For a brief period of my life, I had a briefcase, a secretary, and a view from the 18th floor. I thought I’d practice law in a big firm for a while, then settle down to a quaint small town, where I’d hang my own shingle like Matlock.
(Sans the seer-sucker suit and sideburns, that is.)
But, before I had a chance to climb another rung of the ladder toward success, I was packing up to move with my Navy husband to Washington, D.C., to Monterey, California, to Molesworth, England, to Norfolk, Virginia, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Although military life has been exciting, rewarding and adventurous, it was the death knell for my career as a litigation attorney. My student loan bills rolled in like clockwork, month after month, year after year – however, not much else in our life went as expected.
In 2010, our family was stationed in Germany, and with our three kids at school, I yearned for something other than making sandwiches and cleaning toilets – something that would challenge me intellectually. Something that did not require a license or a stable location.
This is the plight of so many military spouses today.
Earlier this year, Blue Star Families completed a study titled “Social Cost Analysis of the Unemployment and Underemployment of Military Spouses” and found that “[m]ilitary spouses face a staggering 18 percent unemployment rate compared to a national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. More than half of those who do work face crippling underemployment – they are six times more likely to earn salaries below their education and experience level.”
Regarding educational attainment, although the youngest group of military spouses lag behind their civilian counterparts, after the age of 25 “military spouses quickly catch up to and exceed the civilian level of education.”
Regardless of education level, military spouses have more difficulty than civilians in finding meaningful employment due to “frequency of moves, inability to find employment that matched skill and education levels, inability to find employment that is flexible enough to accommodate their military spouse’s schedule, child care issues, or stigmatization of the military lifestyle and the impact on employability.”
Furthermore, the more education, the higher the income gap between military and civilian spouses. For those with a high school degree, civilian spouses earn 31% more than military spouses. For those with bachelors, masters or professional degrees, the percentages increase to 40%, 47% and 45%, respectively.
Despite these grim statistics, many determined military spouses still succeed. My own experience has taught me that courage, flexibility and stick-to-itiveness can enable military spouses to find rewarding careers.
While we were stationed in Germany and I was searching for something to do with those braincells, I decided, after the Washington Post published an essay I’d submitted, that I would become a syndicated columnist.
With no journalism degree or experience in the newspaper industry, other than a neighborhood newsletter I created back in 1977 while I was in the 5th grade that my mom photocopied and helped me deliver, I set my sights on becoming a military spouse columnist.
For years, I worked hard to realize this ambition. I studied everything from submission guidelines to self-syndication tips to AP style. I created “The Meat and Potatoes of Life” concept, took my own head shot with my arm stretched out, and, one at a time, painstakingly submitted my column to military and civilian newspapers across the US.
After seven years of rejections, hard work, and blind determination, I am proud to announce that this column, which appears in approximately 20 newspapers from Rhode Island to Virginia to California to Hawaii, has been picked up by the Grand Poobah of military publications — Stars and Stripes newspaper. My column will continue to appear in your newspaper and on my blog, but as of September 30th, it will now reach US military families at home and abroad.
I may not have realized my vision of hanging a shingle on my own law practice, but I now dream of using humor and honesty to spread the message that, no matter how hard military life gets, you are not alone, and you can do this.