For a community that is constantly packing up, turning over, and unpacking somewhere completely different, there sure is a heavy blanket of standard operating procedures covering every nook and cranny of military life. If we’re talking flying an airplane or steering a ship, understood. Carry on with that SOP you can recite backwards and forwards. But, for nearly every other example I can think of — from safety to spouse socials, I see room for innovation, creativity, fresh eyes and new perspectives.
I have a grab bag of theories on why this is, ranging from “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to “This is so obviously broken, but I don’t have time/energy/authority to fix it,” but the why isn’t really the point of today’s blog. The point of today’s blog is seeing the danger of the “don’t reinvent the wheel” mentality which will hopefully segue nicely into a pep talk.
The Wrong in the Wheel
Ever shared an idea only to be answered with something along the lines of:
- This is the way we always do it.
- I see your point, but that isn’t something we’d typically do.
- Great idea – maybe we can try that next time (which translates to we’ll try it never or after I PCS and this is someone else’s problem).
- That isn’t possible because [insert excuse].
Much like us, ideas age. Events, programs, processes, plans, even communication that once was fresh and made everything a little more exciting, efficient and logical grow outdated (much like my 80s movie references). Sticking with that rusty wheel we’ve been rolling on not only makes military life less appealing to incoming spouses (and service members for that matter), but it also shuts down this same batch of incomers who bring with them the potential to shake things up.
Did I hear someone mumble about tradition? Loud and clear – I hear you. Innovation on any scale does not have to threaten tradition. In fact, by acting now, we can sustain traditions on our watch to keep them from dying out for future generations of military. Each generation of military spouses and service members should make small updates to the traditions they inherit. Keeping them in original form decade after decade will eventually make them so archaic that they’ll just be scrapped altogether – the original intent, lost somewhere under layers of dust.
To ensure that generational progression happens, we cannot blow off one of our own when he or she steps forward with an idea. Instead, encourage idea sharing. Welcome improvements. Recognize passion and purpose in one another and don’t be afraid to listen to someone of lesser rank or a spouse with only one layer of moving inventory stickers under her coffee table.
The Promised Pep Talk
OK, so we are open to reinventing the wheel now – or swapping it for a hoverboard (see, 80s move reference – Back to the Future II). But what does that actually look like in real life, not just a neatly packaged blog?
It looks like this. Seasoned spouses, we have a duty (albeit an optional duty) at this stage. We have a duty to lead from behind. Welcome, participate, mentor and get out of the way when the situation allows. We need to let go of the closed “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset because we should know better than anyone how far our roles have come. I’ve worn my white gloves exactly zero times and have no problem RSVPing “no” to events or volunteer requests when my career, family and even my self-care need to take priority. The beauty of progression is that this has absolutely no impact on my husband’s career.
New spouses (whether you’re brand new to the military life or just new to a duty station), I remember well the feeling that you know nothing, but you’re anxious to jump in, find your place, find your people and make a difference. Speaking up with fresh ideas isn’t always easy in all environments, but your ideas are valid. You are a part of this community. Don’t be afraid to be involved even if those around you aren’t enthusiastic. Don’t be nervous to call out things you see that aren’t working. You are the future of the military community, and it really is what you make it. So, make it yours and make it better than how you found it.