A military family pauses for a photo on vacation.

The Perfect Last Year

Something snaps in my brain during the last year at a duty station. Maybe this is true for most military spouses. Maybe I’m just too Type A for my own good, but in the last year at a station, I become the YOLO version of myself. I unplug from all the commitments, I schedule travel, and — in the interest of using up all the consumables — I prepare strange quantities of out-of-the-norm dishes like a contestant on a cooking show.

Upon arrival, my goals at any duty station are to:

  • Arrive prepared — Yes, I’m the lady who makes the color-coded binders.
  • Use time wisely — I like to find ways to better myself professionally, whether that is networking, volunteering, furthering education, or working in an actual job that matches my qualifications and skill level.
  • Leave with no regrets — This usually defaults to travel for our family. Did we visit everything on our list? Did we really experience life where the Marine Corps plopped us this time?

These goals look different with each move depending on where we are geographically and personally. But because stuff happens — like a potentially adventurous Saturday that is instead spent doing real-life things – we must check ourselves before that perfect last year passes us by.

Month 15
My family is currently sitting at this 15-month mark. Before we technically get inside the last 12 months, it’s time to check in on those goals. Did we maximize time? What is still unchecked on the must-do list? I’m looking way ahead at the calendar and:

  • Blocking out time for non-negotiable vacations. These are the things that, if they don’t happen, will make me revert to a moody teenager. We have pinned down where we’ll spend our last holiday season and Spring Break in the area.
  • Saving money. Start saving for some epic vacation woven into the looming PCS. Save for the purchase of a home or car or new furniture on the other side of the move.
  • Prioritizing smaller trips and experiences. I never like to do all the local things in the first few months; I prefer to spread them out. However, this can backfire when we get inside the last year and we’re out of time to promise ourselves we’ll do it later. We’re out of time to postpone and procrastinate. I like to pick from what is left and do one activity or day trip per month at least (keep in mind that some things, like annual festivals, have hard dates).
  • Turning over commitments or setting a personal deadline to do so. Military spouses are like the MVPs of volunteering. We step up and just make magic happen, but to keep that magic alive, a warm handoff of duties needs to occur. It doesn’t do anyone any good if we hoard all the responsibility in our volunteer or paid roles, just to drop it before we leave. Unplugging responsibly means doing it early — yes, even a year out. By relieving ourselves of responsibilities early, we have time to truly mentor our replacements if necessary.

Month 12
Once we’re inside 12 months, excuses should be the first to go in the name of PCS purging rituals. In the interest of leaving this place with no regrets, we go live our best life at this duty station. We take the day trip even when we just want to sleep in.

Month 6
If the military has shown us favor, we have orders by now and things are getting real. Pack-outs can be scheduled, and research can begin for a new place. Even if orders haven’t materialized, we usually can’t help ourselves from hypothetical planning.

Either way, we’re in the window to begin the PCS purge. Life is now full of porch pickups, making runs to the thrift store, and challenging the capacity of the trash can on a weekly basis. By spreading out the move prep, we’re freeing ourselves up to spend our last few weeks enjoying the friends we’ve made and squeezing in a few more memories.

Month 5 to Moving Day
These are the days when we’re eating our way through the freezer and refusing to buy a single thing because we’re “about to pack out.”  We’re also throwing away every extra piece of paper, toy, or other household object just because it got in our way.

The best advice I can offer in those final days approaching the move is this: Don’t be so focused on the journey ahead that you forget to write the conclusion for the one you’re currently on. This advice is something that I need to take to heart also — in fact, I’m going to print this out and put it on my fridge until the urge to purge strikes in a few months and it winds up in the trash. But, in all seriousness, part of ensuring that we leave a place with no regrets is soaking up all that makes it unique — the people, the places, the experiences — for as long as we possibly can.

A husband and wife play with their children.

Communication Is Key in Military Marriage

It’s no secret that communication is vital in marriage. When our lives revolve around long work hours, training schedules and deployments it’s easy for our connection with our spouses to get lost in translation. For military families, it’s not only the separations that complicate things, but the constant changing and evolution of our lives and careers. I’m convinced that having great communication can keep our relationships connected and excellent.  Who wants a subpar relationship anyway? At the end of the day, for us, in this life, we have to choose quality over quantity. Let’s talk about ways to…well…talk!

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African American woman working on a computer.

VMSS 2019: Prepare for Your Next Pursuit

The 3rd annual Virtual Military Spouse Symposium, hosted by the Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, had everything a military spouse could want to begin an employment search with confidence, from writing a resume that tells your professional story to interview tips to share that story with employers. I was lucky enough to attend the event this year and am sharing highlights from a few of my favorite sessions.

  1. Job Searching from Anywhere in the World. When your spouse receives PCS orders and you find out your family is moving across the country in 30 days – don’t panic! In the mad dash to pack up your entire life in boxes, bins and oversized portable storage containers, you’ll also probably be thinking about how you can pack up your current job—the one you absolutely love by the way—and set up shop in your new location. If you can’t take it with you, what happens next?
  • Create your toolbox, including a quality resume, dynamic portfolio and an up-to-date professional picture and profile on LinkedIn.
  • Ask your current employer about becoming a virtual employee.
  • Look for companies that hire for remote positions. Resources like the MSEP Job Search tool allow companies to promote their work-from-home positions.
  • Stay engaged in networking. It’s not only about what you know, but who you know that can open doors in your industry sector.
  1. Your Resume: Presenting Your Whole Story. With so much information out there, writing a resume can be confusing and complicated. I have a secret for you! You don’t have to list everything you’ve ever done in your life to have a quality resume. All you need to do is showcase enough about your skills and experiences to get an interview. It’s that simple.
  • Take an inventory of the strengths, skills and attributes that make you stand out in a crowd.
  • Pull job postings for your desired position, like those found at the MSEP Job Search tool, and compare your qualities to what employers are seeking in their qualified applicants.
  • Leverage SECO’s free resources to assist you in creating a winning resume. In addition to an extensive library of resume samples representing 18 industries, military spouses have access to certified career coaches who can help.
  1. How to Ace Your Next Interview. Blockbuster movies, stage plays, soap operas, TV commercials. They all share something in common—talented actors who captivate your attention with the performance of a lifetime. As you prepare for your next job interview, think of it as an audition for the lead role in a performance. Any performer wanting to land that next big gig does all the right preparation before trying out for the part.
  • Make a positive first impression by choosing professional attire, taking extra copies of your resume, showing up on time and wearing a smile.
  • Create a winning elevator pitch that focuses on your professional experience and skills.
  • Practice responses to common interview questions you anticipate being asked.
  • Brainstorm a few thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer.
  • Finish strong by following up with your interviewer(s) within 24 hours of the interview.
  • Take advantage of a live video mock interview with a SECO career coach. Technology allows for a career coach to connect with you and practice your interviewing skills, all from the comfort of your home.
  1. Leveraging Your Network: From the Experts at LinkedIn. Making connections for employment just got even better for the military spouse community! LinkedIn, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, announced during the 2019 Virtual Military Spouse Symposium that it now offers a free, one-year upgrade to a premium account to all active duty DoD spouses, as well as U. S. Coast Guard spouses and VA Caregivers. The premium upgrade is available to spouses transitioning due to PCS moves or separation from active duty service and can be a major boost in making professional connections following a career transition, job change or job loss.
  • Recommendations for jobs, professional connections and courses for skill building, based on information included in your profile and preferences.
  • Settings that allow you to change your location when it’s time to transition to a new duty station, designate an interest in remote positions, find or become a mentor, or even alert employers you’re actively seeking employment.
  • Access to ProFinder, a marketplace for professional freelancers or independent contractors to connect with businesses in their field.
  • An extensive library of course that will give you the competitive edge in the job market with LinkedIn Learning.
  1. Creating the Healthy Brand Called You: Your Brand, Your Wellness. Personal brand is a buzzword that has gained a great deal of momentum lately, and rightfully so. A brand is not about a symbol or logo. It’s about how you market your unique identity and image to others, which defines how they perceive you. As a military spouse, your highly mobile lifestyle may leave you feeling like you need to rebrand yourself with each relocation. But, your brand can travel with you, no matter where you go, evolve over time and become an integral part of your employment search. Creating your personal brand starts by taking inventory of your most dynamic, self-professed and solicited skills and traits, and summarizing them into a branding statement. Once you’ve done that, you should infuse your personal brand into your cover letter, resume and LinkedIn profile.

Job searching can be tough, and to help preserve you and your brand, there are resources, such as SECO career coaches and 24/7 confidential non-medical counseling and Health and Wellness Coaching available through Military OneSource, for compassionate support during this process. You can access these and all of the other 2019 VMSS sessions here. What career advice would you offer to your fellow milspouses?

Natalie J. Ellis is a career coach for the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program.

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