile since I knew I wanted a strong virtual presence, and I joined several professional military spouse groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Prior to enrolling in a program, I spent a year researching my options. I knew I needed an asynchronous, online program so I could learn at my own pace and not have classes impacted by deployments, TDYs, and solo parenting. Through my research, I learned that a master’s in social work (MSW) was not the best option for me and my goals.
I looked at writing degrees since I enjoyed writing and knew editing and proofreading would lend themselves to remote work. The salaries weren’t what I wanted. I looked at some education-focused programs and found myself learning more about curriculum analysis and development. In the end, I discovered Instructional Design.
I wasn’t familiar with Instructional Design, so I delved a bit deeper and learned about course design, developing learning objectives, and the difference between pedagogy (teaching kids) and andragogy (teaching adults). With this information in hand, I started searching for programs, found one I liked, and had a 45-minute informational interview with the director of the program.
He provided me with the contact information for some graduates of the program so I could learn more about life in the role and how to apply this education to my career development. Those informational interviews were critical to my ability to make an informed, educated decision about my graduate program. I scouted job boards to see what kind of roles were offered for this degree and what the salaries were in the real world, not just on salary.com. I saw many jobs that met my needs for flexibility and remote work.
Through a combination of commitment to developing my LinkedIn profile, networking, and luck, I had a job in my field 6 months before I graduated from my program. That job and the multiple internships I held through my schooling prepared me for my current role. In this role, I benefit from a fantastic mentor and a remote position that supports a mission I care about.
On this journey, I took plenty of detours, and there were many times I experienced self-doubt and a lack of confidence in my ability to succeed. In those moments I benefitted from my entirely bought-in, unfailingly supportive, cheerleader of a husband and partner. He supported all my goals, talked through challenges with me, and kept me company during project crunch times.
I could draw this reflection on my path to a close with a platitude or two and a “Rah Rah!” Instead, I’ll share a few of the lessons I’ve learned while navigating this crazy military life.
- Fill your own cup first: You cannot give from an empty vessel. Give yourself the time and space to recharge. This may look different at various life stages. When my son was little it might just have been an hour at a Starbucks reading and enjoying my espresso. Now, it might be a whole day by myself doing my own activities or errands to allow myself some breathing room.
- Individuate. Always. Being wholly supportive of your spouse’s military career doesn’t mean you sacrifice yours. Remember that while you’re partners in life you still have individual goals.
- Self-Advocate: You have something positive to contribute. You are an asset. Remember that. Go forth and reflect that. Ask for the things you want and the things you want to see. Engage. Be the change you want to see (okay, so that’s a platitude but it’s a good one!)
- ALWAYS ASK: The worst that can happen is someone says no. Then, you move on to the next way to get your question answered or your goal met.
- Be kind to yourself: Be as kind to yourself as you would to a good friend. Give yourself chances, and forgiveness. Recognize that mistakes are just part of life and learn from them.
I love my life as a Training Performance Analyst (super fancy job title to explain lots of time in excel) a Mama to an amazing son, an active-duty spouse, a friend, and a person with a growth mindset. Thanks for letting me share a little bit of it with you.
Dvija Maurer is a woman of many interests. Some of these include Korean cuisine, history, politics, how many times her son will say “ok mom” before remembering to pick up his towel, and playing D&D with friends and family. After receiving both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Dvija pursued her career in the world of training and performance. She found the remote opportunities in the training sector fit perfectly into the active duty military life she shares with her husband Gerard, son Charlie, and two dogs, Mando and Rey.
If you’d like to connect with Dvija she can be found on LinkedIn at: